“Mom, why do I need to speak Hindi? No one else speaks it. My teachers don’t, and my friends don’t. And anyway I am American, not Indian.” When my son asks these questions, I explain that because his parents were born in India and brought up in Indian culture, it will always be a big part of his life.
No matter where you are now, where you came from is equally important.
We had this conversation last year at Janmashtami when I asked my son to get dressed up for the occasion. I have time and again had this conversation with my son about why it is important to understand Hindi and why certain celebrations are important to us.
While I want him to be proud of his citizenship, he needs to be aware of his heritage.
These conversations are often frustrating, but I do not blame him. Growing up in Kuwait, I often had a hard time associating myself with India. As a child though, I never questioned our devotion to our Indian heritage. We went to the Indian school in Kuwait, all our family friends were Indian, and we went to India during vacations to visit family. The only real differences between India and my life in Kuwait were the amenities and physical environment.
Like many of my friends who grew up in Kuwait, I considered it my home. Despite not being a Kuwaiti citizen, my heart warms whenever I read or hear about that country. Yet, in no way does that negate the pride I feel about being Indian by birth. I stayed connected to my heritage through visits to India and joyful festival celebrations with my family and all of our friends. Each celebration for me is not just a series of rituals; it brings forth fond memories of laughter and love.
Being exposed to so many cultures made clear what aspects of my own mattered to me.
For this reason, I hope my children are rooted in both the cultures they are exposed to. I hope they understand where their actions come from and what they stand for. Without comprehension, it is impossible to differentiate what is acceptable from what isn’t.
Now that I have children, I read more about my own religion and discuss it with them. We talk about the stories, the interpretations, the various aspects of the same mythological stories and the commonalities found in different cultures.
This makes the traditions a relevant part of our everyday life. I celebrate Christmas as lavishly as Diwali and learn more about days that are important here in America, like Martin Luther King Jr Day, which my son studies in school.
I can see my son getting curious about his heritage as he gets older. While at first he questioned why he had to learn about Indian culture, he now asks relevant questions: Why do we celebrate Holi? Why does Nani wear a bindi all the time? Why does his sister tie him Rakhi? Why does Diwali come during winter and Holi in spring? Why do we put colors on everyone during Holi?
After prayer, my daughter asks to put on “red bindi,” and my son has already started asking what our plans are for Holi this year. They relish many Indian foods as much as they love pizza and fries. With consistent practice, they have started learning to write Hindi, and the kids even use some Hindi words without prompting.
When we ourselves adopt various aspects of a culture, our children too feel open to sharing their own.
Recently I’ve been thinking about what we will do for Easter this year. Last year, I organized an Easter Hunt in our neighborhood. When I witnessed the many families that participated so lovingly, I was encouraged further to model acceptance to my own children.
To that end, we talk about other culture’s festivals like Guru Purab, Eid, or Cinco De Mayo when they come around. It is humbling to discover what other facets each culture holds. Using the four pillars of Learning, Acceptance, Practice, and Consistency, I hope to empower my children to be proud of their citizenship and heritage equally.
In truth, I find myself learning more with my children than ever before. I am very aware that I have a great responsibility on my shoulders. Teaching our culture doesn’t mean negating all others. For I am not raising just an Indian, Hindu, or American. I am raising world children who need to better comprehend and accept the differences of the people surrounding them. This only helps them understand who they themselves really are and want to become!