A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the closing down of one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how choked up it made me feel, but hear me out: This particularly eatery was so important to me because 1) It was the only place nearby that served the authentic South Indian cuisine I grew up eating and, 2) It’s where my husband and I grabbed lunch after our courthouse wedding nine years ago.
For years, my husband and I made the 30-minute drive to Madras Cafe – it would usually be packed with Indian families (many of whom were South Indian like mine). While perusing the menu, I would take comfort in being surrounded by the familiar strains of Tamil or Telugu – the languages spoken by my father and mother, respectively. The walls were also plastered with faded photographs of temples in the southern part of India, and food was served on traditional stainless steel dinnerware.
Because my parents live in Northern California, this place was the closest I could come to my mother’s home cooked meals. More than all of this, this restaurant represented a space where I belonged, and where I was not an outsider. This sense of belonging also applies to my feelings about diversity in literature – I continue to search for books in which I find my personal cultural experiences accurately mirrored. Discovering a story where the characters eat the same food as I do, pepper their English-dialogue with Indian language, and express the frustration of straddling two cultures elicits an internal sigh, like, “Finally! Someone else gets it!”
The month of May marks Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and I’m excited to share a few YA literature titles that focus on the Indian-American experience and/or Indian culture. Continue reading Celebrating Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month: The Indian-American Experience in YA Lit