Culture Wars

Wow, what great comments and insight from the last post!  I truly appreciate everyone who took the time to leave such thoughtful responses.

I remember a friend of ours who is an Anglo mother to a Chinese girl who told me once that because I am Indian, I don’t have to worry about what culture I bring to the children–that everything I do would simply be Indian because that is who I am.  I didn’t initially buy this idea, as it seemed to me that simply relying on me would mean that my children would miss out on a lot of  “Indian-ness.”  But when I think about it, that is the worst kind of essentialism to reduce being “Indian” to a narrow box. Really, isn’t this what I said I don’t like about the culture itself?   There are limitless ways to “be Indian” and it can of course mean many things to different people.  I mean, it’s okay to be South Asian and hate Bollywood, and not understand why the aarti flames must go in a clockwise direction (or is it counterclockwise?), and drink pots of coffee and not tea.  Not knowing any of those things does not make one less authentic.  And it’s okay for my kids to learn that who they are is who they are without needing to “be” any particular thing.

But there are things I want them to know, and this falls into the “pick and choose” model.  In terms of the things that would be thought of as traditional Indian culture, it’s hard to make a list of everything.  Little things come up every now and then that are not native to majority American culture that I do want the kids to know.  Things like folktales, and how to properly eat with your hands, and not touching books with your feet.  And I agree with Sapana, in that visits to India formed much of who I am now.  More than any particular “cultural” lesson,  I learned that the rest of the world doesn’t look like America, which is an important idea I want my kids to know early on.

Which leads me to another related topic, that of American culture.  Let me start by saying that I’ve never understood the “America has no culture” concept, or minimizing it to Fourth of July and turkeys and apple pie. (Which is my favorite dessert, by the way.  I once pummeled Eric with a pillow because he ate a leftover slice of pie that I was saving for breakfast. Mmmmm.  Pie for breakfast. But I digress.)  I identify as American more so than I do Indian, despite what society here may consider me to be.  The question then becomes what aspects of American culture do we want the kids to have?  This becomes an interesting question for Eric as well, as oftentimes the America he grew up in and that his family inhabits is worlds away from the one that our family lives in now.  I’ll expand more in a later post, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

And what of adorable kid pictures and the occasional knit, you ask? Those are coming, I promise. The Steggie sweater is done and awaiting modeling.  My camera is hoarding the pictures until my hard drive arrives and I can get all the old pictures onto that so that there is room on my computer!

2 thoughts on “Culture Wars

  1. Geoff says:

    well, now you’re just comment-baiting! 🙂

    “the rest of the world doesn’t look like America” – that can be proven by going anywhere, not just India. Once the kids get old enough to appreciate the money and effort that goes into an intl. trip, I hope to go once a year somewhere. For now, we’re pretty much stuck with places that have playgrounds and parks!

    the argument about the US not having culture or history is a bullshit attempt to belittle us, and should just be ignored. especially since it seems our culture is doing quite well in overwhelming other cultures.

    and eric can do the ‘pick-and-choose’ model just as well as you can. there are the obvious things he will not want to pass on, but certain quirks from Pennsylvania would be good for the kids to know. i still pronounce the state as Mizoorah, since my dad always said it that way. not that this is culture, but you get the gist.

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    • sajbat says:

      comment baiting? hmm…I certainly don’t mean to do so, though I do love comments. Of course, most other countries don’t look like America–I’m thinking specifically from the perspective of seeing a developing country as opposed to travel in Western Europe, for example. I know that Europe is different from the U.S. in many ways, but I do think that travel in non-western countries is another experience entirely. Yes, this includes other developing countries–I simply note that for me, India was my first exposure to this world and for me the value in that outweighed its value as a “return to your roots” type thing, though obviously I have a more indepth link to that because of my heritage.

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