I am a first generation South Asian American so when I moved across the country from my family, it didn’t hit me as to how far I was until I had my daughter.
Of course we have FaceTime and make frequent trips to NY from California, but the things I had missed about home are not often able to be transferred over our iPad screen.
It’s the smell of fresh ghee, the sound of my grandmother crushing cardamom in the pestle, the echo of my mother’s voice during her meditative chanting, the whispers of ancient stories my grandfather told me as my eyes fluttered to sleep as a young girl.
So when my daughter made her way into my life, I found myself learning how to make ghee for her baby food, grinding spices for our family dinners, chanting and reading stories of ancient celestial battles and magical forests to her, too.
It’s what I know of as culture and childhood, of home, and it’s so deep within me that I was surprised how much I figured out on my own once I moved away.
“My parents just make food and drop it off, easier than me doing it!”
Without that luxury, it was up to me, just as it was for my own parents when they moved thousands of miles from their parents and motherland to carry on the turmeric infused love. There are still days I call my grandmother (who lives with my parents) and ask her what spices I need for certain dishes. I noticed that as I did things myself, it allowed me to feel confidant that one day, I would hopefully be able to tell my grown up daughter what she needs when she calls me from her stove.
Often, my own parents and in-laws wonder why my husband, who is also Indian, and I know about things like Ayurveda, parts of their heritage that they never looked back upon or even have knowledge of after leaving their country decades ago for a better life in America.
And just so you know, I wasn’t always like this.
As a first generation American, I adapted quickly to the red, white and blue of summer BBQ’s, watched the latest Disney movies and even had a crush on Johnny Depp during my teenage years.
But the colors of Navratri festivals, fresh coconut from the temple, my father’s savory Sunday vegetables simmering in masala that filled the air of our home were just as evident as American Thanksgiving feasts for me, whether I wanted that or not, (the contents of those feasts in my home are another story you can read here lol).
For many years, I grew up in an extended family. My parents were the first of both their families to move to America from India, so for much of my childhood, we had relative after relative come live with us until they got on their feet. My dad’s sisters and their families, my mom’s sisters and my cousins, and even my mother’s parents eventually came on over.
There were times, I remember like many first generation children feel, that these things were embarrassing.
In the “ew, what are you eating” at school lunch at my packed pooda, to “why aren’t you allowed to sleepover” when birthday party sleepovers became a craze, the “how many people live in your house?” when someone came over to the awe at high school dating rules of many asian families: “you can’t have a boyfriend until you want to get married???” Or even my red face when a friend would ask what the smell was in the car if my grandfather drove us somewhere and we caught whiffs of his coconut hair oil, (I now use coconut oil for everything).
It’s why I flocked to the other first generation Indians, Koreans, Puerto Ricans, Israelis of my schooling days.
They got it when we had to cover up if boys were going to be at a party. They knew how important getting straight A’s were.
And then as I got older, this gift my parents gave me, this culture, became not so embarrassing as my non-Indian friends gawked at the beauty of my flowing saris and boys asked me the meaning of my name in college, (opposite of when kids made fun of it on the playground).
Now as adults, my husband and I eagerly invite our Russian, Filipino, American and fellow Indian friends amongst many others for Diwali in our home, who equally love the flavors, sights and sounds as much as we do.
It fills my heart in a way I can’t describe when my daughter asks if she can wear a bindi to school, when she tells me loves eating “green wheels” (an indian okra dish I make) or when I see her in child’s pose breathing alongside me. [Read more…]