Citizens of the world return home

By Jamie Kim and Candice Navi

The great thing about the United States is that different cultures and traditions are able to come together into what history teachers at Harvard-Westlake have called a “salad bowl.” Students with non-American backgrounds like Biswaroop Mukherjee ’09, Charlotte Shih ’10 and Thalia Bajakian ’10 each have different experiences being raised in dual cultures.

Although Mukherjee was born in America and is an American citizen, he says he identifies more as Indian than American. Mukherjee cites his upbringing in India as the reason for this sentiment – he moved to Bangalore, southern India, at age five and only returned to the States when he was in ninth grade.

American culture has not impacted him much. For the most part, he has stayed loyal to Indian culture and customs. At home, he speaks his parents’ tongue, Bangali, and is also fluent in Hindi, the national language of India. He listens to classical Hindustani music and watches old Bengali movies.

Mukherjee, whose family visits a sixth century AD temple in the Himalayas every summer and performs rites to the god Shiva, says his religion is one of the things that keeps him close to his Indian roots.

“For me Hinduism provides a way of life, and brings me closer to Indian culture through its literature and philosophy.” Two years ago, Mukherjee obtained an Overseas Citizen of India Card which does not make him a citizen but allows him to stay indefinitely in India if he chooses. Mukherjee, who aspires to be a physicist, says he has considered returning to India after graduate school.

Shih was born in America, but her first language was Mandarin, the main dialect of Chinese.

“In elementary and middle school, when people found out that I spoke Mandarin, it was a big thing,” she said.

Shih’s parents emigrated from Taiwan to the United States to get away from the troubles they were facing under Chairman Chiang Kai-Shek.

“They were hoping to leave all the terrible stuff in Taiwan behind,” she said.

Bajakian attended an Armenian school until ninth grade.

“Sometimes I do wish that I could talk to more people in Armenian,” she said.

To Bajakian, Armenian culture is, for the most part, relatively similar to American culture except for a few traditions and religious differences and she says speaking a different language has been an asset in Bajakian’s life and has allowed her to better understand different cultures while also providing variety and excitement in her life.

“It helps me be open to people with other cultures because I know what it is like,” Bajakian said. “I feel like life would be a lot more boring. I love being Armenian and having my heritage is an important part of my life. I cannot see it any other way.”