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How to Not Be a Coconut: The Journey Toward Self-confidence for Indian American Teens

How to Not Be a Coconut: The Journey Toward Self-confidence for Indian American Teens

  • It is crucial for us to recognize that our cultural heritage is not a burden but a gift that enhances our identity.

In the painting of diversity that defines the United States, the voices of Indian American teenagers contribute a vibrant thread. Yet, despite the rich cultural heritage they bring to the “salad bowl” of American society, many teens of Indian descent grapple with the harsh stereotypes that can overshadow their individuality. It is imperative for these young individuals to create confidence in their own skin and actively combat the prejudice shown, or they face the grim consequence of joining in on the ridicule and becoming “whitewashed”. 

It is important to first define what this pop culture term even is — white washed. It is a rather derogatory term coined for those apart of a minority who have completely assimilated into western society. They have lost all connection to their true heritage and culture, the only sign they are not white being their skin. Another similar word you may have heard is coconut. Brown on the outside, white on the inside. The truth is, majority of the desi teens in the U.S. today are headed down this path. When one loses their hold on their roots, the very reason they exist, it is easy to blow away into the tornado that is Americanism. How can we strengthen these bonds and stay true to our culture while also being able to “belong” in society today? 

The journey to self-confidence for Indian American teens begins with a sense of understanding and appreciation of their cultural roots. As the children of immigrants, they straddle two worlds — the one their parents left behind and the one in which they are growing up. Society tends to dictate that they must choose one, when, in reality, it is the complete opposite. ABCDs (another term that stands for American Born Confused Desi) can use this duality as a source of strength, providing a unique perspective that bridges Eastern and Western values. It is crucial for us to recognize that our cultural heritage is not a burden but a gift that enhances our identity. 

In a society often driven by preconceived notions and superficial judgments, Indian American teens may find themselves subjected to stereotypes that oversimplify their complex identity. The portrayal of South Asians in mainstream media often perpetuates one-dimensional narratives, reducing them to clichés like the model minority or the exotic other. We constantly see Indians as this nerdy group of people who only eat butter chicken and can’t speak English properly. The burden of these stereotypes can be stifling, hindering the ability of teens to fully express their individuality and potential. 

Communal bonds provide a foundation upon which they can build their self-esteem, reinforcing the idea that they are not alone in their struggles. Examples of these groups that already exist, include Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and YUVA.

Therefore, confidence becomes an antidote to stereotypes. It is a shield against the subtle and not-so-subtle biases that may be encountered in everyday life. Building confidence involves acknowledging one’s uniqueness, embracing cultural heritage, and rejecting the limitations imposed by stereotypes. Teens must recognize that they are not defined by others’ perceptions but by their own actions, values, and aspirations. But how can they find this confidence? 

One powerful way to cultivate confidence is through education and awareness. Teen Indian Americans should actively seek to educate their peers and the broader community about their culture, dispelling myths and challenging stereotypes. For example, if you wear a Bindi to school every day, educate yourself on the importance behind it, so the next time someone asks about it, whether their question has a negative connotation or not, you have an informed answer. By sharing the richness of their heritage, they not only contribute to a more nuanced understanding but also empower themselves and others to move beyond stereotypes. 

Community engagement plays a pivotal role in fostering confidence among Indian American teens as well. Creating spaces for open dialogue and support networks within their communities can be instrumental in combating the effects of stereotypes. When teens come together to celebrate their shared heritage and discuss their experiences, they find strength in unity. These communal bonds provide a foundation upon which they can build their self-esteem, reinforcing the idea that they are not alone in their struggles. Examples of these groups that already exist, include Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and YUVA. 

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Furthermore, it is essential to encourage positive representation in various fields. By pursuing their passions and excelling in diverse fields, whether it be academia, sports, arts, or entrepreneurship, Indian American teens can break down preconceptions and pave the way for others. Yes, we are excelling in the medicine and technology industry, but look at the strides we are making in quite literally, everything else! Visibility matters, and when individuals see successful role models who defy stereotypes, it challenges preconceptions and inspires confidence. 

Parents and educators also play a crucial role in nurturing confidence in Indian American teens. They must actively promote cultural pride, instilling a sense of belonging and self-worth. It is equally important for adults to listen to the concerns of these teens, validating their experiences and providing guidance on navigating the challenges they may face. By fostering an environment that encourages open communication and understanding, parents and educators contribute to the resilience of Indian American teens. 

In conclusion, the journey toward confidence for Indian American teens is a multifaceted one that involves self-discovery, education, community engagement, and positive representation. By embracing their cultural identity, challenging stereotypes, and fostering a sense of community, these teens can navigate the complexities of adolescence with resilience and authenticity. The path to confidence is not only a personal triumph but a collective endeavor that empowers the entire community to rise above stereotypes and celebrate the diversity that makes America truly great.


Pranamya Shrikant is a freshman at Coppell High School in Coppell, Texas. She loves writing short stories and articles.

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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