An Open Letter to Our Parents
An Open Letter to Our Parents
From First Generation Indian-Americans:
I write this on a shaky express train from Jaipur to Indore, from my nani’s home to my dadi’s. Given the turbulent conditions, I may miss a thing or two, so please forgive any mistakes.
I would be remiss if I didn’t begin with conveying a deep sense of respect I have for you all. Many of you (or your parents) traveled across the world in hopes for a new and better life. You’ve faced countless obstacles, and overcome economic, physical, and cultural barriers. While working from scratch to develop your new life, you’ve kept your culture alive within you, and spread it across North America. Regardless of how brave my generation feels, this is a remarkable achievement and we salute you.
My generation faces a different type of hurdle. When you gave us roti sabji in our elementary school lunch boxes, we had to explain that unique smell to our American friends. When we left school for Diwali, we were required to explain to our school administrators what the ‘Festival of Lights’ means. When our friends shared how their parents met, we needed to explain the concept of arranged marriages, and no, they aren’t “the worst thing ever.” These may seem minute, but we often had to do this without understanding our culture. (Note: Living in a state like New Jersey made this a lot easier, but I speak for us all J).
There is a definite generational gap, amplified by cultural disconnect. You all made it in America, but we have to make ourselves in America. For you, home will always be India; for us, it gets complicated. But there are a few things that can help my generation understand yours and vice versa.
First, share your lives and our culture with us. Shamelessly and endlessly. Take every opportunity to help us understand how you grew up and what being Indian and Marwari means (aside from the food; I think we got that part mostly down). When one of the many festivals come by, take time to explain to us why you celebrate and/or pray the way you do. Taking us to functions such as the bi-yearly MMNA summit is a good start. When you can, take us to India to meet our families and your childhood friends as well. Too many times I’ve seen families with a small prayer room with idols that the kids have no understanding of, and it pains me. Know that regardless of how we act and what we say, we want to know about your life, and the culture you’ve passed on to us. This is by no means an easy task, and I applaud the parents (including mine) that do this, but it is a surefire way to make this generational gap a lot smaller.
Second, try to understand our lives and culture. We probably grew up in very different environments; our school system, favorite TV shows and games, and types of friend circles may seem very variant from yours’ (and yes, we do need to share our lives with our friends on Instagram and Snapchat, just as you do on WhatsApp). But, if you genuinely try and ask us about how school was (and not just our grades), what our interests at, and what problems we face, then I can promise you that you will, sooner or later, be rewarded. You’ll find that, though we’re on a different continent at a different time, we are remarkably similar; after all, our Kendrick Lamar was once your Kishore Kumar.
These two methods are by no means a panacea; every child and family has different circumstances and means of communication. However, the overarching concept is the same: share with us, and ask us to share with you. Generational gaps are, after all, cultural problems of the mind, not reality. They are mountains that can be overcome from both sides, and like any good mountain range, there’s a pretty nice view from the top.
First Generation Indian-Americans
P.S. – Get to know us, but please don’t add us on Snapchat, for your benefit and for ours.
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