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!

Hapa

Friends of ours recently gave us the book Part Asian, 100%Hapa.  It’s a pretty cool little volume in which there are simple, stark faceshots of people who identify as mixed descent and their responses to the question “What are you?” that they likely receive on a daily basis.  Of course, my kids will have to deal with this as well, especially as both of them appear very blended and are not immediately identifiable as one particular ethnicity.  Part of me thinks that as time goes on, this will become less of an issue as more mixed couples have children.

A bigger question I ask, though, is what ethnic culture are we raising our children in? How do I want them to understand what it means to be Indian? What does that even mean to me?  Growing up, I never really had a lot of Indian friends, despite living in a very diverse community.  I often found that the younger generation of Indian kids often had a lot of the same restrictive boundaries that I felt the older culture to have.  The community can be very disapproving if someone does not fit into a relatively narrow box.

As children, my parents would drag my sister and I to various celebrations and events.  These were largely meaningless to me then as religious events and really were more of an excuse for a social gathering.  I cannot tell you what one does for Diwali other than light firecrackers, nor what one does for Holi other than throw paint on other people (which was really fun, the one time I did it).  Neither Eric nor I are religious people in the least, and I don’t think that taking the kids to Temple would acheive anything since, quite frankly, I couldn’t tell them what was going on. While I speak Marathi (just Google it if you don’t know what it is) and can even sort of read the Devanagari script, I’m far from fluent and wouldn’t be able to teach the kids the language.  I’ve learned most of my Indian mythology from picture books that I’ve read to the kids.

Many of the blogs and articles I came across while doing a quick Google search on the topic deal with (most often) black/white children and the one that I found about an Indian/White child involved a man who was an Indian immigrant, which doesn’t really apply to me.  Most of the other ones I found I just don’t relate to. There seems to be a fair amount of literature for children who are adopted across cultures/races, but not as much for first-generation kids raising children with a partner of another race.

There are clearly things that I was raised with that I want my children to have. Among other things: a respect for your elders, a respect for family, a respect for education, and of course the delicious food!  I want my kids to travel to India and know what it is like there.  Is that “Indian enough”? Or does it not really matter in the ever more blended society we are inching towards?

This post is woefully inadequate in terms of all the issues I’d like to bring up, but is long enough already so I’ll table those thoughts for another time.

Modern Love

Every Sunday in the New York Times Sunday Styles section is a regular column titled, “Modern Love.”  Often this details the trials and tribulations of adult relationships today and usually ends with some profound revelation that has changed the life of the author.  Why I read this every week is beyond me, especially when I find them to be so self-serving and boring most of the time.

Sometimes, though, like this week, the focus is on relationships between parents and children.  These pieces always get to me and often cause me to tear up.  Sunday’s piece was about a man who recalls a tense relationship with his father and yet wonders at the easy relationship his father has with his son, currently 3 years old.  After learning that he too had had a playful time with his father when he himself was that age, he muses about the fun he currently has with his son.

I savor those moments, but worry now that Seth will scarcely remember them. Perhaps memories of early years were never really meant for sons, for whom growing up requires a kind of forgetting. Perhaps they are really for fathers, to wrap ourselves in when our sons begin that long, slow fade into adulthood.

This hit me pretty hard.  I mostly remember a lot of screaming fights with my parents growing up, battles over independence and friends and god only knows everything else.  I can’t really say that I have a lot of happy memories of growing up, though pictures tell a different story.

I see the same strong-willed tendencies in the boy, and am already bracing myself for a difficult adolescence.  It scares me to think that all the fun, joyous memories we are creating now will evaporate in his consciousness and he, too, will grow up with memories only of struggles at home and not love.  I suppose this is what is meant in that childhood is for parents, as a sort of buffer zone of memory to protect us from the inevitable door-slamming and verbal salvos that await as children navigate the tricky chrysalis of growing up and emerge (hopefully) to find their way back home.