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The luxury of normalcy

Reflecting on the rise of anti-Asian violence after living as an Indian-American in a liberal bubble my whole life

I vividly remember the morning of Oct. 26, 2006. The air was cool and crisp and all around me, colorful trees swayed in the wind. My family had just gotten off a 15-hour flight from India. Now, we were experiencing our first fall and first day in the United States of America. 

I wish I could say I felt a renewed sense of hope and happiness or some other sensational feeling that morning. However, as a sleepy four-year old, all I could think about was eating my next meal and playing games with my older brother. Barring the change in setting and weather, it felt like any other normal day. 

In many ways, the months and years that followed Oct. 26 adhered to a similar pattern of normalcy. Unlike my parents who were experiencing a massive cultural change, my life here felt completely ordinary. I started kindergarten here which meant I was learning vocabulary, history and traditions directly alongside my American peers. I didn’t have to worry about adapting since this was the only environment I’d ever known. 

Moreover, I grew up in a liberal, Northern Virginia environment, so I was generally protected from the ostracization and instances of discrimination that are often directed towards marginalized groups. At school — despite being one of the only Asian kids — I always felt like a part of the community, and I never encountered any blatant acts of racism. 

My point is that — from my very first day in this country to my high school years —  it felt normal to not have anything out of the ordinary occur due to my identity as an Indian American. My life was surely different than my white peers since I grew up in a culturally different household, but it never felt any more difficult due to my ethnicity or race. I wish I knew then how fortunate I really was.  

Now, I could not be more aware of my naivety and ignorance in my primary and secondary education years. I had taken normalcy for granted my whole life. Especially with the recent increase in and awareness of anti-Asian discrimination and violence, it’s become clear that my family beat the odds by living in the bubble of a liberal city. In reality, for people of color and other minority groups, normalcy is a luxury. It’s a luxury that appears to be reserved for the white heterosexual male. 

The worst part is that in the past few weeks, even this bubble of safety I felt by living in a liberal neighborhood has broken. A week ago, as my family was walking home, I noticed a middle-aged man — a complete stranger — abnormally staring at us from his car. Even at a distance, his wide eyes and grimaced expression seemed to reflect irritation and anger. That was perhaps the first time I’ve ever felt unsafe because of the way I looked. Chances are that I was simply overreacting but feeling that intense fear was agonizing and disturbing. I also recognize that my experience is already a privileged statement. It may have been my first time but for others, feeling unsafe on the streets is not a rarity at all.  

A few days after that instance, a conversation with my mom revealed that she’d independently encountered situations that made her question her safety after the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. Hearing this, my mind jumped to the most cruellest of hypotheticals. Even the thought of my parents being caught up in violent and defenseless situations is beyond heartbreaking. I don’t think these types of thoughts and feelings can ever be put into words. It’s simply unnerving that we live in a world where people of color question and fear our most basic right to life. 

That Oct. 26, we came to America with positive expectations, hopes and mindsets. How is it that even after 15 years, parts of the country are still moving backwards in terms of basic equality and inclusion? Again, I want to emphasize how fortunate my family has been to live in the community we do. For other minority groups — particularly Black Americans — there has never been a break from these vicious cycles of horrific acts of racial violence and hate. 

At the end of the day, I’m only one of millions of individuals of color living in the United States. My experiences can be echoed by others all over the country, but in comparison, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. My whole life, I’ve lived in a bubble where I never encountered racial violence, so I can’t speak for everyone nor speak directly to the gravity of race-based hate. 

But, as I emphasized in the beginning of this article, I’ve experienced normalcy. I’ve also experienced the opposite by feeling unsafe due to my identity, so I know how powerful the luxury of normalcy is. While I can’t speak for everyone, I know that as a person of color, I long to lead an ordinary life. I don’t want to fear what’s around the corner. I don’t want to worry about the safety of my parents or of any individual, especially not because of the color of their skin. I just want to experience what I felt that Oct. 26 morning and what I felt throughout my pre-teen years — a consistent feeling that today’s just going to be a normal day. 

Niharika Singhvi is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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