All Grown Up: The Inevitable Dilution of Indian Culture in America
It is special to grow up as a child of South Asian parents in the United States. We are a batch of guinea pigs straddling two cultures that compete for our attention: my cousins in India laughed when I said I was Indian; my classmates in school laughed at my parents’ accents (an accent I never heard). “What are you?” was – and still is – a frequent inquiry. At a young age, we are trying to put each other into a box labeled with one identity. It was not until much later that I settled into my complex, layered identity of being a gay, Indian-American, American-accented woman. And, I try to bring out the best in each identity: I speak Hindi conversationally; my wife and I celebrated our wedding with a beautiful two-day, Sangeet and Hindu wedding in Brooklyn with my mother officiating in Sanskrit and Hindi; we watch Bollywood movies on rainy days; I love dancing Bollywood-style and occasionally, rocking a sari to an event.
But no matter how much I embrace all aspects of my Indian-ness, I still wonder how I could possibly teach my future children all the Indian culture that is left in me. I worry about it a lot, actually. Culture is diluted through the generations. It will be difficult to pass on to my child everything I learned. I grew up performing puja with my community once a month, but I have never done it here in Brooklyn. I grew up hearing Hindi all the time around me, but I don’t have anyone to speak it to here. I grew up with smells of cumin so pervasive that I didn’t even know it was not an American thing too. But my subji doesn’t turn out anything like mom’s does. The Indian culture I grew up with cannot be replicated. It saddens me that I won’t be able to give that gift to my children one day.
But I can give them something different. I can give them my Indian culture mixed with my American experience from my point of view. I can give them a perspective that emphasizes some of the rituals I grew up plus more. My wife can give them her life experience as a West-Indian American woman. My parents and my in-laws can enrich our children’s lives with their amazing life experiences as immigrants.
I may feel a loss that the smell of agarbatti is not constantly burning in our home. Or, I could choose to feel enriched with all the cultures – pure and mixed – that I have around me and that my children will have around them.