Congratulations—you're a miracle! You were born, you did it. Celebrate. The first time I heard those words, I was in second grade. From the get-go, my parents were never big on celebrating anything. We did Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and St. Patrick’s Day because they were the norm, thanksgiving because it was the norm, but when it came to birthdays, having a party was a hard pass. My mom and dad didn't grow up in the States, and as children, they both worked intensely on their academics to have a shot at a financially secure future. The thought of acknowledging the day they were born was always at the back of their minds.
I was nine years old when a classmate told me about her upcoming birthday party. She presented it as if it were the most casual thing in the world. “Come to my party. It’s at nine on Saturday, there’ll be a bouncy house.” Up until that point, I’d never had or been to a birthday party. The party ended up being the most fantastic thing little nine-year-old me had ever experienced or attended. I loved it, and from that moment on all I would ask for was a celebration of my own. But I’ve still never had one.
The typical American birthday looks as if it’s following an all-purpose pamphlet. Here’s the gist: Come to my house/a predetermined venue. There’ll be cake. Give me presents. All the little details are dependent on variables like budget, taste, location, and so forth. When one introduces culture to a celebration, however, things tend to change. Birthdays across the world vary greatly compared to the United States. In Mexico, your face is on the cake. In Hungary, your earlobes are pulled, and in Russia, you get a pie instead of a cake. All across the world, the day you were born is always an important one. Immigrants always bring their culture with them when settling down into new places, and as a child of immigrants, I've had to do away with the typical birthday spiel, and not celebrate at all. In the beginning, it was tantalizing. When we are young, so much of our identity rests on how we present ourselves to our peers, and when something about our lives is different from everyone else’s, it seems like the world is glaring down. Me and birthdays have had a complicated relationship: I went from loving them to hating them, and now I’m just learning to be okay with them.
It took me four years to finally understand that it’s alright to not be the same as everyone else. It was a slow process, but I realized being different doesn't mean you’re less of a person. I met a few other people who hadn’t had parties, and eventually I got to the age when it no longer mattered if you celebrated because you knew there’d be other years to come. I look back on it now and realize how silly it was to fret over such a thing. But back then, birthday parties meant everything and more to me. Sometimes I think it wasn’t even the party part. It was just being as close, culturally, to the other kids I knew. I was already different enough, my race and upbringing being a major obstacle in my ever-evolving journey to be normal. I spent years in shame until I decided to just screw it all. So what if I didn't have a party? So what if everyone thought I was weird? Fuck it. I'm not trying to please anyone anymore. And just like that, it didn't matter—nobody cared. We had reached the age at which impressing others was no longer relevant, and with that, I could put aside my childhood qualm. Not conforming to others’ standards taught me to live life for myself. There was and still is freedom in being confident in my own lifestyle, and because of that confidence, I no longer need to fit a mold to be happy with myself.