An Asian Life in a Multicultural World
Esandi Kurulugama, Honorable Mention
I was 1 year old when I was brought to America from my birthplace in Sri Lanka, and as a result, my recollection of Sri Lankan lifestyle was weak. But my parents have helped me nurture love for Sri Lanka and our beliefs even while living in America. My journey to America and through American and Asian culture has taught me that while you are trying to fit in amongst others you must always remember to remain true to your beliefs and values.
My father was the first of my family to move to America. His migration was fueled by his ambition for higher studies and better education for his kids. A month later, my mother and I joined him, and soon we were one happy family. Growing up, I felt as if I was more American than Asian because I was more accustomed to American culture, but my parents helped me realize that we were special because we were a part of a unique culture passed down to us from our dear ancestors.
I was taught the Buddhist way of life because my family was Buddhist, and this greatly influenced my personality and values. I was taught to be respectful, to give to the needy, and to never hurt others. Because of my beliefs, I have not only grown to be who I am today but I have motivated many others to act the same way. Because of this, I have surrounded myself with kind people who encourage me to be myself.
While my family still celebrates most Sri Lankan traditions, the celebrations are devoid of authenticity. When I was 11, I received a chance to visit Sri Lanka during vacation and it was then that I finally got a taste of true Sri Lankan culture. I listened to my grandparents tell me stories about how our little island was discovered by an Indian prince who became the father of all Sri Lankans. I helped my cousins cook traditional Sri Lankan meals for our elders. I even lit fireworks with my sisters to celebrate Sri Lankan New Year. On the return trip to California, I realized that those precious memories could not be recreated in America, and that I should cherish them for the rest of my life.
The religion and traditions of my ancestors run through my veins and guide me through life. I will continue to share my culture among the future generations and hope that my descendants will be accepted by society in the same way that I was accepted by people with other religious and social backgrounds. There is an old folktale whose moral is: “United we stand, divided we fall” and we can be united only after we learn to accept and value one another’s culture and religion and immerse ourselves in the wonder of our cultural and religious diversity. Being an Asian in America is synonymous with living in two worlds at once, and I can only describe it in one word: amazing.