Nameless Like Me
by Saloni Desai
Preschool: I can sense my teacher’s frustration as I revert to the tongue I learned first. By the end of the year, I no longer remember how to speak Gujarati. I will regret this for the rest of my life.
Kindergarten: Mrs. Roberts stumbles over my name. I correct her, and she makes a note. For the rest of the school year, she will continue to mispronounce my name.
First grade: A boy pushes me down after pulling on my dark, unruly curls, and I cry. “Ooh, he likes you,” a friend teases. The cuts on my shins sting, but I brush aside the tears.
Second grade: My mother packed me a special lunch, paneer and rice. I hear comments about the smell and place it back in my lunchbox. When I get home, I request peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the future.
Third grade: “Can you say something in Indian?” The heat rises in my cheeks and mumble something incoherent. “That’s so weird!” Their laughs are unintentionally cruel.
Fourth grade: Mrs. Sayer stumbles over my name. I correct her, and she makes a note. The class erupts in laughter. For the rest of the school year, she will continue to mispronounce my name.
Fifth grade: “So where are you from?” “Atlanta.” “No, where are you really from?” “My parents are from India, but I was born in Georgia.”
Sixth grade: I sit in the salon as the aesthetician runs the thread through my eyebrows. I flinch and feel the tears well in my eyes. It’s time to move onto my upper lip. She dips the depressor in hot wax and applies it. I brace myself as the hair rips from my face.
Seventh grade: “Don’t spend too much time in the sun. You might get too dark,” my mother calls as I rush out the door. At the pool, I hardly get into the water and take cover by the umbrellas. I still manage to darken by three shades.
Eighth grade: We are choosing Halloween costumes. We agree upon Disney princesses. I am assigned Jasmine.
Ninth grade: Mrs. Johnson stumbles over my name. I correct her, and she makes a note. The class erupts in laughter. Some decide to adopt it as a nickname for me. For the rest of the school year, she will continue to mispronounce my name.
Tenth grade: “You’re pretty for an Indian girl,” a boy I like says to me. I don’t know how to feel about it. I choose to appreciate it, but we never speak after that.
Eleventh grade: My mother tells me to start writing in a journal. She tells me every time I have a panic attack. I have to record it. When the tears come without warning and my lungs fight to breathe, I write. I do it for a week. The panic attacks continue, but I don’t keep track of them anymore.
Twelfth grade: Ms. Greene stumbles over my name. For the rest of the school year, she will continue to mispronounce my name.
First year of college: “You should join the Indian Student Organization,” a close friend suggests as she heads to their first meeting. I refuse to join her.
Second year of college: “The only thing that’s brown about you is your skin color.” I beam with pride at first, but something feels wrong in the pit of my stomach. I don’t like it, but I know it’s a compliment.
Third year of college: I join the Indian Student Organization. I learn to like a little more of who I am. I can look in the mirror and feel pretty. I change my major from Computer Science to English.
Fourth year of college: Professor Baker stumbles over my name. I correct her, and she makes a note. For the first two weeks, she mispronounces my name. I correct her every time. By the end of the semester, she will know the correct pronunciation.