Second-Generation South Asian Indian American Identity

Something I constantly think about is how to pass down our traditions and culture to our children. I want my kids to know who they are and where they come from but it’s an interesting dilemma considering that my generation was raised differently than past generations. We were some of the first Asian Indian Americans growing up in the United States.

Being in America changed the way we would have traditionally grown up. I know a lot of people who grew up as close to the Indian culture as possible but even then, there were plenty of other influences affecting their childhood.

For me, growing up as a first-generation Asian Indian American in the United States allowed me and my siblings to define our own path. We chose whether or not to follow Hinduism. We chose which aspects of it we liked and didn’t like. Maybe it would have been the same in India. My mother’s side is pretty much a straight line of atheists. My dad’s side is religious but my dad never pressed us into following anything. He left everything open for our interpretations and let us make our own decisions on what we wanted to do.

Religion aside, being here in this “melting pot” gave us exposure to so many other cultures and religions. My family celebrates Holi which is traditionally a Hindu festival, Navratri which is traditionally a Gujarati festival, and spend Diwali at the Gurudwara since half of my family is Sikh although Diwali is also celebrated by Hindus and Jains. I am pretty sure that none of these are exclusive to their religions of origin. I know that garba during Navratri is well attended by people of all nationalities and religions.

Where does religion end and culture start? We are lucky to be in this area where everything isn’t so heavily based on religion but on our culture. I’ve never been really religious and if all of my family’s traditions were based on religion, I don’t know if I would feel as comfortable passing it down to my children. But since they have become much more based on Indian culture, we introduce our children to everything we possibly can so they are aware of our Indian traditions.

I feel lucky that Indian culture and religion can be separated as easily as it has. If our entire culture was rooted in religion, it would have been that much harder for me to accept this new identity that I have formed. It’s different now for my kids because they are learning second hand about our traditions. Whatever we have cultivated is what is being handed down. I have to accept they might never know our languages as well or the cultural norms that we grew up with.

How much can we expect our children to absorb? Is it possible that they will be as involved in the Indian culture as much as we were growing up. It honestly didn’t occur to me until my 30s that what we were doing was unprecedented. That means what our children are doing is unprecedented as well. I would like my children to take pride in the cultural traditions that we are able to pass down.

It will be interesting to see what our kids accept as and what they separate out from their cultural identity.

 

A Competitive Community

Indians are competitive. We are competitive in every possible thing that we can be.

As a child, I remember the competition to get the best grades. Later, it was SAT scores and colleges. After that, it was careers. Then came marriage and children.

It was also happening within the community outside of our Indian one but it was definitely amplified within it.

It didn’t matter if we were in the top 10 of our class in our school, we had to also to better than the people we were growing up with (or at least comparable).

I’m positive that there is always some talk about who is married and who has had kids and who is a stay at home mom and who is a working mom. There’s definitely competition in who has the best wedding and the most original wedding and the most expensive wedding.

This competition exists in whatever we do. I’ve experienced it heavily in different dance companies. The crazy thing to me is that I honestly believe we limit our potential as a culture if we compete.

We want to be able to share how wonderful the Indian culture is with the world. But how can we do that when we try to keep each other down? We want to involve and encourage as many people as possible.

So the question becomes why? Why should we encourage others in our community? What if they are our competition for schools and jobs? What if their business competes directly with ours? Won’t it hurt us?

In my opinion, no. I’ve seen the discouragement and disappointment of a competitive community and I’ve seen the amazing community that people can build if they have each other’s support. In the long run, everyone moves forward if we work together and lift each other up. Maybe, just maybe, India with its billion of people can have more of a presence world-wide. We could enter in the Olympics and have more than 4 people. We could be more than a side-note in the entertainment industry (especially since India makes the most movies in the world). We could build a great, progressive country that is respected.

I honestly believe this all starts at home. Build each other up. Encourage each other. Help each other move forward.

The Art of Being Still

I have this itch to do something. I’ve had this itch for a long time, probably around the time I became a stay-at-home mom to 2 kids. There is an intense feeling that I should be out in the world doing something, accomplishing something.

I read this quote today and it resonated with me:

“Crazy-busy is a great armor, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us.” – Brene Brown

It got me wondering if that’s what I’m doing. Am I trying to do something so I stay ahead of what I’m feeling? Do I need to accomplish something so that I feel validated as a person? I feel like I have been numb for a while. I haven’t felt the ups and downs like a regular person would. It might be that I’m protecting myself from feeling at all.

What if I were to stop trying to force the issue for a bit? What if I were to just stay still and really figure out what’s going on with me? What if I were to let the armor down?

It’s a scary thought.

I also wonder if I’m the only one. How many other people are trying to stay super busy so they don’t have to think, to feel? What if we slowed down for a minute? Would it allow us to see who we truly are?

Being South Asian Indian, we are especially regularly busy. We have so many social events that we plan our events months or even years in advance. Is it a good thing to have that community or does it just add the busyness? Is there a balance you can achieve where you have the space to discover yourself but enough people around you to have the support you need?

The next thing I wonder about is if will it be disappointing to see myself at a stand still.  What if I don’t like who I am without the cover of busyness? Will it even reveal something? It feels overwhelming to just stop. How do you discover who you are and what you’re feeling? How do you handle what you find out? What is okay? What will I find okay?

I’m up for the challenge because I’ve been trying to forcing myself to find something to accomplish for a while now. I want to slow down and let the universe reveal the path I’m supposed to take. It might be easier even if I have to face things about myself I don’t like.

Let me know your stories if you have ever tried this before. I’d love to know.

 

 

 

 

The Boy Who Wears Bows

We are in a new time in our lives. When I was growing up, the ideas of what boys wear and what girls wear were pretty established.

Now, if you were growing up like me, it was okay to be a tomboy. You could wear boys’ clothing and play sports and video games and it was no big deal. But if you were a boy, the same gender neutrality wasn’t the case.

I have a son and a daughter. My son is the baby so he follows his sister everywhere. She is a tomboy in princess’s clothing. She wears dresses, does her hair, and puts on a necklace and then goes to climb mountains and play baseball. There is no separation of what is acceptable for her to do or wear from any other child.

My son likes to do the same thing his sister does plus a few things she didn’t do. He loves cars and trains and trucks in a way she was never into. And he will participate in all of it with a bow on his head. He sees his sister wear bows and asks for them as well. Because we have never established something was a “girl thing” or a “boy thing”, we put the bow on and let him rock it.

It definitely raises interest especially in our South Asian circles. We have heard “that’s for girls” a few times. But really is it? Or is it just something that we have established as a “girl thing” in society? If boys were given a fair chance to express themselves, would they themselves have immersed in the bow culture?

The next question that arises is what happens when my son wants to wear something else his sister wears. What about princess dresses or necklaces or bangles?

What do we do when we have let the kids live in a gender neutral zone where they can be free to do or wear whatever they want? Is it better to follow society’s gender norms at least for now so we can protect our son from the chance of being bullied until he can understand how to protect himself? Would we follow the same rules of parental protection as we would with climbing structures and riding bikes? Would we do whatever we could to protect them in the real world until the real world catches up with the way we think?

As parents, what is the correct path? I don’t know if there is one. I think we are in a new territory where children have the freedom to become who they really are, who they are truly comfortable with. I want to be able to be there for my children for whatever choices they make. I want to be there for them to fall back on and to be their shield when they need it. My parents did that for me when I was breaking society’s norms and I don’t want to be any less for my kids.

It may turn out that our son doesn’t care for “girl things” as he gets older. It may turn out that he loves them.

It may turn out that he may go on to drive monster trucks with a multitude of bows in his hair.

Watch Something Progressive

Have you watched a kids’ show lately? Maybe if you don’t have children, you haven’t seen one since you were a kid.

My kids watch Sesame Street on a daily basis. I remember watching it when I was growing up and liking it. Now? I seriously love it.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m an adult and more aware or that our country suddenly has a serious number of issues that have been brought to light. I’m finding that kids’ shows are more progressive that our actual world seems to be.

Before everything got kind of crappy, I would have been proud that Sesame Street showed episodes about the Indian culture. Now I’m relieved. They also have episodes about other cultures (such as Chinese New Year and a South African exchange student), bullying, autism, and just liking yourself as you are. It’s amazing. They are teaching my kids (and myself) so many positive things that sometimes, I wonder if we are actually in this time frame where people are acting as regressive as they are.

The other 2 shows that my kids have been watching lately are Doc McStuffins and PJ Masks. While it hasn’t come up in the few episodes I’ve watched, both shows star children of different backgrounds doing awesome things. I especially love that my little girl is watching Doc McStuffins because I love the idea that she has a role model that plays doctor and isn’t just into a bunch of princesses.

I feel like there are plenty of adults that need a good dose of some of these children’s shows. They have fantastic messages and teach you a lot about the world. You can stream Sesame Street on HBO, Doc Mcstuffins on Hulu, and PJ Masks on Netflix. Take some time out of your day and learn something new.

Second Class Citizen

Yesterday, while I was on the treadmill at the gym, some older white guy got on the treadmill next to me. When he turned on his tv, it was on Fox News. As long as I was there (for another 5-10 minutes), he hadn’t changed it. I don’t know if it happened to just be on and he wasn’t paying attention or if this is the channel he meant to watch. He had also socialized with a few other people around us. One of the men he spoke to was watching CNN. The other man that said hi to him then proceeded to go hug an older African American woman. So I’m really not sure what the guy next to me believed.

I’ll tell you what I do know though. I felt awkward. I felt like if this guy actually watches Fox News (while it was talking about the Muslim Travel Ban), he had no reason to actually want me around. It made me feel severely conscious of my skin color.

I was born here and have lived here my whole life. I’ve barely even moved out of the city I’ve lived in, let alone the state. I’ve always been proud of my dual heritage of being South Asian Indian and American. I’ve always thought it was so much cooler to live in American with its progression while also having a cool background where I get to wear gorgeous clothes, have a huge movie and music industry, and still participate in my cultural traditions.

Right now, with the way this America is, I don’t feel that. I feel like I’ve been downgraded. I feel like I have to second guess who I am. I feel like I am going to have to protect my family from all the problems that have still yet to come. I have thought of where we would go if it got that bad where we couldn’t live the life we were used to living. Would we go back to India? Another westernized country? Do you know how hard it is to even think of leaving our home?

I’ve always been more on the optimistic side of how these things resolve. Right now, it is extremely difficult to be optimistic. I can’t imagine how people can’t care for other people. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be threatened by people of another skin color or religion. Maybe it’s because being Indian means a whole variety of skin colors and religions already. To me, growing up in American already meant a blend. I don’t know it any other way. I’ve never understood it any other way.

Now, based on the fact that I’m more tan than that guy next to me on the treadmill, I get to feel like less of a person.

I really hate that.

The First Thing To Go Out The Door

Self-care.

As a mother, I think this is the first thing that we abandon when we have kids. Our priorities shift enough that the order of important is the following: kids #1-however many and our partner, work, home, extended family, the world, everything else, ourselves.

We forget we exist until we run ourselves down enough that there is only a shell of our former selves left. Then, all of a sudden, we are locked in a bathroom, crying our eyes out because this isn’t the life we imagined.

We have to take care of ourselves. If we don’t feel good about ourselves, then how can we be a good example for our kids?

I’m not only talking about the physical stuff like showering, grooming, exercising. We have to take care of ourselves mentally and emotionally. We have to take that time in the day where we can focus on ourselves.

Doing all of this other stuff is wearing. It’s tiring. It’s hard to refocus on yourself. When I finally get a few minutes of quiet, I just sit there and stare into the abyss. Okay, the abyss in reality is the tv. It’s like I forget how to function. I can’t even think of what I’d want to do for myself. If I do figure it out, I don’t have the energy.

It’s easy to get caught up in resentment and anger when you get used to putting yourself last. As a South Asian Indian mom, I’m programmed to put myself last. I’m supposed to put my kids and husband first. And every time I feel neglected, I end up feeling a mixture of sadness and anger.

The thing is that you have to find the solution. Your kids are never going to put you first and your partner can only help so much. You have to find the time and energy to do things for yourself. You have to be okay with putting yourself first sometimes. You have to find ways to take care of yourself.

If you have any self-care tips, I’d love to hear them. I am always looking for new ways to take care of myself.