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growing up Indian in America

I haven't talked a lot about my South Asian culture on this blog yet, but with Holi just passing and this fun recipe that I made, I thought now would be a good time. My parents immigrated to the states from Punjab, India (my mom was raised in Canada but moved back to Indian for a period) and as a result, my sister and I are first-generation Americans. Being Indian is a huge part of who I am and has a big influence on my cooking and creating recipes in the kitchen, if you'd like to skip down to the bottom I also share a vegan mango lassi recipe. But if you'd like to learn more about me, keep reading!

I was raised Hindu, and am a proud Punjabi -- I absolutely love the rich culture and tradition that comes with being a South Asian woman. However, I was also raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina which in a way automatically made me an outcast to a lot of my friends and peers growing up. I'm not saying I had a bad childhood, but there definitely is a lot to unpack (probably too much for a blog lol) about how being brown in the South affected me and my mental health.

One reason I decided to write about this is because of how trendy Indian culture has become -- whether that be through food, spirituality, parts of Hinduism, etc. Your "golden milk latte" you order? That's haldi doodh, a traditionally Indian drink that combines turmeric with spices and milk. My mom always made it for me growing up, as I'm sure plenty of Indian moms did, any time I wasn't feeling well or needed a pick-me-up. Just a quick example of how Westernized traditions from other cultures can become.

Anyway, the other reason I decided to talk about this is because of the harsher realities I had growing up as an Indian in America. In school, majority of my friends were white. They shared a lot of parts of their life including church, after school activities, Sunday brunches after church, etc. A lot of it revolved around...well, Church. And I, a Hindu, did not attend Church, but instead my Temple and my own Sunday School. Let me preface, I am genuinely so thankful for my upbringing and the core values it taught me, but 11-year-old Tanya didn't quite feel the same way -- she just felt different from everyone.

I think middle school was my peak of feeling "different." It wasn't until college that I was around an entire group of friends who not only accepted me, but appreciated my culture and diverse background. This is what made me reflect a LOT on things I brushed aside as a kid, but now realize were slightly traumatic for me. I still remember one of my "friends" in middle school telling me word for word, "my Dad doesn't usually let anyone whose not white come into our house but since your Dad is a doctor he says it's OK."

I was shocked, but honestly not surprised.

"You're so pretty, like for an Indian girl!"

"My mom would never be okay with me brining an Indian girl home as my girlfriend."

"Does your house like smell weird?"

"So do you not believe in Jesus?"

"I mean you act white so, it's okay." "You're such a coconut! Brown on the outside but white on the inside."

"Do you even speak Indian? Or wait is it Hindu?"

"Don't you worship cows?"

I mean the list really could go on. Trust me, this isn't supposed to be a "woah is me" moment, I'm not saying this ruined my childhood or anything, I just wanted to share my personal experience of growing up as a South Asian female in Southern Fayetteville, North Carolina. I know many other first-generation Americans can understand where I'm coming from, and quite honestly, I wish I was more mature as a child to realize that these close-minded people were wrong. However, all any middle school kid does is want to fit in.

So for years, I did tend to push away from my cultural identity. I tried really hard to assimilate and be like everyone else: I never brought Indian food to school, wouldn't utter a word of Hindi around anyone, just tried to relate to everyone else as much as I possibly could. Did it work? No. I was still Indian, I was still different. Present Tanya looks back on young Tanya and is ASHAMED. I really do love my culture and I'm embarrassed that it took me so long to embrace that.

With college ending, it's especially bittersweet for me because the girls I have met and that have become my very best friends at UNC are some of the main people I accredit for creating a space that allowed me to come into my cultural identity. For once, I had a group of people around me who didn't go out of their way to just acknowledge that I was different, but embraced and appreciated my differences instead. Open-minded and accepting individuals, along with the maturity that growing up brings, allowed me to not only step into my cultural identity, but embrace it like never before.

I love being Indian, I love South Asian culture and I am very, very proud of who I am. If you made it this far, I appreciate you taking the time to read about some very personal experiences of mine, I thought it was time to get a little vulnerable on the blog (and I'm glad I did).

Below is the creamy, dairy-free mango lassi recipe I promised! Mango lassi is traditional to India and is essentially a mango milkshake. It is absolutely delicious for dessert or even as a snack and I decided to put a little plant-based twist on it!

Vegan Mango Lassi

(serves 1)


  • 1/2 cup of frozen mango

  • 1/2 cup of coconut milk (I used some coconut water as well to make it hydrating/a little lighter!)

  • Dash of cardamom

  • Dairy-free yogurt (I used kite hills greek, coconut works too)

  • 1 tsp of liquid sweetener

Add to a high-speed blender and blend till it reaches a smooth and creamy consistency! You may need more liquid, just make sure to eyeball it :) Please tag me on IG @tanya_tastes if you recreate!

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