I was a well-behaved child. Until I wasn’t. I had to make my South Asian immigrant parents proud, especially after I helped cut so many coupons and filled out innumerable rebate forms. They saved money by many means…re-using plastic containers (no, the sour cream didn’t go bad and turn chunky red…that’s salsa), bringing snacks on trips (how dare we consider buying from an overpriced vendor?), hoarding Taco Bell sauces (I still do this). I wondered if my family could have single-handedly bought out Menards using their rebate credit. My parents left their families in India for greener, more globalized pastures, writing letters to them and occasionally splurging on an international phone call. Just so my brother and I could go to college. Just so they could save for the future. Just. In. Case.
I can’t say I consciously appreciated their sacrifices in my youth. If anything, it was more of an eye roll. Why can’t we just be like “normal” (ahem…white) people. Why was I always so afraid to ask permission to see my friends? Why did my white friends’ lives look so much easier? And were they?
There were reprieves. Family parties…fast food runs…“snacky” dinner (we used these pastel green dinner trays and ate veggies and dip and other “snacky” items and were allowed to watch TV while we ate!).
Junior high opened a whole new world to me. I maintained my academic rigor but started to see things differently. At this point it is hard to say what it was…probably a mixture of hormones and tween angst, but I felt less transactional and more reflective. I started asking “Why?” while living in my bubble. I became interested in philosophy and psychology. In high school, I subscribed to Adbusters magazine and damned the corporate evils of the world. I synchronously utilized the spirituality of the religion I grew up with, Hinduism, to guide me in combatting them.
There is an epic battle in the epic Mahabharata, so epic that it comprises the holy scripture The Bhagavad Gita. Arjun must battle his family, and Lord Krishna offers advice that emphasizes the need to follow the prescribed duties of his warrior caste to achieve salvation. This blurred some lines for me. I had a duty to my family. To my caste. To my religion. To my friends? To school? I don’t know what the hell that duty was, but I had one. I eventually saw that caste was faulty and the world was bigger than Chicagoland suburbia. But obligation and fear of this duty ruled my life, and it continues to plague me.
In between sneaking out as a teenager to see my first boyfriend “at the library”, falling in love with substance abusers, getting divorced, and going back to school as a 34-year-old, I have certainly broken the rules I was raised with.
At the crux of all this is my fight with identity. The juncture of decolonizing my South Asian heritage, battling conservative ideals, killing the model minority myth, and keeping the peace with aunties and uncles that hail Prime Minister Modi as the second coming while spewing illogical Islamophobic and anti-black sentiments makes me wants to yell and scream and cry and challenge everyone that’s wrong. But it is exhausting and just so much easier to smile and let it go…but it really isn’t because the inner dialogue continues and my mental health mourns itself.
“You can’t win”…“it is what it is”…fuck you both.
Behavior is only relative to the structures imposed upon us. Some might say I’m too conservative for voting for Bernie, and to others my bell hooks-isms are too radical. I was grateful to my parents for letting me wear shorts and angry that I didn’t always feel like a kid. I have complied and defied; the results are pending. What I do know is that each have brought me happiness and sorrow, relief and misery. These effects are politicized and reflect roots that push mainstream paths while unoccupied blooms are forced to face away from the sun. A little less bright. Smaller in size. Downward facing but still held high. They exist and subsist, evolving and progressing nonetheless.
Nisha Mody is a writer, graduate student in library and information sciences, and former speech-language pathologist. She is a lover of eggs, bunnies, and avocados. Her work has been published in Role Reboot, Chicago Literati, and Hack Library School. Learn more about her at www.nishamody.info.