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The Elephant in the Room - Sudha Singh EPISODE 31, 17th June 2021
31: Culture, identity and the diaspora: A conversation with Archana Bhat, Poonam Mathur and Anita Gupta
00:00:00 00:44:58

31: Culture, identity and the diaspora: A conversation with Archana Bhat, Poonam Mathur and Anita Gupta


We all know that diaspora communities maintain and nurture their culture differently to people in their home country. They feel the need to foster their personal cultural identity but are also under enormous pressure to assimilate in their adopted countries. For societies to be inclusive and flourish - this is essential. But, for the diaspora more often than not this means hiding some part of their cultural identity to not bring attention to themselves. Food seems to be no longer a taboo, but way we speak, the language we use, how we dress, socialise, live, worship can create barriers to assimilation. 

Culture also shapes our values - what we consider right and wrong. Like most immigrants I am proud of my heritage and culture - for me it is about it is about food, music, festivities, the diversity of language. Like most Indians I can speak three languages fluently and converse in a couple of dialects.... And like most Indians in diaspora - socialising within the community was the safety net. However, it can be tremendously isolating if you are trying to 'fit in'. 

So I decided to have a series of conversations with diaspora communities from different parts of the worlds to understand their experiences and think about what the real barriers to integration are. 

In this episode of The Elephant in the Room podcast we talk about the importance of culture for diaspora communities, in this instance for the Indian diaspora. I got together with three childhood friends who moved abroad either as students or after marriage to talk about their lived experiences, of trying to fit in; cultural stereotypes; language and identity. We also talk about a journey spanning three decades and how the next generation look at their culture. 

Thank you Archana Bhat, Poonam Mathur and Anita Gupta for this memorable conversation

Memorable passages from this episode: 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So my first question to you is as an Indian diaspora what does culture mean to you and how important is it to you. Should we start with Anita? 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Anita: Indian culture to me means our values of respecting each other respecting what we have and living in peace and harmony, that's what I consider Indian culture. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Archana: So it's a very similar definition Sudha. To me it is a set of values, like Anita has pointed out, which we carry within us, our traditions, the dialects that we speak, our customs. It pretty much encompasses our religion, we can't take it out of that. The food we eat, the music which we listen to or the instruments that we play. So that all contributes or makes up our culture in my mind. And I think to me culture is really important because it gives us a sense of identity. It makes us the people who we are today. I think it builds the community in which we live and the next step to building the community. Of course it makes up the nation who we are wherever we are, whichever part of the world we are in. So culture is really very, very important to me. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Poonam: My thoughts are along the same lines. I think it's my core value system is my culture to me. And yes food and music are a very large part of it, but I also feel that as the Indian diaspora we have certain traits that we were raised with, you know respect, mutual respect like she mentioned, and humility and gratitude. I think we really practice that. And for me, culture is very important because it helps me create a bridge from our past generations to us, to our future generations. So my children have that link to there. So I find that's very important that they have a sense of identity as well and that's not lost in the whole process of migration here. 

 πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sudha: So as migrants there is this huge pressure on us to try to fit in and also be invisible and I think that's also part of the South Asian trait, Indian South Asian trait. What was your experience when you first moved? Poonam would you like to go first? 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Poonam: My experience was very unique because I think Canada really allowed, all different cultures to flourish and there was no need to be invisible as such. In fact, I found there was such a large community here, which was something I did not expect. And there was such a large celebration of each festival and everything being part of the mainstream that I did not feel the need to be invisible. Yes, there were certain things that, you had to be careful about like I had a problem explaining to people our family hierarchy, that you work with which specific to the Indian way and the gender-based roles in the family. That was something I found very difficult to explain and I think that part of it, I would say I kept invisible, but other than that, I think Canada was really welcoming to all cultures so I did not feel the need to be invisible. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Archana: Yeah, so I came here Gosh, it was more than what, 28, 30 years ago, but I came here as a student. So as a student, like any other student, you know, I had social anxiety am I going to fit in here, how do you interact with the people? And you try to a certain extent, then you develop coping mechanisms, so my coping mechanism was just interact with the Indian community. So for the first two years, the interaction was only around the social circles within the Indian community. So I didn't feel any difference whether I was in India or whether I was here. After two years, when I joined the workforce I did face like a stereotype anxiety where, there's certain norms which is practiced in the workplace here, which they deem acceptable which I was not a part of. And at that point of time in the initial phases, I just chose to withdraw from the public space, just socialise within your own community. So my main interaction in the first few years coming as an immigrant was just socialising, within the Indian community, that was my coping mechanism. So yes, I felt I did not fit in initially and this was just my coping mechanism just to be among our community. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Anita: So pretty similar to Archana, I came as a student single, landed in Oklahoma where the only Indian kind of community is the students there and professors. Luckily I had my uncle’s friends family who welcomed me and the Indian student association was pretty strong, so they did help me with a job and stuff. So like Archana, I associated with the Indian students mostly, but being in civil/environmental engineering, very few Indian kids make it into that stream. So I was forced to, it was good because my lab partners or my research, people who I had to share offices with and the research assistant or teaching assistant, they were white, they were Chinese. So I did get a good mix to, offset my daytimes with them. In the evenings then again, you go back to your roommates and they're Indian. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Two years later being in civil engineering my first job, like this is like hilarious, I got a job in East Texas. Now East Texas is really countryside, they eat gizzards, they eat liver and here I was vegetarian. And I had really long straight hair, down my back and people used to be like, where are you from? Because they have never seen a species like me. Like never. So they used to call it olive skin colour, they used to call me are you Indian. And I initially didn't realise I used to say yes and then one of my white friends Mike, he said, you need to start telling them you dots not feathers. I'm like, what's that? Like he said, dots, not feathers and I'm like, oh my gosh, so every time I've been saying, yes I'm Indian, they were assuming American Indian. And so then I found my ways around it. I was probably the only Indian in a 200-mile radius for them. And working on the construction sites of, the highways and stuff, it was just difficult and being a woman, being vegetarian. But then, you know, worked myself out of those situations, making good friends and being comfortable. So yes at times, I was invisible meaning tried to keep to my identity as much as I could and push my way saying no, this is who I am. And then I made it back into Dallas to work. And again, I think I was one of four Indians amongst 500 odd people. So I've had a good mix going about the whole time. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sudha:It sounds something like my experience also. But it also sounds like, as human beings, our default is that if you are uncomfortable in a situation and if you have a fallback option, which is what you had as a student, with the Indian communities, you tend to fall back on them rather than go out and make friends. And I think things haven't changed because it remains the same, we tend to socialise more amongst our own communities than outside communities and it could be a big cultural thing because we are, I think very friendly, loud, we like to talk, we like to engage a bit too much maybe I'm not sure about that. 

 πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So what are the one stereotype about your culture that really annoys you? You know, IT person, very docile, or even gender stereotypes, you know that maybe Indian women can't do this or can't do that? Archana, would you like to go? 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Archana: When I came here initially and started working and just interacting with society, it's really the myopic view of the Indian culture. So yeah oh, India is a land of elephants, there are tigers roaming around, there is a lot of poverty there, you have arranged marriages, is it one language or how many languages you speak? Oh, worst of all is, you know, yeah India is Bollywood. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ They just assume that you cannot speak English well, or you don't have the level of education that everyone has here, but as they start interacting with you in the workplace or even the community, they realise, look not only can you interact with them very well but you're very, well-versed in a lot of subjects. So really what really annoyed me is the lack of education, that's assumption people made, they think you're just off the boat and you can't speak the language, you don't understand what they are saying, but that's not really the case. 

I think when you land here as a culture, we are more reserved, we are not outspoken at the get- go, we think about things before just blurting it out in a public space. So that's just part of our culture and that's who we are, that does not in any way, indicate that we have a lack of education or we are any less. But again, that comes with time and interacting with society. Now of course the country has changed so much and we appreciate all cultures here and that's the beauty of it. But yes, when I first came here that was my experience. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Poonam: Mine was very similar. People were very surprised that I spoke such good English, especially at work. So they were always very surprised as to how come you speak such good English and it's hard to explain to them. So that was one annoying stereotype, but like Archana said, that's changed a lot over the years and it's very different now of course. And I think the other stereotype I would say is the poverty part, because I remember, even when that movie Slumdog Millionaire came out, somehow they assume that all of India is the slum and people were actually angry here and saying, how can you let your country be like this and how can you have so much poverty? I mean, that movie really influenced a lot of people here and they had this crazy stereotype about India. So it's very hard to address that and now of course, with all the news they see on COVID, I mean, people still view India, unfortunately in a different light. And they ask these questions to which we have no answers as to why does your government not do something? Why do you people not do something about the poverty? So I feel it's a stereotype. Of course, these are big issues but,` every country has issues. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Anita: So of course, same like, you know English or poverty but one thing like stereotyped is the recent TV series about matchmaking, that's a big thing. They are like, oh, how can you just meet somebody for five minutes and get married? So that's a big stereotype, but in my opinion, they have a valid point because, seriously like I was so against it, and that is part of the reason why I wanted to come here because my mom had passed away and my dad was looking to get me married. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ And then I thought, let me just do my master's in the United States because I just wanted to escape all that. So they do have a valid point on it because I feel the same and luckily I found him. Funny story in my case is I just knew him for a month and we decided to get married, so it's not that different. And even though we are very culturally the same, he's also a Rajasthani and so am I, there are a lot of nuances where we are a little different. But luckily the food and the clothing and the traditions and the culture or the festivals have all been the same. So it was pretty easy to adjust that way but yes, big, big taboo we have is the arranged marriages I think. And media has helped fuel it even more. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sudha: Absolutely, you know this new series that was out and horrible again, I just can't abide by them for sort of reinforcing the stereotype 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sudha: It does happen but there's a large number of people who make their own decisions. Different parts of India are so different, it's like one continent over there. But I think things are changing. Any character from the media who's like a stereotypical Indian guy who you hate watching on TV. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Poonam: I think Sudha it's improving and in character I saw on a show I watch, like I binge-watch it over and over again. It's called Schitt’s Creek and I love that show. So there's an Indian character in that. So he's very, typical he's like a stereotypical Indian guy, but because it's a comedy, you don't mind it, but of course, if you start analysing it then you're like why are they showing him like such an annoying character you know, he's a real estate agent, he's a photographer on the side. And I guess I didn't take offence to it because it's a comedy, but in the past, there have been especially in all of the Hollywood movies and some of shows, I think the way they show an Indian character has been very stereotypical, but that's changing again with so many Indians coming into the scene. There's another show we have a local show called Kim's convenience. It's about a Korean family that runs a convenience store it's again, hilarious must watch it. So they have some Indian characters in fact, one of the daughter's ex-boyfriends is an Indian guy and that, I found those characters so true to all our people like, so that's what I feel It's definitely changing and they're portraying Indians as how they meant to be, and we can laugh about it too. So it's nice. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Archana: You know, one of them, what I can recollect is a standup comedian Russell Peters. So those are really funny. I laugh too, but some of them are like, you know, wait a second that was probably 40 years ago. That's not the Indian today. So, you know, to emphasise on the accent and to emphasise on just how we interact with each other. 

Yes, it could be possible that that was true many, many years ago, but that's not the India today. The India today is changed very much. And as a culture we have changed we have our core values, like Poonam has pointed out. But sometimes seeing runs off his show I'm like, No and I just don't it off, and I'm like, no, that's not who we are. And of course, you have to see the influence on the kids because these shows available to our children and it affects them too. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sudha: We also tend to socialise within our own communities and celebrate our own festivals. Did you find it difficult to settle and make friends outside of the community? How was that experience, Anita, would you like to start? 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Anita: Yeah. I have a lot of Indian friends, so my book club or my festivals and stuff is a lot of Indian community, but all my gym friends are very diverse, I have African-American, White, Chinese, Korean Jews, Catholic Ethiopian.but my socialising there helps me a lot too in the evenings. So I don't know, I find it very easy to get along, all my neighbours on my street are all White. So I do associate with a lot of diverse people all the time. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Anita: Yes, for sure, because again definitely, we are stereotyped and in the US, believe it or not, you know, brown person as a brown person, meaning they can't differentiate us between Iraqis, Iranis, Indian, Pakistani, sometimes at least 9/11 time, they didn't know any better. But over the years the IT industry has tremendously helped us, the brown people, like from India, because now they look at you and they go, are you in IT? So that kind of has helped that, they look at us like, okay, these people are extremely smart and they just mean business. They come here to do good jobs and not anything else. So there has been some differentiation over the years, but it does take effort on our part to go out a little bit.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Poonam: I think it has been difficult to make friends outside the Indian circle I would say because firstly, my community here is really large. My Mathur community, which is larger than anything I've ever seen even back home. So a lot of our socialising was within the community and it was very difficult to have anything outside. Also because of the way we socialise, because I don't think other communities host these big dinner parties and call like 50 people over and all, it's just not their way. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Poonam: Along with the children. So we socialise with the whole family and they don't do that. So initially we had friends who were non-Indian. But you can only go a certain extent with them, unfortunately. But again, I would say things have changed since then and now even the Indian community has started socialising very differently now, and things are getting better because initially, it was all about these big parties with, hundreds of kids running around and you're bringing these big, dishes out and all you're doing is eating basically from start to finish. And that's what our socialising is about, right! I mean, that's what we do, but that's what I think was a big hurdle too, reaching out to other people outside the Indian community and making friends with them. But again, that's changing and so we do have a lot of friends and through common interests, book clubs, and like Anita said, you know, at the gym, you do tend to cultivate other friendships then outside. But those are different kinds of friendships and which is nice, it's nice to have your Indian community to go to, that's like your comfort zone. And then you have your other friends who you share, you can really be yourself with. And you know, you don't have to do any formal kind of preparation to meet them. You just meet them at the gym or you meet them over a coffee and it's nice. So I think we're fortunate, we have a mix of both and that keeps us going. And that's how it's been. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Archana: Yeah. So my response is very similar it's a hybrid response between Anita and Poonam, I should say. I think Indian culture, it's a collective culture, right? So we do things together, we are very flamboyant in terms of our food and our dress and our festivals and we socialise within ourselves. Of course, food is very much a part of our social scene, but it is a collective culture. So in any collective culture, we've had friends you know, Latinos, or let's say all immigrants. So I find that all immigrant culture is a collective culture. So we tend to socialise within our group. And it's very hard for an outsider to be part of the group. You can only go so far. Like I have tried to socialise honestly with other countries here, but yes, you can only go so far right and then after that, okay you can meet at a coffee place, in a gym, in a workspace. It's all good, you can go for your happy hours, you can go for dinners. That's where it stops.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ And that's just the way most immigrant cultures are. We tend to socialise within our own group. But our kids now that's a different story, so for us, yes I would say that I tend to socialise within our own culture. It's, rare now where you invite them to a large social gathering at your place. So this was something which was pointed out by my kids too. How come, so-and-so, doesn't come to our house. And I said well, it's a different culture. So they are as uncomfortable in entering your space as you are inviting them to your space. So it's awkwardness on both sides, so I don't think it's just one side's awkwardness because we are not raised here we are raised in a different culture. But I think our kids, they have like a hybrid identity, they're taking the good, at least we have instilled the good, the core values of the Indian culture, but they are bought up here and that's the diaspora that they're bought up in. So they have the fusion of two cultures and that I think makes a big difference. So for them, our kids, I can see them interacting and calling 50 people over in a multicultural society. But for me, no, it just would not progress of course you socialise with everyone, it's not that you're not social. It's just that it just goes so far like both Poonan and Anita pointed out and you know the major socialising and interaction is within your culture itself. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Anita: Yeah. Your core group tends to be where your food is similar, your values are similar, especially the food, like we all pointing out. Because again we do socialise, everything around food. That's the Indian way, because Atithi Devo Bhava we've always been like that even, our moms were like that right. I think we all tend to be in our core group, which are very similar for me, like my core group tends to be my Marwadi group, then there's a mix of other Indian, you know, then there will be the outside of that. But your core group tends to be where your food and your festivals and all that like line up, like completely. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sudha: Yeah, agree with all of you, but I also think, like Archana mentioned that our children will have a different experience and they believe they are not like us. They are striding or taking their place in that world and taking ownership of it, they believe that they have the right to be there. Somewhere I think we have that imposter syndrome where we think perhaps we are not right. And also in trying to fit in I think I found it remarkably difficult I'd say, you know, the first part of the 10 years that I was here, I was just raising kids, right. Raising kids and working long hours. I didn't have time to socialise with people who were not very interested in engaging with me. So you know, then the Indian community is your, your natural backstop, it's your default positioning. But generally, I'd say I have tried later on also to do that and haven't found it very successful. I think you can socialise outside, meet them outside, go for a drink outside of work. But I think that is a big barrier to becoming good friends and to be able to invite someone home, because I think a big part of our cultural identity is I think we're very generous, very giving. We want people to come in and possibly people don't understand that, this is what is expected of them but generally I think it's probably, that which is a barrier. And I find that myself at this juncture at 54 years old of having to really think about who my friends are. And someone who is not within the community. Such interesting conversations. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Is your mother tongue important to you and do your children speak the language? Archana I remember you referring to this at some point, I'd be very interested to hear. Most Indians are bilingual at least. 

 πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Archana: Yeah most Indians are bilingual and sometimes, really multilingual. Like let's take our example, you know, we are all raised in Poona we went to school together and we came from different parts of the country. So my mother tongue is Tulu, but if I'd spoken Tulu in Poona, nobody would communicate with me right, because they don't understand the language. So for me language is really a tool for communication. And Mother tongue is a method of communication, within the community. So when I speak with my parents or go back to my community for the summer vacation, yes you speak in your mother tongue. But when you're living in the community outside your zone so to say, like just an example, living in India in Poona we spoke Marathi and Hindi because that was what was accepted in that city. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So to be honest to me, it was speaking English was a sign of acceptance in the U S. So I taught my kids English, I did not teach them my mother tongue, or even though Neeraj and me, we are from two different regions in the country, we did not teach them Hindi. But saying that, this has upset my daughter a lot when she grew up. So she pointed this out and she said, that's a mistake you made mom because understanding a language or speaking the language. I would say Hindi, for example, that's what is understanding the culture. So if I understand the language, I have an insight, a window into the culture itself. So she took that extra step in college to take Hindi as a language and learn that because she said that is very important for your self-identity. I did not see it raising the kids, but this was really pointed out to me. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Poonam: Yeah, so in my situation, because I came into a joint family, my in-laws lived with us, so because they're from north India, we spoke a lot of Hindi at home. In fact, my Hindi improved after coming to Canada. So it was so funny that I was speaking a lot more Hindi in Canada than I ever did back in Poona you know, in Poona we only spoken in English, so even at home I only spoke Hindi to my grandmother, even my parents, it was always English. 

So it was quite funny and my kids, the first two years of their life, they only spoke in Hindi at home. Till they started going to school and I found that became a bit of an obstacle because when they went to school, they couldn't speak a word of English, so they struggled in kindergarten. So I did not think that was such a great idea, because they had a rough time in the initial years assimilating, like in kindergarten and also language is very important to me and it's been very important to my children, but I would say it's not a deal-breaker for me. They do appreciate, knowing the language, my older son speaks fluent Hindi, and my younger one can speak too. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ I think they've appreciated knowing the language it's given them a sense of identity. It's helped them appreciate our culture a bit better. They understand the movies, the dialogues they don't need the subtitles. They're getting it, they're getting the jokes, they really get the language and they make a play of words and my oldest son will always pick up some, new words and bring it into the conversation. So in that sense, it's been really good that they have had the language, but I would say initially it was a little bit of a challenge for them just being Hindi speaking, but overall I think it gave them a good sense of identity, 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Anita: So we spoke Hindi at home in Pune and luckily my husband's family also speak in Hindi, in Mumbai. So my husband and me we do converse in Hindi. That's our primary language, so the kids have picked up, the older one if needed can converse a little bit. Like when she went to India alone one time she could get by. The younger one, don't know she doesn't speak it, but she has heard it all her life, so maybe it's there retained. A lot of parents over here in Dallas at least are teaching their kids now of course, to read and write Hindi. I did a community service project for two years where I gathered the community kids, whoever wanted to come learn to speak and write Hindi. And we did that for two years, but my older one, she once had gone to India and got very interested in the billboards everywhere in Hindi and she's like, what is that? And so I had a little time. I just wrote Hindi Alphabet for her and gave it to her, but her retention is pretty good and she learned, she learned the whole alphabets in that one trip and started reading billboards. And she has still retained that. But I did not do a whole lot to force them to speak Hindi at home because I also saw some kids who spoke only Hindi like how Poonam is saying little bit difficulty in kindergarten. So like Archana, I didn't make a whole lot of effort. And just, you know, whatever they inherited that's good enough for me. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sudha: Okay so moving onto the question, what are the values and cultural norms that you admire in your local community or in the country that you live in and have adopted. Anita, would you like to start? 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Anita: What I find is the people in the U S especially women, they know how to live life. They know you know, what is 'ME' life, they find ways to have avenues to go do what they want to do. 

And I admire that and I am trying, now that my responsibilities are kind of done with the younger ones now in college. I have never done a solo trip and I have been trying to work up there and I was like 2020 I'm going to do a solo trip and didn't happen, and then now 2021, I'm thinking, and it's still not in the works, but they know how to live life that I would love to embrace. We get stuck in our again values, which are good values, like you know, family and all that. And you kind of create your own shackles in a way. And no matter that the kids are older and independent and stuff, you still feel like, oh no, it's my motherly duty to jump in there and meddle in and all that stuff. And I need to learn from these ladies that I have done what I needed to, and now it's my time and I am last few months working on it mentally to get there, so I can break the norm. I haven't been able to yet. And I would really love to. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Poonam: There's quite a few things, frankly, I've learned in Canada, I've learned to be a lot more tolerant to so many things, which I wasn't, I would say coming from India, I had a lot of prejudices and oh no, this shouldn't be this way and this is not right and, I had a lot of inhibitions because that's how we grew up, right. I mean, we had so many of these prejudices. I think over here the great thing about the society is that everyone's on an equal footing pretty much, doesn't matter if you're the mayor of the city. Like I was on a bus once with the mayor of Toronto, like she was taking public transport to get to work. So just that and the other thing I'll say is that work ethic. Nothing is looked down upon here, you know you could be working in retail, you could be a house cleaner and you can still do that with dignity. So I think that is something really unique. That's one thing I've learned and I really appreciate about the society here, that there's a lot of dignity of labour and you're on an equal footing. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Archana: Yeah. So Indian culture I should say it's a collective culture. So we tend to socialise, within ourselves. But here, what I found is it's a very individualistic culture whereas you know both Poonam and Anita have pointed this out, from a very young age, you're encouraged, okay you should work hard. If you want to succeed at a task, you know, you take up a task and you succeeded that task. If you want to accomplish something just go for it. You don't need a committee blessing to do a task. At a workplace, I was more of a silent type because that's just a part of our culture, and here it was if you want to say something, speak up and make your point known. So I think that's very positive aspect, which we really have taken and, you know adopted and, really enjoyed that aspect of it. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So now I do a lot more activities in the past, you were just raising the kids and learning from them to be honest. And then just adopting the same principles into the day-to- day life. A lot of travel, but if you're into history or whatever, you know, attracts you. For me, it was history. I love seeing places. So I said, okay, let's just go for it. So I have taken up more activities at an individualistic level, rather than a collective you know for the community. So that's something I really appreciated in, in the culture here and adopted. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sudha: Yeah. That's some very interesting points from Anita, from Poonam from you we tend to put our families first and I think we've grown up with the idea of the supermom and also the Bharatiya Naari who is always giving, always doing, always stretching herself for whatever reason. I think finally we've come to that age where we can say, okay no, we're not going to do this anymore. And not everything is going to stop but some things I think you are going to put yourself before you put others. 

What is the one thing from your culture that you would like people wherever you're staying to know more about? 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Archana: So I think our culture is so very diverse and I would definitely like the people here to know how diverse our culture is. And we have the mantra going today in the workplace or even in the community, it's all about teamwork. It's a hybrid moving away from that individualistic culture to a teamwork culture, and I feel the Indian culture is all about teamwork. We look out for each other, as a community and you go forward as a community. So I would really want everyone to know that we have a very diverse culture and it promotes teamwork, which is really a blend of what's here in the States and what's there in the Indian sub-continent. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Anita: I feel that in general the world needs to know or in the US, people look at other cultures, if you are not white, basically, and especially you're a minority, then you are a troublemaker, in some way or the other. Oh you're from a different country so you are taking away our jobs. And that's a big thing for the Indian community of the IT sector. I would really like for them to understand that we are hardworking people. And so to not look at the minority, just not the Indians, just the minorities in general, to not look at us so adversely, like we are peace and harmony people and US is a land of opportunity. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ We're just here just as an equal opportunist. And so first get away from the stereotype that, oh, are you guys only engineers, doctors and lawyers, and then educate why we are who we are and it has come with a lot of not just hard work, but staying away from a family, sacrificing a lot to be here so that we have the opportunity and our children have the opportunity. They sometimes don't understand that. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Poonam: I think one of the parts of our culture, which I'm reconnecting with and I find so fascinating and I think can be a big contribution to people not just here, but I think all over the world is our spirituality and our mythology.

And so that was one part of it and the mythology, like for example the Mahabharata and reading the Gita again like how it's all reinforced. I wish like I could even teach it just to my kids and I do talk to them and we have these conversations now because I feel that can be such a powerful tool in leading your life. There's so many lessons there and it's not all black and white, there's so many shades of grey in Mahabharata for instance. It gets you thinking and it's so relevant even now, there's such a big lesson behind all those stories that we grew up listening to. I've kind of been going back to a lot of that and I think that's one big contribution we can make. And I'm not talking about like the commercialised version of spirituality and our mythology, but you know, just the basic level, how we grew up listening to those stories and how they influenced us. I always enjoyed that moral science class, even though it was kind of preachy when you think about it. But I feel those tools we grew up with we had, have really helped us, you know, adapt here and cope with situations and make us who we are and that's one valuable contribution we could make to society here. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sudha: Wow. That's super interesting. Yeah we all went to a convent school and we used to go to church And like you mentioned when you talk about Ramayan and Geeta, I don't really look at them as religious works. I look at them as great literary pieces with fantastic learning.. Coming to the last question. Do you actively celebrate your culture? Do you dip in and dip out or are you passive bystanders or totally removed from it? We have become incidentally removed from a lot of our cultural activities. And this happened because I moved back to India. So the engagement that happens as a family stopped. And then when I came back, I was just like, okay, no I can't go back to doing those things. We do celebrate the Diwali, I celebrate it with my kids and we light diyas and we have food and we dress up et cetera, but it's not as big as it used to be when they were younger. What is it with you? Poonam would you like to go? 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Poonam: Yes, I've never celebrated festivals the way I did in Canada. The kids are dancing, the adults are dancing and there's a lot of food and everything and it's, I would say very Bollywood based because that's all it was about. It's like a Bollywood talent show and everybody was very happy and that went on for years and my kids were growing up with that and, you know, participating and I'm pushing them along. But over the years it's made me question is this what all our festivals are all about and aren't we like losing the whole meaning of the festival somewhere, it's just becoming one big Bollywood fair. And I remember my younger son, he stopped going, one day he just said I'm not going to these things because he said, Mummy what does Bollywood dancing have to do with the Diwali? 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ And that got me thinking and I'm like, okay, no this is not what Diwali is. Maybe Diwali is the way we celebrated it. You know, at home we did a little Pooja and we lit diyas and so I would say I've gone back quite a bit to that. And even things like Karwa Chauth, initially I used to head out in my Sari with 20 other friends and we do this big thing. Now it's a very personal thing now I guess I'm veering more towards the meaning of the festival and making it a little simpler, a very simple basic thing where it's just me and my husband and I do the pooja and I still like to do it. So I think that has changed and the festivals do mean a lot to me, and it does bring my family together. We sit as a family and I try to do that and I find the kids actually enjoy it, and this way we bond a lot better when we just keep it to our family. And of course, there are events around the Diwali, where you're meeting other people and that's part of the festival too, you need to play Taash and meet with other friends. But on the Diwali day we just keep it to ourselves and I'm focusing more on the meaning now and the significance of the festival. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Anita: So pretty much like Poonam we are still doing that. So we're still doing the Bollywood fair. So we have four different festivals that we celebrate. So one is Diwali, one is Karwa Chauth, one is Gangaur and one is Teej, in our Marwadi community. So, they are big affairs out of that Gangaur is just a ladies- only at lunch. And it gives us actually, all these four do give us a way of meeting each other, you know, dress up in our ways and you know, the typical Marwadi dishes and all that comes out. And then like Poonam Diwali day, I don't even leave my home because that was what my mom and my grandma always talked about. That Laxmi is actually coming in the house. So I leave my doors open and I don't leave the house. 

So Diwali is a very personal affair and no matter where my kids are they make sure so far they've come home on Diwali day. So mine is a very combination part, I am no way ever been a bystander. I have my hands dug in into it because I love it. But again like Poonam lately I've been feeling, man it's just too many people and the kids are not there. They don't want to come anymore. And I too am questioning just like, Poonam like, do really want to be in this big, big things?

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Archana: Yeah, growing up we always celebrated all festivals on a small scale, even in Poona. It was never a large scale, as a family, that's not what we did. And the beauty of growing up 

there and in going to a Catholic school like we all did, you also celebrated all the other cultures, like, we celebrated Christmas, we celebrated the Hindu culture, we celebrated the Muslim culture, it was such a celebration of all cultures there. So I think that's what I took when I came to the states. And we celebrate all the cultures in a small scale. So during Diwali we celebrate Diwali, during Christmas we put up the Christmas tree. So my kids have grown up in such a multicultural environment, even at home. I don't know how much my kids will take it forward. But the exposure is there to all the festivities within the Indian culture, but also other festivities among other cultures. So like I said they just have a hybrid identity. And I really believe that to the similar culture that we have grown up back home, inclusive of all communities and enjoying festivities of all communities. I think they will take it forward, just enjoying festivities of all communities within the States. 

 πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sudha: What a wonderful conversation this has been. Thank you ladies for spending your Saturday morning with me sharing your thoughts about what culture means to you and your experiences as the Indian diaspora.Thank you very much. 

Follow Sudha on: 


Instagram: Sudhasingh1404



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