Christmas as a South Asian

 Adaptation, Holiday Rituals  Comments Off on Christmas as a South Asian
Dec 292009

Ever since I first learned of the Christmas holiday, probably at age seven, when I moved to the US, I have been attracted to it. Although I could not label myself as a Christian, I remember putting up a nativity scene as a child. I played Christmas carols on an organ and later sang carols with a group in the neighborhood. I was the one that bothered with the tree and presents at Christmas.

I am still into Christmas and have felt the season is too short. I love the carols and singing along. On Christmas eve, we watched “White Christmas,” at my son’s request. This was surprising as we have been trying to expose him to classics and black and white movies. It’s possible he was trying to please us, but he did stay awake throughout. Listening to Bing Crosby belt out “White Christmas” brings tears to my eyes. It is at moments like these that I feel in touch with my “American soul.” It is one thing to appreciate something, it’s quite another to have an emotional response.

At the same time, I know that if I heard a classic Indian song, like from the movie Mother India or others from the ’70s, I would also feel tears come to my eyes.

Maybe it is as a result of truly coming to peace with my bi-cultural heritage that I am able to fully appreciate the beauty of both. I can therefore enjoy singing to “Silent Night” and truly appreciate my peaceful environment while celebrating my baby’s first Christmas.


Being South Asian in the South

 Adaptation, Cultural Confusion  Comments Off on Being South Asian in the South
Dec 232009

Being South Asian in the South is an intriguing concept. This is is portrayed somewhat in the movie “Mississippi Masala.” Dynamics between the minorities of South Asians and African Americans is portrayed. There is an underlying tension of determining which group is “higher” and which is “lower.” Egos fly as tensions between the two groups is highlighted in the background while two individuals from both groups fall in love. Even within the South Asian community, there is jostling to determine which group is a “higher” group in some way.

Having had my formative years in North Carolina, I can relate to some of the portrayals. The movie depicts a specific group of South Asians, many of whom happened to own motels and other such businesses. I knew some of these families. Their culture is different from other South Asians from other parts of India, and each sub-caste is aware of the differences.

I have always been amazed, growing up South Asian, how divided people from different parts of India can be. There is the first distinction of either being from the North or from the South. I’m from the North. If you’re from the South, that literally means we have different descendants: the ancestry of Aryans in the North and Dravidians in the South. This is part of what I remember from World History in 10th grade High School and classes in college for my Asian Studies Certificate.

From there, there are many divisions by state, language and caste. I’m a Brahmin, which is supposed to be the highest, priestly class. It’s been diluted as a second generation Indian what that means exactly. Growing up, in rituals it meant all our food was offered first to God. We had a room devoted to being a puja/temple or prayer room. All food was brought there first. I assumed all Brahmins were supposed to be vegetarians, as we were, but I met other second-generation Indians that were not and my former Indian husband and his sister were not, although they were supposedly Brahmins.

Technically, a Brahmin is supposed to be able to perform weddings, which I believe my father had, at least once. Beyond some vague idea of purity, I’ve ceased to understand what it means, if anything, in today’s age. It seems to be a label that doesn’t do much good. I assume that by marrying a caucasion and American, I have violated some Brahmin principle as my husband would not register anywhere in the caste system.

However, for some reason, I believe that for South Asians, marrying someone white would be less shocking than marrying someone black. It is not very logical considering that many South Asians are as dark as many African Americans. Skin color is a hot topic for South Asians, particularly in India. Many companies make a lot of money there for skin lightening creams. I have been amused to see commercials for these products on Indian channels on my Direct TV. Somehow, being “fair” increases one’s worth in India. You would NEVER see an Indian in a tanning booth! It is hard for Indians to understand how much one in the states can spend to tan!

Perhaps it is this preoccupation that the movie was touching on as well. Why must society create a hierarchy? It seems that if we were to look closely in most communities, this would exist. Perhaps this is related to the concept of “keeping up with the Joneses.” I bet that if you put any group of people in a room, before long, you would find an order of who is the leader and who is at the bottom rung. Reality shows seem to thrive on this. This characteristic of ours just doesn’t seem very civilized or spiritually advanced.


A Married Freshman

 Cultural Confusion, Transition  Comments Off on A Married Freshman
Dec 162009

Being South Asian in the South is an intriguing concept. This is is
In one of the three meetings with my fiance, he informed me about an Indian ex-girlfriend from graduate school he had wanted to marry, but she wasn’t of the Brahmin caste, so his parents had not approved. I encouraged him to see that route through and tried to be a friend. It turned out that she was brought up for the entire 5 years I was with him, with her living in the same state and his calling her whenever there was a conflict with me and called her from work. He had even disappeared one night. He later found out, as we were divorcing, that she had been with all his friends in graduate school, yet he still hoped to be with her. I determined that he was looking for a green card through me.

I was legally married 1/30/87, while still 18, with my mother and sister as witnesses. My mother wanted to make sure I didn’t back out. I was to have a regular Indian ceremony in June. I was in the middle of school and my fiance had even come to a class with me. I think I even told a teacher we were getting married later that day. Immediately after the court wedding, my new husband went back to Pittsburgh and I continued my classes at UNC-Charlotte. Shortly after, my new father-in-law in India was ill and I thought it was my duty to accompany my husband to India and try to help out. Wrong!


Tensions Erupt

 Cultural Confusion, Transition  Comments Off on Tensions Erupt
Dec 102009

Being South Asian in the South is an intriguing concept. This is is
Shortly before expecting to go away to college, pressures and conflicts at home got to be too much and after a violent triggering event at home and then not sleeping for three days and much public drama, I ended up in the hospital for three weeks. Part of the time was to put weight on me, as I had lost about 40 lbs (from 95lbs).

What was also traumatic was the response from the Indian community. Meetings were held about me, led it seemed by my best friend’s mother. It was assumed drugs were behind what happened to me, which was completely false (I was never around them). During this time, my admission to Carolina was apparently canceled by my family, along with my dreams of my future. I went from being considered a star in the community to being maligned. At a gathering, I overheard a man say that they didn’t bring their kids to Charlotte because of me. A friend asked why I was smiling at another gathering.

My mother decided that a solution to this problem (and disgrace) would be to get me married. A 24 year-old software engineer in Pittsburgh was chosen. I saw him three times and after reviewing his resume that showed a 4.0, I tried to speak up for my life and stated I didn’t want to marry him. I was not his employer and his GPA was irrelevant. He began to cry. My mother told me to not be rude to him. So this meant I was supposed to marry him? My father stated that they would take my car away and not let me go to the local university. I was further told that they were planning to move to India and they needed to sell the house. So I was supposed to get married to accommodate their desire to move to another country, away from all 4 kids. This was 1986 and they did not actually move until 1992, two years after I graduated from college and a year after my arranged marriage ended (after 5 years).

I started to see that the only way to leave my family and the trapped environment would be to marry this man and move to another city. This would lead me to transfer from UNC-Charlotte to The University of Pittsburgh, eventually, as that would be near my future husband’s home. I lost my scholarships and aid from Carolina and still carry student loan debt for U-Pitt.


Almost to College

 Transition  Comments Off on Almost to College
Dec 022009

Being South Asian in the South is an intriguing concept. This is is
By the summer of 1985, my remaining two older siblings at home got married to individuals in India who moved into our home. Tensions were thick. By the end of my junior year of high school that year, my social life had revolved around the Indian community outside of school and a close-knit group of peers from India in School. We referred to ourselves as the “Breakfast Club.” There was one of us that represented every character in the movie. I did not fit in school the older I got, as I was not allowed to participate in the activities the others did, such as spending the night, going to parties, concerts, sports, or other school functions.

By the Spring of ’86, I had been directing a community Indian radio program for at least the past year for free. I considered it an opportunity for preteens and teens to gain self-confidence through announcing on the radio. Creating radio ads with my Breakfast Club was fun. I was also working at 2 part-time jobs and started college before finishing high school. I wanted to get ahead. I was ambitious and looked forward to graduation and beginning my life on my own. I participated in extra-curricular activities such as the Debate Team and managed to keep my grades up. I was accepted to UNC-Chapel Hill as I hoped and looked forward to getting to know myself and all I could do. In June I graduated from high school with honors and turned 18 June 9. I was getting A’s in my college classes.

At orientation at Carolina, I met up with some of my friends that were already there. I took my tests and learned which my dorm room would be. It happened to be one of the most coveted. There were some people I recognized who would also be in the dorm that I looked forward to getting to know. I came across debate club, theater, and social activist groups I wanted to take part of. My heart seemed to connect to so much. I enjoyed my debate club experiences and succeeding at original oratory which I wanted to continue. I was still uncertain as to whether to pursue international studies, journalism, or consider psychology. I couldn’t wait to be involved in the different extra-curricular activities, to have the freedom to become who I wanted to be, and freedom from the stress at home.
I had no idea that I would never make it there.

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