Got Culture?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008
You know how when you learn a new word, you all of a sudden see it everywhere? Or how when you were first pregnant, or just gave birth, you suddenly noticed that there were children every single place you looked? That phenomenon seems to be happening with "Indian culture." More and more, I am hearing about, thinking about, and seeing our fellow DwB try to figure out how to inject some Indian culture into our oh-so-American children.

Some moms are organizing the Indian version of the wildly successful Baby Disco concept (where kids and parents head to nightlife spots at, say, noon on a Saturday and rock actual, non-cartoonish music): Baby Garba. Others are attempting to establish rotating pujas, once a month--get 12 moms involved and you only have to host one time a year. It got me to thinking that there must be more formal ways to teach our kids where they came from.

This is what I could come up with:

1) Teach your child your native language, either with tapes or in a class.
2) Utilize local Indian Community Centers--if you happen to live in the Bay Area, the India Community Center is a great resource for events and classes for your kids.
3) Cook Indian food with your children and invite their friends.
4) Teach the kids Indian sports (though "Ko"--the game we grew up playing, that involved a circle, clapping, and tag--i'm not sure would qualify as a sport)
5) Get your kids those old-school Indian comic books
6) If they are old enough, urge your kids to make a video or written biography about their grandparents, and where they came from. (Talk about brownie points from the in-laws).

It's difficult to think back about my childhood and pin-point where I derived "Indian-ness" from. Yearly trips to Mumbai and Bangalore, to see my grandparents? Hearing about how my parents grew up? Eating Indian food? Definitely--all of those things broadened my perspective beyond my everyday surroundings and experiences. But it obviously takes more than an airplane ride or a dosa to imbue you with a sense of identity. Consistent and sincere exposure to values and heritage--that seems to be the key. But I don't think I could write a more vague and ambiguous "key" if I tried!

We would love to hear your ideas--please share.
Jaime said...

I definitely agree that it is difficult to pass on certain traditions to our kids. I think the best place to start is to decide what traditions are important to you (and your spouse), and to not continue traditions for the sake of culture if they are meaningless to you. I find too often this is where Indian moms are conflicted. For example, my husband and I are HUGE foodies, and we love Gujarati food, so that is a must. I have already devoted Sundays and Mondays to Indian food night. We are least likely to go out to dinner or make dinner plans on those nights, so that helps keep my tradition in tact. A few other traditions that we hope to pass on are Raksha Bhandan and Diwali. Hopefully our son will appreciate that whatever we teach him, we believe in. I don't know about you, but nothing irks me more than asking my mom and aunties what the meaning of certain traditions were and I would get 5 different answers from 5 different ladies and none of them necessarily made sense.

Ashwin Sodhi said...

Dishoom dishoom with daddy? Worked better for me than my mom feeding my 3-year old homies Indian food. The teacher pulled her aside after school and asked her not to let me share my food if it was going to be "so dang spicy!"

Ashwin Sodhi said...

An addition to Jaime's festival suggestion -- Holi. After all, it's India's most jovial counterpoint to Montessori America: water balloons filled with paint. Making a mess and sharing it: the true Indian way.

parutron said...

i've never really celebrated holi (nor has my family), but i've always been intrigued (kind of like how i felt about mattar paneer and other north indian dishes i had never tried when i went away to college). it sounds like my kind of holiday. next year i'm gonna do a trial run with my family and if all goes well, start celebrating it regularly. it doesn't just have to be parents - kids (i.e. me) can explore too!

i'm with jaime, it's all about deciding which traditions are important to you - whether indian, hindu, jewish, familial or made up.

note: i also make my friends/family (and will encourage my children to) celebrate april fools day like it's the celebration of my god.

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