April 16, 2010
Snapshots in Diversity: Special Series- AARTI
As any reader of my blog knows, I am fascinated with cultural diversity. I seek it out in the books I read, the movies I watch, the food I eat, and the friends I make whenever I can. April is Cultural Diversity Month and I wanted to do something special to celebrate all that is unique about people in our world. I have the privilege of getting to present to you, dear readers, some of the world's great book bloggers sharing about their cultures.
Today I asked Aarti, of the book blog, Booklust, to share with us a snapshot of her culture. Please read, enjoy, and leave a comment- even questions! And be sure to bookmark Lost in Books as the series continues through the rest of this month.
What culture(s) were you born into?
I was born in Chicago, IL, so am 100% American. My parents were both born in Bangalore, India, so I am also 100% Indian. My parents were both born and grew up in a city where the populace speaks Kannada, so I am 100% Kannadiga. However, their family language ("mother tongue," if you will) is Telugu and they speak Telugu with their relatives, so I am also 100% Telugu. You all can do the math on that :-)
What culture(s) do you identify with?
I identify most with the American culture. I visit India a lot, understand both Kannada & Telugu (though I speak neither), can eat rice, tear naan and scoop curry with one hand, and can walk in a sari, but no Indian would ever call me anything other than American. I am very happy and proud to be American. And I love that I am American but can also double-dip and be Indian, too. There are aspects of being Indian that I wouldn't trade for the world. More on that later :-)
What is a stereotype of your culture that bothers you the most?
Everyone thinks we are all doctors and engineers! We're not. Also, many people think India is some sort of backwards place, but then they also claim to want to go there for spiritual cleansing or something, which doesn't make sense. The whole spiritual cleansing thing is one of the main reasons I have no desire to read Eat, Pray, Love. I think many people also see someone with brown skin and think that that person is Indian. That is not always the case. There are other countries in South Asia.
What myth about your culture would you like to debunk here and now?
I hate people who greet me and assume I've read . I have not read it. And the same people will say that they love the book and that they "really understand Indian culture" so much better now. Well... I know many Indian people who read and disliked The Namesake, so I'm not sure you're really understanding Indian culture by reading it. It really just bothers me when people read one of the many, many books on Indian immigrants to the UK or the US and then decide that's how it must be for every Indian. It's not.
What are some things about your culture that make you proud?
The one aspect of Indian culture I love more than all others is how much your family and friends are involved with everything. India very much subscribes to the joint family system, and that is extended even when people live abroad. I may not have many people who are related to me here in Chicago, but I grew up with a HUGE network of family friends. If there is a wedding, everyone helps prepare for it. If there is a funeral, everyone is helping out for weeks afterward. If there is a hospital stay, you always have visitors- everyone will come to cheer you up. If you have children, you have an entire phonebook of people to call for babysitters and birthday parties and all the rest.
Indian people are so hospitable, so welcoming and kind. No matter how small the home, when you visit you are always offered food and a beverage and you are always given what can only be termed a "thank you" gift for visiting when you leave, usually some sort of fruit.
And in no (South) Indian language is "goodbye" even a word. The closest version is a sentence that translates to, "Shall I go and then return?" I love that, too.
Are there any things about your culture you don't agree with?
Yes, many! I think there is still a lot of pressure on girls to get married and have children. I also am very uncomfortable with the way religious belief is seeping into all sorts of things. I don't like that the caste system is still prevalent. I don't like how pervasive corruption is in everything. Also, many Indians have deep-rooted racism. Not just against other races, but amongst each other- as there are so many different languages and the country was never united until after the British came in, there is a lot of mistrust and stereotyping.
What is the first thing people notice about you (whether it is skin color or style of dress or the way you carry yourself)? What do you wish they would notice?
Gosh, I have no idea. I've never asked. I dress pretty much like everyone else in my area (though possibly more sloppy!), so I suppose my skin color is pretty obvious. I also have ridiculously curly hair that is miserable to deal with when it's windy or humid.
What I wish people would notice is my charm, wit, sparkling eyes and mischievous grin :-)
How do you deal with any prejudices or discrimination?
The only time I was a victim of discrimination was at an airport in . I think a lot of brown-skinned people are subject to very rigorous security proceedings in Europe (moreso than in the US, I would say, but I have a US passport, so my experience may be different). I also had a heightened awareness of my race in Australia, but I think that is more because I knew there were recent bursts of violence against Indians in Australia when I was there.
I don't really "deal" with prejudice. I am sorry to say this, but it is scary to face someone who is racist or prejudiced against your culture/religion/beliefs and somehow makes that prejudice clear to you. If airport security decides to grill me on my travel plans and why I'm going where I'm going or doing what I'm doing... I answer the questions. And, since grade school, that's the only discrimination I've come up against, except in ways more relating to ignorance than discrimination.
However, there's a difference between prejudice and ignorance. Many people are completely unaware of Indian culture. I guess I don't really deal with that, either. I politely correct people if they ask if I speak "Hindu," but that's about it. When I worked in public accounting for a company that was mostly Jewish, I campaigned very vocally for vegetarian (or at least non-beef) options at staff lunches and events. I don't think that's discrimination, though- just oversight.
What is one thing you want everyone to know about you and your culture?
If you want to know about the real India, watch a Bollywood movie.
No, please don't believe that! I guess I would just want people to know that there is a lot more to India than the :-) And that the people there are quite possibly the most generous you will ever meet.
Thank you, Aarti for sharing about India and what it is like to be both Indian and American. As you know, my sister is married to an Indian man and they live in America. We got to visit India back in October and I absolutely LOVED it there. I agree that I met some of the friendliest people I have ever met while I was there. I love the Indian culture and love learning more about it and I don't pretend to know everything. And of course anyone who hasn't tried Indian food should. It is amazing.
Snapshots in Diversity (c) is a special series running on Lost in Books through the end of April. Please be sure to bookmark the blog so you can catch the next wonderfully interesting personal essay/interview.