On Friday, Valentine’s Day, I did something very bold; I wore a sari and had a little photoshoot in front of the Trevi Fountain. Now, what prompted this bold action? Well, back in the States, my college had an event that is a college tradition: Junior Ring Ceremony. It’s when the entire junior class comes together and is presented with their class rings; the last time the entire class will be together until graduation. I knew that studying abroad meant I would be missing the ceremony, so I packed my class ring and black sari (since the dress code for the ceremony is black) into my suitcase, and there I was in front of the Trevi Fountain taking pictures with my roommate.
I am very proud of my South Asian ethnicity, and I always love to incorporate my culture into my American life as much as possible—one of the ways being to wear traditional clothing to events. In America, I have no problem proudly displaying my culture in any type of environment—whether I’m the minority or not—but when I arrived to the Trevi Fountain, my usual confidence was replaced by nervousness. I had known before my trip that I would stand out in Italy, and after 2 weeks of being in Rome, I was even more aware of how much I would (and did) stand out. Picture this (no pun intended): Me—a visibly South Asian person wearing my traditional cultural wear, bold makeup, and jewelry—in a dominant white, Catholic country’s capital city, taking pictures in front of a huge tourist attraction. My “uniqueness” as my mother put it, was very visible for many to see, and it was slightly intimidating as I kept thinking about it. However, my roommate who accompanied me reminded me of something I always preach to my friends and live by: who cares what other people think?
In that moment, it was like I was shown a mirror—my roommate was right, since when did I care what other people thought of me? I never do! That’s what makes me the extroverted person that I am; and I love who I am! I looked and felt beautiful in my sari, and when my roommate started taking pictures, I felt all my confidence return to me. I was radiating with my South Asian pride and collegiate pride; and I honestly didn’t care about all the stares I was receiving. I felt even more encouraged when two random Italian women approached me and asked to take some pictures with me and complimented my outfit. I felt so good by the end of my little photoshoot that I kept my sari on for the rest of the evening, even out to dinner in a public restaurant! It was truly mind-boggling to me; I know that my main goal is to change for the better during my time studying abroad, but I didn’t think I’d forget my character and mindset. I guess the awe of Rome temporarily blinded me to myself.
I definitely received a huge reality check that day: Italy is just a country just like the US, and doesn’t change my identity; I’m no one else but myself wherever I am in the world, and I cannot forget that or else I become vulnerable to having negative experiences (*cough* BAD TAXI *cough*). My experience at the Trevi Fountain has really made me feel more confident in my identities in my European environment and snapped me back into the person I know myself to be: a strong, bold woman who is proud to be herself, regardless of what others may think/say, and is proud of her culture.
My culture is a part of me, it always has been, and always will be. I am a born and raised South Asian-American— watching Bollywood movies, eating South Asian cuisine, and experiencing a colorful, over-the-top culture alongside my American upbringing. However, my pride for my South Asian culture is something that only developed in recent years; it was hard to be both an American and of South Asian descent as I had to deal with racism since my childhood, back-and-forth confusion with my identity, and not really having a community that I fit into. It all made me feel ashamed of who I was, and for a long time I pressured it all. But in these past couple years, I did a complete turnaround, re-learning my love for my culture and enthusiastically wearing my South Asian-American identity on my sleeve. Especially after Valentine’s Day, I am proud to be the multi-cultural person that I am, wherever I am in the world—whether it’s America, Italy, or anywhere else—I will proudly bring my culture wherever I go!
And I’m feeling good!-Leslie Bricusse