Blue Mountain Arts
Blue Mountain Arts
Blue Mountain Arts

Poetry Contest Winners :: Thirty-second Contest :: Honorable Mention


I am a Chai Tea Latte

by Varsha S.
“A grande chai tea latte with two extra pumps, please!”
My favorite Starbucks order
An Indian-flavored drink in American packaging.

My cultural heritage has
A distinct South Indian flavor.
Weaved into my childhood —
Tamil films and Bollywood dance sequences
Aromatic spices in daily curries
Weekly religious singing
Rich spiritual traditions.
Born and raised here in California
In a country where
Brown is not the norm.

In a country where
At 7 years old, I cry myself to sleep
The day my classmate asks me
Why am I so hairy?
Why is my skin so dark?
Why do I always wear my hair in two long braids?

In a country where
At 9 years old, I tell my mom
I want to take a PB&J sandwich
Not a paratha or rice and curry
To school for lunch
Because the latter makes me a “fob.”

In a country where
At 12 years old, I refuse an invite
To a pool party
Because my legs and arms are
Covered in ugly dark black hairs
And my parents won’t let me shave.

In a country where
At 13 years old, I grab a pair of scissors
And try to individually snip off
Every hair on my skin
Until I nick my skin enough times
To let myself give up.

In a country where
At 16 years old, a guy from my community college
That I barely know
Texts me at 2:00 a.m.
Says I should meet up with him because
He has always wanted a “beautiful exotic girl.”

In a country where
At 17 years old, I take a bus home from work
A drunk man stumbles on and looks around
Walks to where I’m sitting with a friend
Tells me to get out of there and go back to
“The dirty temple you came from.”

But I came from here.
I was born and raised here in California
In a country where
Brown is not the norm
In a country where
Brown makes me special.

In a country where
At 8 years old, my friend from four-square games
Asks me to trade some of my food for his sandwich
My parathas and my rice and curry.
He takes a bite and hums in delight
At the explosion of flavor that he loves.

In a country where
At 10 years old, my friend from class
Asks me to teach her
How to say the numbers in my language.
Says she wishes she could speak Tamil
Because it sounds so cool.

In a country where
At 14 years old, the adults at my temple
Tell me how glad they are
That I haven’t forgotten my religion and culture
That I lead bhajans and pray every day
Because those traditions help make me who I am.

In a country where
At 17 years old, I go to a Dandiya festival
My friends and I dress up in our chaniya cholis and jewelry
Braid our hair and press a bindi on our foreheads
Eat samosas, grab two decorated Dandiya sticks each
And dance the night away with new friends to celebrate our culture.

In a country where
At 18 years old, I move to Los Angeles for college
I blast a Spotify playlist with my favorite Indian movie songs
I unapologetically own my brown skin and arm hair
I pray daily to the picture of Hindu Gods that I hang at my desk
I have never been prouder to be Indian.

In a country where
At 18 years old, I can be as American as I am Indian
Listening to Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars every day
Wearing T-shirts and shorts and letting my hair down
Going to the beach with friends that have
White skin, black skin, and everything in between.

“A grande chai tea latte with two extra pumps, please!”
My favorite Starbucks order
An Indian-flavored drink in American packaging.
Not afraid to be either
Quite the opposite, in fact,
Unbelievably proud of both labels.
I am a chai tea latte.

About the Author
"Hi all! My name is Varsha and I study Neuroscience at UCLA. I love both of my cultures - Indian and American - and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the best of both worlds. Thanks in advance for giving my poem a read, and feel free to message me on Facebook! I'm always looking to make new friends. [www.facebook.com/varsha.swamy3]”
Third Place WinnerNext Honorable Mention
Blue Mountain Arts