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Maya Harpavat (‘22) poses with English teacher Jennifer Manuel for cultural dress day.
I walk into my parents' closet, pulling out a long, red dress with longer pants off of a hanger. Now, it just sits here until I want to wear it, but for a second my mind drifts back to how it was made and where it came from. India. I remember the tiny shops crammed into stalls on the sides of the roads, the cool marble floor I would step on when I took off my sandals before entering. A lady would walk up to us, and my grandmother would effortlessly communicate in Hindi towards her. I was a visitor, but for that moment I blended in, with all the spices and culture. My skin was the same shade as those around me, and my colorful clothes were normal in the buzz of a rainbow that made up this vibrant city.
I would sit quietly, gently holding my grandmother’s hand, observing the clothes around me. A huge selection of clothing awaited my eyes wherever I chose to look. There were saris, lenghas, salwar kameez sets, even a new section with a more modern twist. My grandmother must have gotten this red dress that I am about to wear from one of these shops long ago.
As I get ready for school the next day, I feel nervous. I’m used to wearing my uniform as I come and go, and have been for the last three years. I’ve never even thought of wearing cultural dress, even on cultural dress days in the past. I know that it’s weird to feel like this, but deep down part of me doesn’t want to stand out as I am wearing it. I am so proud of my culture, but questions flood my mind. How many other people will be dressed up? Will people ask questions that I might not know the answers to?
My grandfather came to the states as a college student. I think about him. He left his family, hoping for a better life and opportunity. He arrived in the States with his clothes, his sandals, and a couple of dollars. The only way his family could afford it was by him getting a full-ride scholarship. After all, he and his many siblings grew up in a one-room house. But he persevered, and raised two of his own kids in Dallas with my grandmother. They built up their own life with confidence, giving back to their family in India and transforming lives.
Thinking of that same confidence, I take a deep breath and adjust my dress, feeling beautiful as I represent my culture, ready to celebrate cultural dress day.