Dear Teen Me:
I have to admit that this is kind of nice—writing you letters and checking in on you. This is my second letter to you, and I know that the first one was a bit brutal. I didn’t hold back because I know you can handle it. Deep down beneath all the insecurity and lack of self-confidence, there’s a quiet strength there—one that will serve you well in future years. Those were all things you needed to know, although I’m sure they stung a little. Even if you don’t write back, given the circumstances, it’s nice to talk to you.
So we have a book coming out this month—a very special book, one about our culture and background, one about Hindu mythology. It’s called ALPHA GODDESS and it is a Spring 2014 Kids’ INDIE NEXT pick, which is a pretty big deal. You’re an author, by the way, but I think I mentioned that in my last letter. This will be your fourth published book, with two more on the horizon in 2014.
Finding your self-confidence has always been tough for you, whether that’s about how you look or what your culture is or who your parents are. It’s hard for almost any teenager, I can tell you that. But growing up in a multi-cultural, multi-religious home has made it more than a little difficult for you to figure out who you are. I won’t lie. It gets worse for you in college after high school. Finding your place in the world is going to be a difficult task and you’re going to have an epic identity crisis. EPIC. You’ll try to be more “Indian,” and try to focus on roots that you hope will help define you. It will make it harder because you’ll learn that that one single part doesn’t make up the whole of who you are. But don’t worry; you’ll come through it stronger and more grounded than ever. You’ll start to appreciate the subtle (and not so subtle) complexities that make you, you.
Growing up in Trinidad will be illuminating to say the least, especially on the color front, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to understand where you belong in another place defined by a whole different set of cultural rules. First of all, your best friend, Alana, is an amazing girl. And you’re still friends with her today. Despite the fact that she is of African descent and you’re of Indian descent, neither of you let the tiny, inconsequential issue of color hold you back. You become fast friends that very first time you switch lunches because she likes roti and you like sandwiches. She’s smart, too, like you, and has a smile that could light up the world. Hold on to her—she is a living example of what your parents have always taught you about seeing past people’s differences. On the inside, you’re the same—passionate, smart, loving, friendly, capable, and kind. She’s everything and more a best friend can be.
You are living in an area of the world where your cultural history is a product post-colonization, and while that is amazing in the way that Trinidadians celebrate everything and each other (Christmas, Divali, Eid, Easter, Carnival) no matter the race, you still develop a healthy awareness of your skin color. You are brown. The other half of your country is black. And the minority is white. But brains aren’t defined by color, so learn to use yours. Blacks and browns will always be a point of segregation in your space, but that may not be the case elsewhere, especially outside the Caribbean. Try to hold on to who you are on the inside, not on the outside. I know that sounds easy, but it’s really not. It will be hard to do that when everyone else tries to define you or categorize you based on your appearance—the brown girl, the Indian girl, or the girl with the odd accent. Oh, and everyone’s going to think that you’re from India because of the way you look. Be prepared to explain that a lot. East Indian heritage and West Indian heritage are two totally disparate things. Part of figuring out who you are is about sharing your culture and your differences with others. Don’t be afraid to speak up and use your voice.
Lastly, on the religious front, be open. Be accepting. Prepare to absorb and learn. Your mom grew up in a Muslim household, your father in a Hindu one. You attended a Presbyterian elementary school and are attending a Presbyterian high school. Your best friend is a Christian and you’ve attended ISCF Christian fellowship camps with her. You are growing up experiencing a wide range of religious education, something that not many people have the luxury to do. Embrace it all. This will give you the foundation for us to write this newly released novel and be proud of it—allowing us to showcase a part of our cultural roots to the world. It will also allow you to be more accepting of others and to appreciate the vast religious differences of people across the globe. That’s something that we need more of in the world today—love, understanding, and acceptance.
I always say in my speaking engagements with teenagers that one day you’re going to be happy that you’re the exception, not the rule. That’s tough to explain to a teenager who may only want to fade into the woodwork, like you sometimes do. But being different is an asset, not a curse. Diversity is something to be celebrated and not hidden. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … you are a vibrant, smart, and kind young lady. Be confident in who you are because what you are learning right now about culture, religion and identity will serve you in excellent stead in the future. It will make you ask all the right questions when ignorant people try to pigeonhole you and others, and will make you use your voice with conviction. It will help shape you in ways that you won’t yet understand, but will definitely be for the better.
Be open. Be kind. Above all, embrace who you are. Love yourself in all your seemingly imperfect forms—because trust me, everything else is going to fall perfectly into place. Just look at this book that we’ve written that’s opening up all kinds of interesting dialogue in the YA world about Hinduism and Indian culture! That’s all you. Despite all the hurdles, identity crises, and bits of adversity we face along the way, we are going to rock it. YOU are going to rock it.
Grown Up Me
AMALIE HOWARD grew up on a small Caribbean island where she spent most of her childhood with her nose buried in a book or being a tomboy running around barefoot, shimmying up mango trees and dreaming of adventure. 22 countries, surfing with sharks and several tattoos later, she has traded in bungee jumping in China for writing the adventures she imagines instead. She isn’t entirely convinced which takes more guts. She is the author of several young adult novels critically acclaimed by Kirkus, PW and Booklist, including WATERFELL, THE ALMOST GIRL, and ALPHA GODDESS, a Spring 2014 Kid’s INDIE NEXT title. Her debut novel, BLOODSPELL, then published with a small press, was a Seventeen Magazine Summer Read. She currently resides in New York with her husband and three children. Visit her at www.amaliehoward.com.