Prasanta Verma – Beyond Ethnic Loneliness [Excerpt]

Beyond Ethnic LonelinessFinding Hope in In-Between Spaces

Read an excerpt from this excellent new book…

Beyond Ethnic Loneliness: The Pain of Marginalization and the Path to Belonging
Prasanta Verma

Paperback: IVP, 2024
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*** Read an excerpt from this book:

“Go back to Indiana, or wherever it is you came from!” she hissed. I cannot recall what preceded her comment, nor what precipitated her hatred. She didn’t like me, and for no apparent reason except one: my skin color. 

We were on the softball field for recess. In the outfield, well out of the teacher’s earshot, no one else could hear our conversation. It was a typically hot, sunny southern day and I could feel the red clay beneath my feet burning like hot coals. My classmate turned toward me, her eyes seething with hatred and bitterness. 

Sound travels faster in humid air, stinging the ears more quickly than normal. I said nothing in response but knew what she meant. Naming a state—Indiana—instead of the country—India—made her meaning undeniably clear. Or was that simply how little third graders in rural Alabama really knew? My family was, as far as we were aware, the only Indian family within a forty-five-minute radius, and my classmate had never met (or presumably seen) anyone else from the far-off land of  “Indiana.”  

At that moment, I didn’t cry. I didn’t tell my parents what my classmate said. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone. I felt pushed to the side and felt the loneliness of being different. It wasn’t until years later that I began to process and speak of situations like this, times when I felt alone in my experience of being an immigrant or someone who looked different from others. 

But where was she telling me to return to? I was puzzled. My family had recently moved from South Dakota, so that was the only place that made logical sense in my mind. It did not occur to me to go back anywhere else. I was born in India; perhaps she thought we had recently clambered off our own canoes from the Gulf Coast and walked north. She didn’t know I was one year old when my parents immigrated, that this was the only country I had ever known. 

But in my head, I’ve been going back ever since, trying to find that place called home. 

I have never forgotten her words. 

My experience that day on the playground opened my eyes, as my classmate clearly told me who I was not. Her words reminded me of what she and others saw when they looked at me. I looked at me and saw “American.” Others looked at me and saw “foreigner,” “Indian,” or “Asian.” 

People of color have consistently been marginalized in a white-centric society. We have felt invisible and lonely. We have been devalued, attacked, beaten, shot, lynched, enslaved, exiled, killed. Asians have been marginalized and made invisible; Black people have been devalued, enslaved, and murdered; Indigenous people have been erased and oppressed; Latin Americans have been discriminated against and publicly marginalized. This is by no means an exhaustive list of affected groups, and these adjectives are incomplete and inadequate to describe all the trauma, pain, and centuries of oppression. But with increasing loneliness, alienation, disconnection, and polarization not only in the United States but also globally, finding a sense of belonging is an urgent task for the person of color today. 

Living in this in-between place lends itself to a peculiar kind of loneliness: specifically, ethnic and racial loneliness. It has taken years to untangle and unpack internal dialogues and assimilation strategies I developed, years of reckoning and soul-searching to reach a place of peace and rest regarding my identity. 

There is hope for the person of color who feels marginalized and living in in-between spaces. A path toward healing and belonging is possible as we understand and claim our identity. So, let’s travel now from this place to that, from a country with no name to new places where we will build a new concept of home, where we feel seen, where we are known, where we belong.

Adapted from Beyond Ethnic Loneliness by Prasanta Verma. ©2024 by Prasanta Verma. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com. 

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