My parents came to the US in December 1982, and in January 1984, I was born.  By no means were they settled and completely ready for a baby, but they wanted one and knew the rest would fall into place.  And so it did!

Vishnu and I, on the other hand, thought long and hard about exactly when we wanted to have a baby.  We went for it when we decided we were ready.  Thankfully, things fell into place, and now we have Mr. Kaiden!

In terms of surrounding my sister and I with elements of the Indian culture, my parents definitely had the upper hand.  First of all, they’re both the same kind of Indian, which believe it or not, makes things a lot easier.  They also lived within a few miles of quite of few family members.  And finally, my grandparents lived with us (on and off) throughout my childhood.  All of these things led both me and my sister to speak Gujarati, watch Bollywood movies and perform dances, learn Bharatnatayam, and have tons of Indian friends.

Kaiden, on the other hand, has a Gujarati mom and a Malayalee dad…who doesn’t speak Malayalum.  He lives near his masi and masa, who speak to him in English.  We don’t really watch Bollywood movies.  And the list goes on!

Indian map flag

This isn’t to say we can’t or won’t try instilling and keeping the Indian culture alive for Kaiden.  In fact, even though he’s still pretty young, I’ve added a few things to our daily routine to help create that sense of culture.

  1. First and foremost, I’m trying to speak to K in Gujarati a little more.  Even if it’s a word or two here and there.  I used to feel guilty thinking he may speak a little Gujarati and not Malayalum, but I now realize how silly that is.  It’s like us not wanting him to learn a different language in school because we don’t speak it ourselves.  If the bottom line is rooting him in the Indian culture, it shouldn’t matter that he knows one language and not the other.
  2. Before bed every night, I sing the Hanuman Chalisa to Kaiden.  I learned this particular prayer when I was very young, and it’s always been a source of comfort for me.  Each line is so full of meaning.  I’m so thankful my parents and grandparents made us sit with them every night to recite it and hoping K feels the same one day.  If nothing else, I hope it gives me the same degree of comfort it gives me.  I have a few other prayers I loved as child that I also sing to him before bed.  I know how to put on a show apparently!

    Hanuman dada

  3. We’re lucky we have a small temple within walking distance of our apartment.  It’s simple and very quiet (unlike a lot of Indian temples!).  But that’s precisely what draws me to it.  Growing up, I didn’t love going to the temple because it just felt like one big crowded party where everyone was there to socialize.  This temple, however, is quite the opposite.  To be honest, we haven’t gone as regularly (1x/week) as I would like, but I’m hoping to change that ASAP.  And I totally understand that going to the temple doesn’t just transfer culture, but I’m hoping it does open up a conversation with Kaiden where he feels comfortable to ask questions and explore (you know, when he starts talking!).
  4. We haven’t done much of this yet, but I really want to teach Kaiden about our culture through our beautiful holidays – Diwali, Holi, Onam, Navaratri, etc.  Not only do these celebrations instill values, but they’re grounded in stories, fun, and family.  What better way to learn about being Indian!?

    Diwali diya

  5. What better way to share culture than by making the food?!  I may not be the best Indian cook, but my khichidi and chana are on point!  But in all seriousness, I want Kaiden to love Indian food because it tells a story about where he’s from.  And what a lucky guy – he’s 50% Gujarati and 50% Malayalee – SO MUCH GOOD FOOD and grandmas who cook it well!
  6. There are so many cool companies focused on sharing bits and pieces of the Indian culture.  For example, Jai Jai Hooray, Desi Babies, and Modi Toys just to name a few!  These kinds of companies didn’t exist when my parents were raising us (the internet wasn’t really a big thing!), and they honestly didn’t need the help, but I think it’s awesome they exist now…because we need help!  I highly recommend checking out these sites to see what they offer!

And that, my friends, is a glimpse into how I try to ensure Kaiden knows where he’s from and what it’s all about.  It’s not perfect by any means, but hey, at least I’m trying!  And the great part about my list of 5 things is they can apply to any culture.  Language, prayer, companies promoting the culture, etc. exist for everyone, I’m sure!  You just have to find a way and try. 🙂

Your turn – Tell me about your favorite cultural childhood experience!  Mine was celebrating Navaratri every year and going to garba with all of my friends.  So much fun!

By Parita

7 thoughts on “6 Simple Ways to Keep the Indian Culture Alive”
  1. Have you seen the books by Sanjay Patel? They are all about the gods but in fun little stories with super colorful illustrations. Our daughter loves looking at them even if she doesn’t quite get what it says yet.

    1. Oh will have to look into them! K is super into colorful stuff right now so it’s the best way to keep his attention…for all of like 2 minutes! 🙂

  2. Par, this post really resonates with me!! I don’t even know where to begin, so I want to apologize ahead of time for my lengthy comment. For many years I felt like I didn’t belong to the Indian culture and I didn’t quite fit into the American culture. That whole W.E.B. DuBois double-consciousness syndrome felt real to me! I wasn’t born in the U.S. and emigrated here in 1986. My dad had already been here doing his post-doc at Univ of Florida when he and my mom got married in ’78. Then he went back to India and my sister was born in ’79 in India. Then they came back here so he could finish his post-doc and they all lived in Florida, but then they went back when I was born in ’83! So he came back to US to start working at Ohio State and my mom, sister and I came in 1986 fo Columbus.

    So from the start, it might have felt like I was American, but my parents really did enrich our lives with Indian culture since we knew it would be a while before we go back to India to visit family and see everyone again. Almost immediately my dad found an Indian circle of professors and their families so we could have some semblance of “home’ here in the states. Of course, I didn’t want any part of it. I wanted to be American, I wanted a new name, I wanted to eat McDonalds every day 😉 I think a lot of immigrants go through this phase where they want nothing to do with their culture but then really embrace as you get older and you know…mature haha.

    My mom still cooks Indian food and did so then for dinner. She had to make adjustments for us to have “American” lunches for school, but we also did poojas for Hanuman, Ganesh, etc. and visited temples when we could, celebrated Diwali, etc! So it was all part of me despite me not wanting to embrace it for a period of time. Then, when I was 9, we went back to India for the summer and I had a whirlwind of culture shock. I didn’t feel like I fit in at all and wanted to just go back to home to America. It was pretty awful. I still didn’t visit India a lot!

    Now being grown up, I try to embrace it as much as I can — attend temple when I can, I do make sweets and light oil lamps for Diwali in our home, etc., but I also do it so that my husband, who is 100% american can have a little peek into the culture he married into! 🙂
    But sometimes it still feels like I don’t quite fit in. I might be a naturalized citizen now, but I know my roots. I know how hard my parents worked to get here and how hard they continue to work! We’re going to India this December for the first time in many years and I’m kind of nervous if I’m being honest. I feel like it will be a bit of a culture shock again and I’ll just be a “dumb, American tourist”.

    I can’t thank you enough for posting about this! I do think my sister tries her best to make sure EEP knows about our culture and my cousin who has twin boys also makes sure of it. I think it’s great to have the roots we have and be able to pass them on! 🙂 <3

    1. Thank YOU for sharing your story and thoughts on this topic! I think your words will resonate with so many people. It’s such a hard balance to strike, especially when you come to this country as a young child or are first generation American. I can’t wait to hear about your trip to India and think you’ll enjoy it as you’ll be going with a completely different lens. LOVE YOU!

  3. Thanks for this post, Parita.

    I discovered your blog after you were a guest on the Best of Both Worlds podcast. I’ve enjoyed reading it, as I can relate to a lot of the content. I too am a working mum of 2 very young children. We live in Australia and I too have been pondering how to ensure that my children grow up with understanding and appreciation of their Hindu and South Asian heritage. In fact I was wondering about this today, and then I came across this post – very timely 🙂

    I like your suggestions, and in particular I’ve checked out the companies you mentioned already – their stuff is so cute!

    1. Hi Ash! So glad you found me through the podcast. And this is a huge question I grapple with all the time. With everything else we have to do on a daily basis, I find it’s easiest to incorporate whenever possible. That’s why I love the toys and books these companies share. Please do let me know if you come up with other ideas!

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