By Amila Jayamaha
America is notorious for being considered a “melting pot.” It’s a country where everyone’s individualities get melted into one large label, “American.” This causes many immigrants to lose their sense of nationalism for their mother country, and makes it even harder for second generation immigrants to have a sense of patriotism for their parents’ home countries.
I, like the common second generation immigrant, consider America to be my home and chose not to learn about my heritage as a Sinhalese person. However, after many years of discussion with my parents, and some trips to their homeland, I have a newfound appreciation for the country. This allowed me to come to the realization that I am able to consider both America and Sri Lanka to be my home.
When I was younger my parents used to speak their native language in our house quite often, Sinhalese, and though I understood it well, I would never make any efforts to learn to speak it. I am to this day devastated with that fact. I realized how much I lost by choosing not to invest time in learning about my heritage when I first went to Sri Lanka at the age of 4.
Throughout the 21 hour plane ride to the country, I was anticipating being extremely underwhelmed entering the country. I assumed all I would want to do would be to count the days till I got to go back home.
After exiting the airport all of my senses were firing. I would smell the salt from the sea, feel the humid wind on my skin, taste the moisture in the air, and see and hear a bustling city in front of me. Needless to say, I was surprised by how excited I became when seeing the country for the first time.
The drive to my grandparents home was the most fascinating and scary experience of my life. While I was able to look out the windows and see the large green mountain ranges where rice, tea, and other vegetables were growing.
Driving in Sri Lanka is very scary, the yellow lines in the center of the road are a mere suggestion, and to drivers the speed limit is the minimum speed you should go. People race around the road overtaking and honking at one another, men herding cattle would suddenly go into the road causing a traffic jam. While I was terrified, I was also bursting with excitement for what else this country had to offer me.
My first real outing in Sri Lanka led me to one of the many Buddhist temples scattered around the country. I was pleasantly surprised as to how interesting the history was at the temple. The large curved walls were painted with Buddha’s story of enlightenment and there were many statues of different monks and animals around the floors.
However, what caught my eye the fastest was the 25 foot long sleeping Buddha statue made entirely out of gold, which I later found out was made over 1000 years ago. Hearing this story made me realize the historical value of Sri Lanka. After researching different aspects of Buddhism, I chose to convert to the religion. I had many supporters in the matter, because many of my family, including my mother are Buddhist.
The next prominent trip I went on was climbing Sigiriya. This mountain stands over 1000 feet tall, and I had little to no support climbing up. While there are railings and stairs now, when I climbed the mountain, there were only steep rock paths that had no railings to catch you if you slipped.
This added to my sense of adventure while in Sri Lanka, because while the trek was difficult, the view at the top of the mountain was amazing. Atop the mountain was the ruins of an old castle built by a Sri Lankan king who was afraid his brother, who he had pushed out to India, would come back to kill him. Thus, in his paranoia, he built the castle and created an irrigation system in the mountain that would allow him to flood the land in a 60 mile radius to keep invaders out.
The stories this country had were so fascinating to my young brain, that it helped me learn to appreciate my culture.
To this day, I continue going on annual summer trips to Sri Lanka to visit friends and family, and see different temples. I have begun learning to speak Sinhalese as well, so that I may someday be able to go to the country alone and experience a new sense of freedom in my motherland.
After setting up a dual citizenship, I have finally accepted America and Sri Lanka to be my home and hope to embrace the culture that both countries offer.