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.

 

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.

I Don’t Recognize This Place

There are days when I can look at old pictures from Facebook and wonder about how people I know got from where they were to where they are now. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have recognized who I am now even 5 years ago. Maybe I would have but maybe my life is so completely different that people I knew then wouldn’t understand me now. I see pictures of friends and really do wonder if I would have even liked them back 5-10 years ago or if it’s who they are now that I really like. 

You know what else I find interesting? It’s when I see people who haven’t changed at all. Most of the people I am friends with now are in their late 20s to their early 30s. I’d like to think most of us have grown up and moved on from those crazy party days. There were days I could go through a weekend going out, having dance practices, and minimal sleep for about 3 days in a row. The thought of that now makes me nauseous from a purely “I can’t handle that anymore” point of view. But there are people who are still doing it. And that’s fine in the sense that that’s what they want to do in their life at this point. More power to them. I just know that after one crazy night, I’m in recovery mode for like a week. 

Have you ever thought back and can pinpoint that one decision that changed the way your life path was going? It’s hard to recognize the life changing ones when you make them (most of the time) until a while later when you look back and realized how you got to the place you are at now. There are friendships that have changed or careers that are not what you started with. 

When I was younger and I couldn’t always keep up with the people partying, I used to look at myself and try to figure out what was wrong with me or how come I am not cooler. I finally got to a point where I can accept some of those for what they are and I’m okay that I don’t always match up to everyone else. I still see those people around and I am okay with the place that I am in my life now even though it might look less exciting than other people’s lives. The harder part for me even now is when I know I’m on the life path working toward something without knowing what and just trusting that one day I’ll understand. Experience has taught me that I will understand someday but I can definitely feel that I’m working my way towards something somewhere. I’m in change mode again but not sure where that will lead. 

Life is an interesting path. One day, I hope to be able to write it all down or do a photo journal and look proudly over what I’ve accomplished and remember all the experiences. 

The Guilt Factor – Off of the Beaten Path

Does this life sound familiar to anyone else? We go to school, graduate with our bachelor’s, work, go get our master’s degree, work, get married somewhere between the bachelor’s and the master’s, work, have kids right after our second graduation, work, and work until this repeats with our children.

Wait, what happens when you don’t follow this formula? Probably guilt. I feel guilty that I’m not doing what I was programmed to do. This is the correct formula to make everyone proud and to be able to show your face in society, right?

Well, crap. I didn’t follow the formula and now I feel like I’ve let everyone down. I feel the guilt. In all fairness, the guilt tends to follow you every time you do something that isn’t allegedly morally correct, not just when you step off of the beaten path. I don’t know if this is oldest child syndrome or not but I’m willing to bet it’s not just me who feels guilty every time I do something that I know might not be the best choice. I feel guilty even putting myself first before my family.

It’s unrealistic to feel this guilt. When you do something for you, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else, it shouldn’t be a bad thing. Taking time off to take care of yourself is a good thing. Finding out what makes you happy and working towards that is a good thing.

Happiness. It’s a fairly unknown concept in our culture. So much of our society is based on duty and responsibility. We forget that life is so fleeting that you might as well enjoy it while you’re here. It’s a concept that is slowly start to emerge as the new generation grows up and realizes that they don’t want to live the same formula anymore. It’s interesting to watch people chase their dreams and follow their hearts.

The guilt needs to go. It’s taken me a while to learn how to dump the guilt. I still feel it since it is programmed in me but give me an hour or so and I’ll get over it. I’ll know that if I trust myself and know that I’m doing the right thing, then I have nothing to feel guilty about. Hell, even if it’s not necessarily the ideal thing to do, at least I made my own choice and will live with that decision.

How else are you supposed to live your life to the fullest?