YOUR People Are Taking Over This Town

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PANEL 1 & 2 – AUTHOR is an elementary age girl of Indian heritage. She is on a bus, looking pleasantly outside.
CAPTION – I used to take a school bus, every day.
PANEL 3 – Close up of Author. She is looking out the window.
CAPTION – There was a little boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, also Indian, who rode on the same bus.
PANEL 4 & 5 – The bus comes to a stop. Outside is an old, gray haired Indian man in traditional Indian clothing with sandals. The old man is waving at the bus.
PANEL 6 – Another student, a young Indian-American boy, gets up behind AUTHOR and waves outside the window.
BOY = “Grandpa!”
PANEL 7 – A white girl sitting across from AUTHOR gets up and looks out the window too, and starts laughing.
GIRL – “Pfft!”
PANEL 8 – The Boy is now hugging his grandpa outside the bus, while the girl is laughing and pointing from inside the bus.
GIRL – HAHAHAHA!
PANEL 9 – GIRL is talking to the AUTHOR, with a smirk.
GIRL – Look at his dumb clothes!
PANEL 10 – AUTHOR is looking at GIRL with surprise and worry. GIRL is pointing angrily at AUTHOR.
GIRL – No offense, but YOUR people are taking over this town!
PANEL 11 – AUTHOR is looking sad and scared at GIRL.
PANEL 12 – CAPTION – I was confused. How are they “my people”? How was he taking over anything?
PANEL 13 – AUTHOR looks down, and laughs awkwardly.
AUTHOR – haha…
PANEL 14 – AUTHOR gets off the bus.
CAPTION – But once I processed what she meant, instead of getting angry or sad…
PANEL 15 – AUTHOR is looking at her parents, who are smiling, waving, and waiting for her at the bus stop.
CAPTION – …I was embarrassed.
PANEL 16 – A close up of AUTHOR’s feet, which are wearing the same traditional Indian sandals as the Boy’s grandfather.
CAPTION – My dad wore the same chapals. With socks.
PANEL 17 – A flashback to when AUTHOR’s grandparents came to visit. They are looking down, holding their hands to her, smiling.
CAPTION – My grandparents would visit from India in their traditional clothing.
PANEL 18 – AUTHOR running away, ashamed, from her grandparents.
PANEL 19 – AUTHOR is running further away.
CAPTION – As a child in elementary school trying to fit in, all I could think was that everyone around me was judging me, my culture, and that I didn’t belong.
PANEL 20 – CAPTION – Visits from my lovely grandparents became anxious occasions, instead of joy. It pains me to look back at myself.
PANEL 21 – Back to the present time. A close up of a stack of fashion and teen magazines. They show white people on the cover.
CAPTION – From then on, I refused to wear Indian clothing, or wear henna on my hands.
PANEL 22 – AUTHOR is looking into mirror.
PANEL 23 – AUTHOR is talking to friends at school.
CAPTION – I even tried to justify my name to everyone. Anything to deflect if from being Indian.
AUTHOR – It’s actually a Russian name! And Elton John has a song with my name in it! Oh, it’s also in a French movie and an American TV show.
PANEL 24 – CAPTION – Looking back, it’s almost as if I was afraid I’d be exposed as the Indian person that I am. For a good amount of time I pushed away my own culture and dreaded anything that reminded me that I wasn’t “normal” and that I was different and I couldn’t change anything.
PANEL 25 – A faded shot of AUTHOR explaining to her friends her name.
CAPTION – Now, as an adult, I am definitely grateful for my rich culture and background, and the experience it has given me. But that bus incident is still clear to me in my head as the day it happened.

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My story dates back to when I was in elementary school. I went to a school in a historically white, however in a growing diverse area. I took the school bus home, with children ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade. There was a little boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, also Indian, who rode on the same bus.

One day, the Indian boy’s grandpa came to pick him up at the bus stop. The grandpa looked cute, wearing traditional Indian clothing and sandals. As the boy was getting off the bus, all of a sudden my friend’s older sister pointed and laughed him. She snickered at the cute grandpa, made fun of his clothes (and the socks & sandals combination), then turned to me and said “No offense, but YOUR people are taking over this town!”

I was perplexed… my people? I wasn’t related to this man… How was I taking over a town? In fact, how was the old, cute grandpa taking over anything? I am sad to say, I did not say anything at all at the time. I smiled uncomfortably and looked away. It’s something that has stayed with me for over 20 years now.

At the time, I was initially confused. I was a naive kid in regards to racism at that point. But once I processed it, instead of getting angry or sad… I was embarrassed.

I was embarrassed my grandpa and my dad had those same “chapals” or sandals, and yes when it was cold, they wore white socks with them. I was embarrassed that my grandparents would visit from India and take walks around the neighborhood every night in their traditional clothing.

As a child in elementary school trying to fit in, all I could think was that everyone around me was judging me, my culture, and that I didn’t belong.

In fact, I am ashamed to admit, there was a part of me that was embarrassed to be Indian…well into my late teens/early twenties.

This incident was not the sole reason, but it was definitely the first, and it made me hyper aware of just how different I am. From then on I refused to wear Indian clothing, or wear henna on my hands…and I was even trying to justify my name. I made sure everyone knew that “it’s actually a Russian name! And Elton John sang a song with the name in it. Oh it’s also in a French movie and American TV show.” Anything to deflect it from being Indian.

Visits from my lovely (and now late) grandparents – who lived in India – became anxious occasions, instead of joy…and it pains me to look back at myself and what I thought at the time. Every time they visited, I was worried that I (or they) would be made fun of.

Looking back on it, it’s almost as if I was afraid I’d be exposed as the Indian person that I am. For a good amount of time I pushed away my own culture and dreaded anything that reminded me that I wasn’t “normal” and that I was different and I couldn’t change anything.

Now, as an adult, I am definitely grateful for my rich culture and background, and the experienced it has given me. But that bus incident is still as clear to me in my head as the day it happened.

This comic was illustrated by Sarah Myer.

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