The Unwritten Barrier

There was always a barrier between my peers and me when the topic of religion came up. When asked about the Bible or Christian holidays, I simply did not know the answer and was forced to change the topic. Although I never found my designated place among regular Christian churchgoers who had their own traditions and beliefs to follow, beginning in 6th grade, I began to identify with my own religion after finding out about a Hindu culture class that kids of my age regularly attended. I begged my parents to pay the membership fee so that I could join.After attending the class regularly for five years, stimulated by curiosity about why red meat was strictly prohibited from a Hindu’s diet or what the significance of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, was, I could finally explain to others what defined me. Sharing “laddu” with my friends at lunch and teaching my friends how to fold their hands in the proper prayer stance allowed me to reciprocate wearing a yarmulke or decorating a Christmas tree.

Through attending Balavihar, the culture class, I realized how important self-identification and community were in my development.When I turned 14 (and after having learned various prayers, customs, and commonalities of language) I became “qualified” to teach younger Indian kids what I learned about the Hindu religion and Indian culture. I tell corny jokes at the beginning of each class (“If we don’t put a red dot on our foreheads for decoration, why do we at all?”) and eagerly await the response from one of my students answering “the mark symbolizes knowledge and is worn on auspicious occasions.” My religious foundation has shaped many of my views on issues ranging from the next presidential candidate to the composition of my lunch.

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