PSA: I’m a first-generation, 23 year old (at the time of this post) Indian American, and this is my first rant on this blog. Ever!
My parents moved here a year before I was born, and we’ve lived in the States ever since. Over the years, our family has built an amazing inner circle of relatives + family friends — our own little Indian family! As the oldest child, I was the test kid for my parents. There were the simple, everyday questions: do they talk to me English or Tamil, our native language? How do I split my time between soccer practice and Hindustani music class? Should we eat Indian food or pizza for dinner?
Then there were the tougher situations. One in particular stuck out to me today. Typically, the women of the family are the homemakers and the men are the breadwinners. As someone who is constantly surrounded by South Asian families, I see the gap between the two genders even more. No matter whose house we’re at, the women all gather in the kitchen and start preparing the food + taking care of the children. The men gather in the living room + start chatting. I never really thought it was that weird until I got older and I didn’t fit in the “kids” category anymore. The men started having limited, polite conversations with me + the women would ask me to help in the kitchen. If I went to sit down with my dad in the group of men, there would be silence. If I asked my mom why she wasn’t sitting down + talking, she just said she had to take care of everything else.
I’ve asked my parents why this is the case. If my mom won’t even be home for dinner, why does she still cook for us? When we have a dinner party, why is it weird for my dad to help out in the kitchen? I know this runs both ways, because I’ve also seen men make fun of each other if one of them is helping out with the family or house.
As a millennial raised in America, I am a proud feminist + think it’s important that people don’t act on predefined roles based on gender. When I see my parents, who are intelligent, successful people who respect each other, I see that they and their friends are held down by these preconceived “norms”. When the answer for “Why are you doing this” is nothing other than “Because I’m supposed to”, isn’t that a problem? But I realized that I grew up in a society that is completely different from what my parents grew up in, and it’s so much harder to break those societal expectations that have been ingrained in us since we were little.
I don’t really know if there’s a fix to this, or if there even should be one, but I do know that my parents and their friends are really good people. They came to a new country with little to no material goods + a lot of hope, and created lives for themselves and their families. Even though there have been bumps along the way, I think they’ve done an amazing job at raising a bicultural family. And I’ll definitely still find things annoying with the Indian culture and how I think things should be, but there’s never a right or wrong approach to living your life. As long as you’re happy, right?
What are some things that are cultural norms for you + your family that are hard to deal with? Share with me!