I don’t often think of my husband as Indian, mostly because he chooses not to have much to do with his parent’s culture; he doesn’t eat the food, listen to the music, speak the language, watch the tv/movies, wear the clothes or practice any religion, much less that of either of his parents. As a first generation American, he identifies much more with McDonalds than Dal. He watched Thundercats and Transformers as a kid and was obsessed with Star Wars. He speaks English, and when his parents tried to bribe him with a new bike in exchange for learning Gujarati (their language), he only replied “you’ll buy me a new bike eventually.” He was six at the time, for the record.
In a strange (he might say cruel) twist of fate, I have really embraced Indian culture. I have a few words, but not much beyond hello, thank you, go away (important when in India and being accosted by beggars, who get REALLY aggressive when you’re non-Indian) and some other random words like dance and keys. Once introduced to the food, I loved it and eat it at least a few times a month when my husband would rather eat it NEVER EVER. I own several Indian movies, and have a Hindi pop playlist on my iPod. I own a few saris (although they’re kind of a pain in the ass) and salwar kameez (much more comfy). In essence, as my mother in law will jokingly say…I am the Indian child of the family.
With Elanor the compromise we have come to is that I (and her grandparents) can introduce her to as much Indian stuff as we want…as long as we don’t expect him to do any of it. He also conceded that we need to take E to India to visit the relatives who are too old to come here for a visit. So we call my in-laws by their Gujarati titles, and I am constantly asking them to speak Gujarati to her. She likes Indian food. And as you can see in the picture above, she looks ADORABLE in Indian clothes.
The chanya choli above was a Christmas gift (yes, Christmas–none of us are Christian, but it’s a convienent day to celebrate and give gifts) that my MIL asked her sister to have made. The sister’s daughter was having a baby in December here in the US, so she came to be with her daughter, and mailed up the gift. This is not off the rack…it has been made for her.
It is a bit big, but that means she’ll wear it for some time yet to come, and even if she gets too tall for the skirt, the top will still work.
Looking at her in this, it reminds me why I care so damn much. My family has no interest or connect to their past. I was raised being told I was Irish, even though my surname wasn’t Irish. It was only a few weeks ago that I learned that that side of the family came from England. But no one knows where. I can’t take my daughter to a village England or Ireland (my grandmother’s side of the family is most definitely Irish, my grandfather’s isn’t) and say “we come from here.” My father was never even in the picture so I have no idea where his family is from, except to venture a guess based on his last name. I feel like I hand my daughter a bunch of empty hollow sentences about my side of the family. For Ravi’s side it’s just not that way. They can trace their families back, and we can go to India and say HERE is where you are from. HERE is where you still have family.
Heritage isn’t all we should define ourselves by, but I think it’s a mistake to be uninterested in it as well. My daughter is a child of two worlds, and even if I have to do all the introduction in both, she will know the worlds she came from as well as the one she grows up in.