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If you walk around our house and peek into our closets, you will find that five out of the six closets are filled with my clothes. It’s not because I am a shopaholic. Or because I hoard clothes … 20 years of cohabitating with a “serial purger” wears out the strongest of pack rats. It’s because I use the closets to straddle the culture divide between where I came from, and where I am now.
One of the closets is dedicated to my sarees, one to my churidar kameezes, two closets are for my “American” clothes, and one is a mishmash of everything else. Do I feel guilty about taking up so much space? Maybe … but given that I am the most fashion forward member of the family, I don’t see another option.
It’s more than clothes or closet space, though. It’s about the quest to strike the perfect culture balance as an immigrant in America. I can only speak for the community I know best, Desi Americans, or Indian Americans. On one side we have our chicken tikka masala, Bollywood, and Spelling Bee and Math Olympiad championships. On the other, we have fourth of July barbecues, Abercrombie & Fitch, proms, and the Sacramento Kings. Just like Indian heroines, we sashay in and out of these worlds in an attempt to embody the good Desi American persona. Or maybe that’s just me …
As the post hi-tech boom generation comes of age, I can’t help but wonder what being an Indian American really means to the children who were born and raised here. Avni and Sayan may sometimes humor me by dressing up and participating in Indian festivities, but in their hearts and minds they are Americans.
Does that make Sanjeev and me bad Desi parents? Should we have tried harder to indoctrinate them with our culture and values? Should we have taught them to speak Hindi at home? Should we eat more roti-subzi and less pasta and tacos? Should we have taken them to India more often when they were younger to spend summers with their cousins?
Should we push them academically so they are in contention for those handful of Ivy League berths?
Fortunately for us, living in the heart of Silicon Valley means that our children live in a community that naturally embraces and assimilates every imaginable race, ethnicity and creed—without needing to be choreographed. Add to that the reality that Sanjeev and I may be the last generation which feels the tug of the motherland because of our ties to our parents and extended families. As far as this generation is concerned, everything and everyone that matters is right here.
It boils down to this. As immigrants, is the goal to raise the next generation of (insert country) Americans whose connection, in this case to India, is at most tenuous with the infrequent Skype call, a handful of visits to and from the native land, and a few dress-up festivals? Or, is it it OK to be content with raising well-rounded, compassionate individuals and just let the culture chips fall where they may? (Of course, they would still need to spell really well and love math.)
I don’t know the right answer. I do know that it’s time for me to go through my closets and clean out the guilt and expectations taking up so much space, and just hold on to the things that reflect who I am, today.
Vibeka is a well-intentioned and constantly guilt-ridden mother, daughter and wife of Indian origin. She is also a writer, editor, blogger and singer, and, a highly opinionated and spiritually evolving human.