“...Family is my uncles, my aunts, and my chithis”, as Senator Kamala Harris said in the acceptance speech for her Vice Presidential nomination. Whatever is this “Chithi”? The word, which in Tamil means younger aunt, became viral and reminded me of my own cultural reckoning when my children were younger. “Is it ok if I call Tom’s Mom Pam Aunty?”, my younger one asked about her best friend. Before I could reply, my older one interjected, a little irritated. “Well, you can’t. She isn’t Indian. And by the way Mom, I am not going to call Ruchi Aunty that anymore. It was weird when my teacher asked me if she was your sister or Dad’s, and I said neither.”
Growing up as a first-generation Indian American can be very tough. From the day that you are born, there are two completely different cultures being hurled at you from every angle. At a very young age, you must understand that most of the children that surround you every day, including your closest friends, do not have the same cultural experiences as you do. As a kid, seeing different people who accentuate different parts of your upbringing at different times can be very confusing and hard to comprehend. Figuring out where you fit in between the two seemingly opposite worlds can feel like an impossible challenge. Growing up with this underlying pressure to find where you fit results in many Indian American kids to feel alienated and alone.
“I wonder”, “I wish”, “… if only” are some of the expressions that come up in our minds when we flashback our life. But one doesn’t need a time-machine to go back and reset our life. In previous few years I have realized that I can still take charge and redirect my life so it aligns with my interests and passion.