I always feared speaking Nepali in front of people. I always hesitated to wear my traditional dresses, because I thought people would judge me and talk about me behind my back. I worried so much about what others would say when I spoke Nepali because they would give me weird looks. Those looks made me feel embarrassed. I had friends who did not care about what people would say about speaking Nepali and wearing Nepali dresses. I wished I could be like them, but no matter how much I want- ed to embrace my beautiful culture, something inside held me back. Once I started seventh grade, there were days in school when my friends would plan to wear our cultural clothes, but I would tell them I didn’t want to and make excuses to avoid wearing the clothes. I got away with it. I always wanted to fit in with American society, so I would try to avoid my culture. I didn’t know why I cared about people’s opinions more than showing off my culture. I felt awful. I didn’t deserve to call myself one of them. I felt as if I was a disgrace to Nepali culture. I finally realized that it was all because of my fear of being judged and left alone. I was a refugee in a place where there was not much diversity. I was already not like the other kids. As I got older, I began regretting those days when I would make excuses instead of educating others about my unique culture, all because I was too busy trying to fit in with American society. Most people did not know anything about Nepal. The students in school never tried to be friends with people like me and I still don’t know the reason why, but I have always thought it was because I was not born here. To this day I still don’t talk to a lot of my classmates because they never made me feel welcome. Now, I see models on Instagram, proudly dressed in Nepali dresses. It makes me happy to see people learning about other cultures, because it makes people feel welcomed and accepted. I like to post pictures and videos of myself dressed up in Nepali dresses. I truly believe no one should ever be embarrassed about speaking their native languages or dressing in their traditional outfits. For my English class, the teacher told the students they had the option to wear their clothes from their native countries to do a presentation. We had written stories about our journeys to America and published a book. We also did a presentation at the local colleges. I was a little nervous, but I wore my Nepali dress to the event. I had to stand in front of an audience and read my story. It felt so good to see all my friends wear- ing their colorful dresses. My experiences have made me a more confident person. It is important to accept each other’s differences and respect different ways of life. Who I am now is because of what I have learned from my past. I need to admire the culture that I grew up with. I will wear my beautiful dresses and speak my language proudly.
© Nisha Rai. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.