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August 13, 2019

How to Rediscover Your Roots and Own Your Cultural Identity

I speak some broken-ass Hindi. Try as I might, I was never taught the language so I don’t know how to read, write, or speak much better than my six year old. It’s no wonder the day I landed in India to launch a new business, I made a total fool of myself.

I got to my guest house — which was an absolute mansion — and one of the servants brings my luggage to the room. Airport customs zip-tied the suitcase zippers together so I needed a pair of scissors to cut them open.

Waiting for instructions or a tip, I couldn’t tell which, the servant stands there at my service. I speak confidently, “Hamare liye do kachche le kar aao” which means “Please bring me two knives”. (I didn’t know the word for scissors so I said two knives instead.) 

Dude holds a straight face but I can tell I messed up. He looks at me and says, “Sir?”

And I am like, “do kachche (two knives) please.” He leaves the room and returns with a pair of scissors and cuts the zip-tie. I’m a genius! But then, he lays my suitcase down flat, opens the zipper, and starts to remove my clothes. This is some next-level service, dude’s taking out my clothes for me. 

Then it happens…

He hands me two pairs of underwear.

Turns out, kachche means underwear, which I had confused for the similar sounding kaynchi.



“Go Back To Where You Came From”

I know I’m not the only first-gen immigrant to mess something up in their parents’ mother tongue. It’s no wonder why so many of us were spoken to in our parents’ mother tongue but we responded in English. Many Americans pressure immigrants to assimilate, especially in a time when our president tells people of color to “go back to where you come from.” 

If you learn only one thing from me, it is this: When ignorant people tell you to go back to where you come from, you’re going to want to go against them to prove you’re just as American as they. Don’t make the mistake of disconnecting with your roots to prove the point that you don’t need to go back. You don’t need to move anywhere but you can stay connected to your roots.

I’ve struggled with cultural identity too, but I’ve also figured it out. That’s why I’ve written this, to help you reconnect and own your culture. 

How to Rediscover Your Culture

Eat Your Culture’s Food 

Eat at restaurants from your culture in two different ways: Take your homies once, then go solo. 

When you roll with your friends, you’ll experience the food through an American lens. You can share your knowledge and in conversation see you already know more about your culture than you think. When we teach, we learn.

If you can’t answer your friends’ questions or feel embarrassed, then go solo. Find a joint where the servers are of the same culture and ask them questions about the food like:

  • What part of the country does their menu pull inspiration from?
  • What’s a meal that you love to eat but isn’t served in this restaurant? 
  • If you could add something to the menu, what would it be? 

You can safely ask the staff questions about your culture and fill in the gaps without feeling embarrassed.

Read Authors Who Relate To You

You’ll find a growing list of authors who have brilliantly told stories that straddle your culture’s world and life in America. The first time I picked up Salman Rushdie’s book of short stories called “East West”, I was hooked. I’ve read every book he’s published since then and find that my life is richer as a result. Discovering that an Indian could write so eloquently about life in India and the U.S. opened me up to search for other authors who could do the same. For me, that’s been books like Arundathi Roy’s “God of Small Things” and Jumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies” and “The Namesake”. Just Google “[ethnicity] American authors” and see what you find. There are also brilliant business books like Navi Radjou’s “Juggad Innovation”. 

Google Your Culture

Do some research on where your culture shows up in America. You’ll feel proud when you realize how many words, foods, and concepts come from your country that are so integrated you didn’t know it originally came from your culture. It’s important to see what your culture created brings value to Americans (even if there is a Westernized spin):

  • What did [ethnicity] invent?
  • What English words are of [ethnicity] origin?
  • List of famous Americans of [ethnicity] origin

Travel to Your Parents’ Home Country

Plan a trip where you can blend tourism and meet your family (bonus if your trip includes a family wedding!). If you do just a tourist version of your country, you won’t reconnect with people who will shower you with love. 

Through pictures and stories, your family will show you how beautiful and culturally rich you are beyond your American experience. 

For us immigrants and children of immigrants, we aren’t able to easily live and celebrate our culture in the States. But when we visit our home country, we can see, hear, taste, and most importantly feel it. 

Bring Back a Cultural Ritual

During one trip to India, I saw my uncle go into his jewelry store, touch the ground, then put his hand to his head and heart. The symbolic ritual of blessing his store is a moment of humility and gratitude. It struck me: “Why haven’t I blessed my own workspace?” Now, every morning I perform the same ritual as my uncle and ask for blessings as I begin the day’s work.

Try on a New Sense of Identity

Try on a piece of traditional clothing on your trip. It doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy. You can usually find a cheap shirt from a streetside vendor and even if it doesn’t make it back home, the point is that by trying on a piece of clothing, you are, in a sense, trying on a new identity. 

I remember the first time I wore a blazer and how it completely transformed my confidence. I felt like a total poser at first but when my colleagues complimented me and even treated me with a bit more authority, I realized I it was all in my head. It’s up to you to carry yourself with confidence.

It’s the same for you when you wear traditional clothing. It’s an experiment where you can safely try on your culture without people judging your appearance. You may not vibe with the outfit, but that’s OK. What’s important is to disrupt and come to terms with our own cultural stigmas.

Learn How Your Culture Practices Self-Study

When you travel, you’ll have the opportunity to visit beautiful places of worship. Most people see the edifice, the art, the grandeur, but miss the subtle points. How are the people in those buildings working on themselves? How are they working on themselves when they’re not in a religious structure? What has your culture done for thousands of years to improve not their material status, but their inner lives?

For me, it was meditation, a practice that never stuck despite years of trying, until I went to India and properly learned the foundations to make it stick. When you start to search for self-development answers rooted in your culture, you may find rituals and tools that resonate and jumpstart your own inner growth. 

How to Own Your Cultural Identity

Practice Cultural Rituals for Yourself 

Everything you do needs to be for the benefit of yourself and nobody else. Thus, all your rituals should be for your own inner journey, and when you’re grounded and comfortable, there’s no sense of embarrassment or judgment. 

If you do feel embarrassed or judged, then the only cure is to work on your inner-self so you stop getting hot and bothered by what other people think. 

Listen to Your Natural Selection

Though we’ve only discussed your parents’ culture, there are multiple cultures and subcultures you’ll feel called to. Adopt whatever feels natural. There are no rules to who you can be and what you identify with.

As a kid, I felt naturally called to the hip-hop community because it didn’t judge my background. In adulthood, I naturally selected the business and philanthropic communities. Listening to your nature, your soul, will help select things that you vibe with the most.

Know That Cultural Labels Are Fake

Labels have everything to do with the person using the label, and nothing to do with the person being labeled. Unless you’re an Indian fuckboy… oh wait ??‍♂️

Problems occur when our egos start to identify with the labels. When you realize you are not your ego, then all the labels are stripped off and you’re left with your true self.

Own Your Roots to Raise Your Vibe

Reconnecting with your roots is ultimately for your own personal growth and to raise your vibe. There’s a richness and vibrancy that comes from that connection and being able to own it while living in the U.S. By embracing our culture we can open our hearts to positive energy that will strengthen our cultural identity nobody can shake us from.  

I’d love to hear your stories of living in two worlds. Tell me in the comments the challenges you’ve had, any ridiculous mistakes you’ve made like ordering underwear, or what you’ve done to own your culture. I read every comment and will do my best to reply to each of you. 

Post a comment


  1. Shobhit

    Nice one ??… whatever you feel about India after Mairage with Natasha di you totally write it one by one ……1.first time travelling to India and your house jocks 2.your Mom language Hindi ? best one crackey language by your end ….with the servents is the best one…….deep detalling about feeling food, culture is nice one ….Yoga ,madetation all are good to active your self……I like it Jeju ?.
    No nagitive comments on this book?

  2. It’s so nicely written. It is so appreciative that you have jotted the exact view or I can say your experience to motivate other people who have moved from here.
    I specially like Listen to your natural selection.
    We should always take what we specially like and what is correct.
    This is god gifted to you.
    All the best . Waiting for more reading from your side.

  3. Manirul

    Literally fall in love with your writing after reading this.
    I am a first gen American, have my kids growing in this great country, I am working my ass off to give my kids a better life and at the same time I try my best to stay connected with my roots.
    I am going to launch a small business that has the theme : Going back to the roots.
    Will you write few word of wishes and blessings in my site’s page?
    Kind Regards,

    1. Andy Seth Post author

      Manirul, I’m so happy this article touched you so deeply. I’d be happy to write a few words for your website. Just send me a message through social media or my contact form. Sending lots of blessings your way.

  4. Just came across this article while discussing with art creatives the importance of yes while inclusive art is important ….. celebrating and acknowledging our differences is essential for any inclusive practices to be built on.

    Brilliant read with practical and helpful suggestions.

    Best wishes,

  5. Harper

    What a great read! Five years ago I discovered that my grandmother was actually Russian, and I felt euphoric. I had felt drawn to Russia for years, but always felt that I wasn’t “allowed” to identify with it. Since then, I’ve been connecting with that part of myself.

    I did make a very embarrassing mistake though, that haunts me even now. I had a Russian teacher and wanted to practice with her. I was very nervous, so when she asked for my name I responded with “I am doing well, thanks.” Then I started shaking and ran out the door! I e-mailed her later to apologize, and she just told me to keep practicing. I still feel so silly because of that! But nevertheless this has been an amazing journey of self-discovery.

  6. Elizabeth Carolyne

    I so enjoyed reading this! I discovered my ethnicities thru DNA. Adopted, I was told stories about my heritage to stop me from asking questions. I went thru a very severe identity crisis as a teen. At age 60, ALL I FELT, KNEW IN MY SOUL, WAS VERIFIED. Português, Indigenous, and African. (I wrote a book about my adoption journey.) I learned Português, still learning. It isn’t an easy language. LOL I went to Portugal. It was a rebirth. It was a connection I could only try to fully describe. The conflicting emotions were apparent when I went to the Discoveries Monument and felt the great conflict of pride and horror. Pride for the explorations, horror for what those discoveries cost the other half of my ancestry. Visited the first slave market, saw the auction block on the cliffs of Cape St Vincent. It was difficult to reckon with those roller coaster emotions. I heard a whisper if you will, telling me to use this inner conflict to remember to always be kind, good and to help people going forward. I cannot change the past. My Ancestors prevailed and used their faith, strength, family honor, wisdom passed down, and I can call on those now, as well. So. That’s what I discovered on the first of many trips to my personal heritage sights. My second book will include that part of ‘Claudiya’s journey’. Thank you for this great article! May you continue with love, good food, music, and much time with the elders so you can absorb all the history possible to hand down to your next 7 generations.

  7. Ila lebas

    Australian in the US. Very helpful tips. Except the restaurant idea. But, after urging from my son, I’m seeking old school recipes. Thank you!!

  8. Julia

    All my life I’ve always felt very lost when it comes to my cultural identity. I’m half Mexican, with my father having immigrant parents. My dad looks very stereotypically Hispanic, and I do not at all. All my life I’ve always gotten the typical “white girl” jokes, and I’d just laugh along. But whenever I try to say anything about how I’m not 100% white, I normally get a sarcastic “omg it must be so hard being a Latina girly” (a direct quote by the way). So at this point, because I really don’t look Mexican at all, I’ve kinda just left that half of me behind.

  9. Aleli Snively

    My family emigrated from the Philippines to the U.S. when I was 8 years old and that was 37 years ago. Several months ago, I finally had the opportunity to go back and visit my relatives, and my childhood home. The experience was indescribable as all of my cultural shame and my hidden accent slowly became unimportant. In the three weeks I spent visiting places and talking to the Filipinos I realized how much time I had wasted feeling ashamed of my heritage. It didn’t matter that America was a giant melting pot because that only made sense in textbooks.
    It started with my dad who demanded we assimilate so we go unnoticed. This was important to him after our visas expired because he had no intention of ever going back to the islands. So we blended as much as possible. There were things we couldn’t control of course, like the color of our skin, our flat noses, and slanted eyes. But we did fairly well with masking our accents! Today and every day this year I’ve made a conscious effort to reverse the assimilation process. I try to speak more of my dialect, albeit broken. However, when in English mode–I will still hide any traces of my accent.
    Thanks for this article! Aleli (ah-lay-lee)

  10. Gana

    I am black and Hispanic. My mothers mother’s family are from the West Indies and my mother’s father is from Puerto Rico. Well they’re all basically from Puerto Rico. My grandparents fell in love in Puerto Rico and basically ran away to New York City. So my mom grew up and she’s got a thick new Yorker accent and she had 12 kids! I am the oldest and was born in Pa. Me and a few of my sisters were lost to the system and were adopted by a black American family. I felt and I know my mom sometimes feels it too, disconnected from my roots. I reconnected with my birth mom 5 years ago and she speaks Spanish and connects with her culture through language and cooking. As a woman with children now and my sons father being Puerto rican, I look at my little mixed babies and have this longing to connect with my people and my culture. So I am trying to learn how to speak Spanish. I think it is the best way for me connect. I also learn how to say and make different foods from my culture. And the closer I get, I feel like my whole lineage is just calling me back home to myself. Singing in Spanish. Dancing in Spanish lol, diving into spiritual practices. I feel connected and closer to my family and my roots. I know who I am. I don’t really feel connected to the Hispanic community in my city but I’ve just moved here and once I can speak with them I know I’ll be proud and I know my grandparents really proud and my mamas proud so ill feel differently! So yeah. Thank you for this article. Just makes me realize I’m not alone.