My husband and I converse in English. Our choice of language represents our cultural fissure from our Indian heritage and its customs. I was born in Dallas, Texas, but as a young girl, my father insisted we learn our native language, Gujarati. For most of my childhood I learned English and the Indian language simultaneously. My husband, on the other hand, was born in India and moved to the United States when he was three years old, but because his parents wanted him to assimilate as an American, they insisted he speak only in English.
The fissure is more imminent and the depth of it startles me. The crack appeared almost instantly, my focus centered on it because my husband’s grandmother is visiting and staying with us for a few weeks. She speaks Gujarati exclusively, but my daughter only speaks English. My attempts at trying to teach her to speak Gujarati are futile; she laughs, and says the language sounds funny. It bothers me that she can’t have meaningful exchanges with her great-grandmother laced with the richness of a common language.
But it isn’t her fault, I let the crack gain footing. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve visited India; most of my extended family only know my husband and daughter by names only, the faces and personalities are wholly absent. There are other examples, this symbolic divorce, appearing in more obvious settings. The more intricate Indian cooking, I am at a loss, my mother my sole guide in navigating the viscosity of those oils. My husband often says, especially when he loves a particular dish that either his or my mom has cooked, that details of this Indian cooking will be lost with our generation. The only casualty isn’t cooking.There are other rituals, almost a special morse code, that occurs during marriages, births and funerals. I’ve witnessed these intricacies many times, but observing them is quite different then executing nuances I don’t really understand.
It’s the see-saw between assimilation and abandonment. There is a sense of being an in-between, where you are considered a non-resident Indian when you visit the place of your heritage, while in the country of your birthplace, you are an American with an asterick. There isn’t a place of absolute comfort, a tug of war between two opposite points. Sometimes I treasure this discomfort because only in America do you have the privilege of embracing two different cultures without fear of execution.
For me, there isn’t an easy resolution to this in-between feeling, but as my husband’s grandmother stay comes to a close, I’ve noticed a minute, but important transformation in my daughter. She isn’t making fun of the Indian language; she is actually repeating the words back to her great-grandma. I believe this change in my daughter is a sign of two lessons: I should continue to foster my daughter’s connection to her own heritage, while rediscovering what I’ve somehow lost.
Do you have a tug of war between heritage and birth place? How do you reconcile it? Are you an in-between? Are you uncomfortable with this feeling or do you embrace it? How much culture do you believe is important for yourself or your children?