You start with a sari. A sari that is sentimental and important, one that you’re willing to cherish for years to come, because little do you know that when you put this piece of fabric on for the very first time, you are now a true woman of culture. Get a sari your mother, aunt, grandmother gave to you on a birthday, maybe the 16th, 18th, 21st, telling you how beautifully you’ve grown up. You will accept the sari, smiling back, acting totally not sentimental despite the fact you will now go home and for days, maybe even weeks, you will just admire it— at the beauty, the detail, the strong and undistinguishable smell of the fabric that instantly takes you back to the homeland. You will have to get your blouse fitted, your very first blouse. Either your mother, aunt, grandmother will come in one day and measure every inch of you, starting from a tape measure around your shoulders, your ribcage, your chest— or some old male seamstress will do it and you’re going to feel hella awkward, no doubt. Eventually will come the day when you need to put on the sari— and you will need help. You will go into the bathroom and put on the petticoat and blouse, and you’ll stare at yourself in the mirror. You’ll feel a little odd that you’re suddenly exposing so much of yourself, and amused by the fact that, for centuries, women of your culture have been wearing saris showing their stomachs with no problem, but it’s a huge ass deal when you want to wear a crop-top. You’ll go out and your mother, aunt, grandmother will usher you closer to them, smiling with pride and love in their eyes as this is the first time they can intimately share their culture with you. And they’ll take your sari out of your hands. And they will put it on.
See, you first take an end of your sari, and you tuck it into your petticoat, and stick a safety pin in it. You then take the other side of your sari, pleating it to perfection, wrapping it around you once and then up over your shoulder. And stick a safety pin in it. Then you will do the pleats for the front of your sari. Your mother, aunt, grandmother will do it expertly, weaving her hands back and forth and back and forth as you look in awe. And you must stick a safety pin in it. You take the pleats and you tuck into your petticoat and suddenly, everything is coming together. You don’t even notice the final tweaks your mother, aunt, grandmother makes as you stare at your own reflection, feeling as though you finally sewn into the culture the people around you are already fit into easily. You fit, too.
At the end of the night, your mother, aunt, grandmother will inevitably have to help you take off your culture once again. But don’t you worry. Those safety pins will come out and your sari will slip off of you, but the many pieces of your identity will have started coming together on their own, stitch by stitch.