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Racial Awareness at CHS

Kamala Pillai

Shalmali Patil

Kamala Pillai, Senior

Kamala Pillai, Senior

Q: What ethnicity are you? 
A: I am Indian.

Q: How has your ethnicity affected the way you grew up?
A: I actually spent the my early childhood in Denver, Colorado, so there were a lot of white people there. I think I was the only Indian person in my school, and that is super different from how it is here. When I was growing up, for the most part people were very nice to me. There were a couple of kids who gave me a hard time, but when you are a kid, no one is going to be politically correct. But other than that, I felt like I fit in. My family celebrated the same holidays and ate the same food as everybody else. So when we moved here to this school district, it was a reverse culture shock for me because there are so many Asians and I was not used to that.

Q: What was it like growing up around predominantly white people versus the environment here?
A: Because Cupertino is predominantly Asian, I feel like you do not have to explain your cultural customs because people know what your family life is generally like. You do not have to explain to people “I do this differently and I do that differently,” because everyone understands you. 

Q: Of the two, which environment did you find more accepting and easier to adapt to?
A: Now, I would say Cupertino because I have lived here for a long time, and I would say that it is more accepting, because people understand how we place a lot of importance on grades. But when I first moved here, I liked Denver better. For example, I am non-vegetarian and that was not unusual in Denver, but when I moved here, I felt really guilty for being non-vegetarian because people would give me looks and I would feel bad. I guess what people accept as “normal” in Denver is different here.

Q: Did you notice any differences in the way people treated you as a child as opposed to someone else?
A: My family was altogether treated exactly in the same way in Denver as they were in Cupertino. Other people did not treat me any differently because I was Indian. I remember, though, this one girl in preschool who said, “You can’t come to my birthday party because you have a different skin color than me.” And I said, “Oh, okay, duh.” I just accepted that it was normal and I was not mad at her or anything. Other than, most people treated me normally even though I looked different.

Q: Did you develop a certain type of mindset about your race or other races based on your experiences?
A: Kind of. Here, I feel that everybody else knows more about his or her culture than I do just because when I was growing up, we never placed a lot of importance on our traditions and culture because we did not have people to celebrate them with. Here, other families that are Indian are a lot more traditional than my family, and the other families would have to explain Indian culture to me because I never grew up with that. 

Q: Has race even been an obstacle for you?
A: Not in the moment, but when I think about that one girl who said that I could not come to her birthday party, now I think, “Wow, that was messed up,” but in the moment, I saw nothing wrong with it. Other than that, it was never an obstacle for me.

Q: Do you see it as a possible obstacle in the future?
A: No, I do not. I feel like people who grow up here, who have been here their whole lives, are so used to being surrounded by people of their same race or culture, that it might be an obstacle because it may be a little bit of a culture shock when they go to college.  Most cities are usually all white and you tell yourself “Oh, that’s all right. I can deal with a different racial majority,” but when you are actually there, it’s different. That is one thing that I have experienced that other people have not: being there in both situations, and I know that it feels different and it feels like a shock but you get used to it. You are not able to talk to people the same way and ask “Do you want to get Indian food?” like you always do at home or “How are you going to celebrate this or wear this?” No one is going to understand what you are talking about. 

Q: How do you feel that CHS deals with racial discrimination?
A: I have not experienced or seen any racism in Tino but I am sure that it exists. I do know that people are pretty light-hearted here about that stuff, at least from what I have seen. You can make a joke about race and people would laugh. I honestly have not seen people dealing with racism or seen anyone be affected by racism but we do not really know. I think right now Tino’s doing a good job of dealing with it just because I have not seen anything.

Q: How has your perception about your race changed over the years?
A: I have learned more about my ethnicity over the years, and not just my ethnicity, but also everyone else’s.  I have learned to accept the unique things about myself, because I know that race is a big deal here and Cupertino is so diverse but that you cannot just associate yourself with just that race and forget who you are as a person.

Q: Are you able to incorporate your Indian culture to your American identity?
A: My family and I incorporate both. Now that I live here and there are more people who celebrate these holidays, we celebrate them too, but I feel like we are a typical American family at the same time. I kind of like having both; it is like having the best of both worlds.