In the quiet moments of each morning, I find solace in the ritual of lighting incense and offering prayers to my Hindu gods at my house in Indiana. On a modest coffee table, little statues of Ganesh stand at the center, flanked by Laxmi, Saraswati and Kali and a picture of the Manakamana Temple. With closed eyes, I express gratitude for the present and articulate my aspirations for the future, extending my prayers to the well-being of others. This practice before the start of my day connects me to my roots in Nepal.
As an immigrant who has lived in the United States longer than in her native country, I’ve often felt suspended between two cultures as I seek a sense of belonging. My journey into Western ways began at 17 when I moved to Italy to pursue an International Baccalaureate at the United World College of the Adriatic. Surrounded by peers from across the globe, I discovered a world beyond my preconceived notions that challenged and reshaped my perspective.
In Nepal, I once felt exceptional in my academic achievements, but at my international school, that distinction faded. Meeting students who surpassed my academic ability humbled me and prompted me to see the vast spectrum of talents and skills.
Multifaceted human interactions led me to craft different versions of myself as I adapted to various contexts, from home and school to family.
For years, I grappled with societal norms, believing myself to be an exception while unwittingly conforming. My initial experience in the United States, in Maine, defied my expectations, challenged stereotypes and revealed the diversity that exists here.
My focus on securing a prosperous future guided me through this transition as my identity evolved, spurred by a desire to break away from traditional expectations. The journey from the East to the West necessitated a reevaluation of my beliefs and perspectives. This process, though, extends beyond the immigrant experience to the universal quest for self-discovery and belonging.
My occasional encounters with racism, though not surprising, have evoked complex emotions in me. My initial anger at being singled out has given way to subtle profound sadness. My understanding that this treatment is rooted in preconceived notions doesn’t excuse people’s hurtful actions — but it does clarify broader societal challenges.
Feeling like an outsider, whether in my adopted culture or my homeland, became familiar to me. I refrained from attempting to change ingrained perceptions. Exposure and education, I realized, might foster understanding, yet acceptance remains an individual choice.
Finding one’s place proves easier in some spaces than others. I recently embraced the fluidity of moving between two cultures, recognizing that my principles are a guiding force, regardless of my geographical location. My honesty with myself allows me to navigate life authentically. While not everyone may resonate with this authenticity, I’ve found a sense of peace and understanding as I inch closer to the most genuine version of myself.
Raised in a home where yoga and meditation were daily rituals, I seamlessly transitioned into the rapid pace of Western life. Yet I’ve observed, in myself and others, a quiet return to ancient practices. There’s a gentle curiosity in exploring these enduring habits, a calming journey toward rediscovering meaning amid life’s hustle and bustle.
I believe we thrive best in environments in which we can authentically express ourselves, just as we do when alone without the burden of societal expectations or anyone watching. It’s when we can be our true selves, free from pressure to conform to a specific version, that we truly belong.
One of the joys of immigrant life is the ease with which I can detach from the familiar, allowing me to embrace new experiences. The excitement of exploring the unknown continuously attracts me.
Recognizing that some share my views, I remain optimistic about the commonality of this experience. While I’ve yet to encounter many at a similar life juncture, I believe a community of similar spirits exists, be they immigrants or not. In my ongoing search for connection, I hope to discover that shared sense of belonging one day.
I think we all are looking for people who share our energy to build more meaningful connections.
Anjana Rajbhandary is a writer and editor who has written for the Nepali Times newspaper and the youth culture digital magazine Thought Catalog, among other media outlets.
Originally published at https://www.chicagotribune.com on February 12, 2024.