At age ten
I hate being “smart”
But because knowledge gushes from my pores
My peers construct a pedestal for me
And for the first time I am
(I try to drown myself in the swimming pool–once, twice, fifty times–and my parents just think I love to swim.)

At age fourteen
I resolve to be average
(To fit in)
It lasts three months
And then suddenly my love for learning spills from my lips
And <other> peer edits sixteen essays in three days
Those essays earn As, my geometry tests come back as Cs
And I struggle and struggle but no one climbs onto <other’s> pedestal to help me because
I am the model minority in the flesh
An emblem of unadulterated success
And when I worry my peers all respond
“you’re you”
and <other> does not fail, has never failed
(the world prescribes “you’re you” as a panacea to cure my ills)
(but it’s just smoke and mirrors)

At age sixteen
I fail
Onstage, in front of a hundred people,
M e n t a l b r e a k d o w n
But no one notices
Because I hide my tears behind
“you’re you”
(<other> would never fail her parents like that)
(in that moment of public weakness I drown)

At age eighteen
I am diagnosed with depression
And do I even have the right to be depressed when <other> has crested every mountain?
The pedestal is a throne now, a display case for <other>
An inspiration, a role model, a queen
A facsimile of the self underneath
In my effort to maintain <other> I neglect myself
And become the model for what a young Indian woman should be:
(but not too sexy, can’t outdo the white woman)
(but not too smart, can’t threaten the white man)
I am drowning and my peers toss me the words
“you’re you”
as if they are a buoy
as if those words mean anything at all
(<other’s> accomplishments feel like shards of a broken vase, lying uselessly at my feet, but never mine)

At age twenty
I fish myself out of the ocean
And as I dry my hair it falls off around me and suddenly I realize
I am not “her”
And I am no longer afraid to take up too much space
I assert myself and the weight of the revelation crushes <other’s> throne
And I struggle to reconcile the me people know with the me I am:
tired of being <other>

About the Author

Sajani Raja is a queer, nonbinary person of color. They are currently studying sociology and music at USC with aspirations of attending medical school. Sajani’s creative work focuses on themes of queerness, race, and politics.