From the beginning, the American way of life has been a very fast paced one, and in today’s generation especially it can be hard for an Indian-American girl to establish her own identity. For Indian-American girls, America isn’t a place foreign to us but rather to our culture. Being raised by parents who have followed a more or less traditional route isn’t easy. It can be hard for parents to give their kids the freedom that comes from living in a liberal country like the US, and it can be hard for us girls to understand and accept where our parents are coming from. Whatever our background, we’ve all had similar experiences. We constantly struggle to keep a balance between our roots while trying to keep pace with the American way of life – landing us in sticky situations that we may look back on and laugh, maybe feel sad, and sometimes even mad.
One of the most annoying issues us Indian-American girls face at home concerns education. Our parents are always on our tails about our grades. Did you make all A’s this semester? Why did you only make a 96 on your physics exam? Did you eat your almonds today? No? Why?! How are you going to remember all those proteins for your biochemistry class? Woah. Talk about needing a chill pill. The first thing I’m going to do when I become a doctor is prescribe you some Valium. But ladies, I know that’s exactly what goes on inside your heads too. Don’t even deny it. We are constantly competing to be the best because of the pressure put on us by our parents. There’s no doubt they want the best for us. But the thing is, in school we are surrounded by other kids who think a B+ is a milestone. And while a B+ may be stellar in our books, our parents expect nothing but perfection. As a result, we start to question whether our parents’ expectations are valid. Are they asking too much of us? Or are the other kids just not on par with our capabilities?
On a different note, hospitality is a big part of our culture and sometimes our friends think we’re being obnoxiously welcoming when they come to our houses. Indian moms tend to interpret a “no” as I’m saying no, but in actuality please feel free to shove some more curry down my throat. What runs through your head: This isn’t India Mom! It’s America. A no really means no. But you know better than to speak up because anything you say will probably be shot down by your delightful mother. So you silently sink down into your chair feeling sorry for your friends’ stomachs and start thinking of the nearest pharmacy where you can run to and grab some Pepto-Bismol. We obviously can’t disrespect our moms, but we also have a reputation to uphold. We don’t want our friends to think we’re trying too hard, but we can’t just tell our moms to back off. That is the way our moms were raised. Why should they change their customary ways of addressing guests just because our friends won’t understand? Of course this is what we should think, but instead we’re more concerned about being accepted by our friends. It’s not that we’re ashamed of our upbringing – we just don’t want to be compelled to justify it. It’s like we’re in a perpetual catch-22.
Regardless of how annoyed we get with our own culture sometimes, our blood begins to boil when others disrespect it. Take those hate parade tweets after Nina Davuluri won the Miss America pageant for example, “The Arab wins?! This is Miss AMERICA, not Miss Arabia!” Um. So, tell me again how you passed middle school geography? Or when you tell your friends you’re going to India the summer after graduation and they stare at you like a deer in the headlights, genuinely asking if you’re going to “come back married or something.” Yeah… Now would be a good time to walk away. And possibly question your choice of company. How about when the Lowe’s guy comes to replace the screen door and tries to brush off the swastika drawn on the steps with his foot: “Holy mother of god. Who the hell put that there?!” You (politely) give him the stink eye because your parents are standing behind you. But really, tell me you don’t just want to punch him.
We watch people insult our culture on a daily basis. It’s amazing how culturally insensitive people can be. For one we live in the melting pot of nations. Part of us wants to tell them off. The other half realizes that we’re not in our homeland. Maybe we should keep quiet. Yet another part of us feels like we don’t know enough about our culture. We don’t want to come off as ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis). We try to live both lives, protecting the culture we were taught and living in the culture we grew up in.
The quirky nature of our culture is full of ironies. One of the most obvious is dating. Living in America, they expect us not to date, but as soon as we hit the age of 25 they ask “So… where’s the boy??” You didn’t want me to date for the past 25 years of my life and now you expect me to conjure up a husband out of thin air? Great. Or maybe your parents go a step further and ask your relatives in India to start looking for potentials. That’s when the middle-of-the-night calls start rolling in. How tall are you? How tall do you want him? What’s your major? He’s a little dark but he’s an engineer! Can I give him your number so he can call you? Um no? I’ll shop for my own husband, thank you very much. And they tell you “dating” is unconventional.
Despite getting calls in the middle of the night from curious worried grandmas who want to know if you’ve learned to cook yet and if they should start searching for your suitors, you know you have the biggest and best families out there. Your parents are everyone’s uncle and aunty – including your eclectic group of Spanish, Asian, African, Irish, Black, White, Red, Green (you get the point), friends. They treat them like their own kids and spoil them rotten. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder why you’ve never gotten that kind of treatment from your parents. Accordingly, when we do eventually find the one, all of our friends insist on coming to our weddings. So, sure why not… We’ve never even met half of the family that shows up at our own weddings. What’s a few, maybe fifty, more?
Fun and games aside, crossing national borders doesn’t mean losing cultural ones. Yes, people may think we’re loud and crazy but they also know we’re quite lovable. We make the best students because our adorable dads worry too much about our futures. We make the best friends because our houses have the best food. And following in our female ancestors’ footsteps, it’s a given that we also make the best wives and mothers. We may be fair. We may be dark. Even if we were purple, most people will still think we’re “like totally exotic.” So to say the least, you’re Indian, you’re a female, and you live in America. Hello superwoman.
– By Suhani Patel