I think my parents are the coolest people I know. They raised me with the same Indian culture as every other Indian kid, but they weren’t your run of the mill Desi parents. We facetime way too often, crack jokes about my nonexistent love life, talk about flatulence and GI health at the dining table, and lots more but that’s not why I respect them as much as I do. My parents showed me affection in speech and in action, they encourage me to be independent, to question things and be curious. But most importantly, they support me unconditionally. I should however make one thing clear; my parents are only this cool because they embraced change. What I mean to say is that they kept their morals and values at the core of their beliefs, but they understood that the paradigm that my brother and I grew up in was worlds apart from what theirs was, that our needs were different. They understood that if they wanted Kiddo (my little brother) and I to be the good and thoughtful human beings that things might have to be a little different than what was normalized for them. There are examples of the changes they made in every aspect of my life, for example a conversation with family friends about physical signs of affection we had a few weeks ago. I grew up in a house where hugs and kisses (on the cheek of course) were normal. I’d come home from school and there would be a hug from Mom. Papa would come home and if anyone missed hugging him, we’d hear him say “what am I? chopped liver?” (If you think I’m kidding, you are sorely mistaken). But apparently things weren’t always like this. During the conversation Mom mentioned that I came home upset after preschool one day because my classmate’s parents hugged them and said “I love you” but that wasn’t the norm in our household at the time. Now I don’t blame anyone’s parents, our culture is such that affection from Ma is fine, but affection from Pa is unheard of, and actions of love are often hidden behind the façade of education and other things deemed important. The importance of this being that I was made aware of the changes they made in terms of what was culturally normal for them to what was culturally important for me. Growing up the child of immigrants there’s always going to be a crossover between cultural lineage and the cultural norm you find yourself living in. They found a happy norm, that worked me and kiddo but also worked for them. I’m grateful I don’t ever have question whether Mom and Papa are proud or if they love me because they’ll come right out and say so (with a little friendly nudge of course!).
Flashback to the year 2007, I was 10 and my Nana was visiting from Delhi. Nana was also the kind of parent who encouraged his kids to be independent and to be curious. Anyways, I was off from school and Nana was sitting at the kitchen table reading the world news as Nana Ji’s worldwide do every morning. Something came up about caste, and I said, “why does a person’s caste determine their worth?” Nana answered in the best way he thought I would be able to understand “Caste has long since been a part of our culture, it kept power with some more than others, it kept people separated, and it let some people decide what was right or wrong for others. It doesn’t mean it’s right and I can’t explain why it still exists, but I agree with you I don’t think a person’s caste should determine their worth”. The conversation I had with Nana parallels so many conversations I’ve had with Mom and Papa. They let me question and they answered to the best of their ability in terms that were appropriate for me at that time. We’d get into friendly debates and arguments, and they would question why I thought a certain way. I think it’s part of the reason I’m so involved with advocacy and now as a young adult. Things I once questioned are now things I can affect change in. There’s opportunity now for me to let others question the way I was able to.
Now I want to get into my parents and their unconditional support but for those who this may affect negatively I’d like to put in a trigger warning for mental health and mental health related scenarios. I’ve always been an anxious person, a worrywart, what have you. But things got worse during my transition into college. I was still myself but not quite. I couldn’t focus, I wasn’t eating properly, and I was barely sleeping. I’d be up tossing and turning all night and have to walk into work or class like a zombie of sorts. The thoughts buzzing around in my head would keep me from engaging in conversation, I’d be too spaced out to interact. The worry was affecting my studies, my social life and for the first time in my life I was keeping what was happening from my parents. I knew I wasn’t going to be ok if I didn’t ask, so I sought out help, and found out that I’d been living my life with Anxiety. Some of you might be saying “its obvious”, but the reality is that sometimes no matter how obvious the symptoms are we’re too caught up to see them. My entire educational background is health related, 50% of my family members are in the health field, and even then I was to busy with school, work, and involvement on campus to bother. My first thought was “what do I do? should I start seeing a therapist?”, and my second thought was “what are people going to say? urf, “log kya kahenge”. A phrase that lies in the back of every Desi kid’s mind. It is unfortunate that I had that thought or that others have that thought. What “X” and “Y” uncle said should not have bothered me but it did. We grow up in a society that judges us if we do well and judges us if we don't. If there's a fault in us however big or small we get ripped to shreds with gossip. But, when I told my parents it just kind of came out amidst conversation with them, it took a moment for them to process. More importantly for them, they were just happy that I sought help and felt comfortable enough to tell them. “Sharam” (Shame), isn’t something I feel about my mental health, it’s not something they feel either. Its something I’m learning to manage, something I try not to let hold me back. They could’ve had the “log kya kahenge” attitude with the culture they grew up in, with the culture I grew up in, but that didn’t matter to them, I still mattered more.
Today, I’m a 22-year-old graduate student pursuing her Master’s in Public health and I don’t think I’d be where I am or have chosen my hopeful career path without them. My only goal is to help as many people as I can to the best of my ability for as long as I can and that is the product of support, love, and their encouragement of my curiosity. I’m not putting my parents on a pedestal but I certainly hope to raise a future generation the way they raised me.