We took the girls on the “Small World” ride at Disneyland. Ellie loved the singing and dancing dolls. Europe, America, the North Pole–all great. But as we entered Asia, she practically leapt from her seat, pointing.
“INDIA! LIKE ME!” she shrieked.
Ravi and I were somewhat thrown; not because she isn’t (half) Indian, but rather that we’ve done very little to give her any sort of Indian identity. I make Indian food a few times a month (which for her means rice, naan and papadum as she skips the chicken). She has a few outfits, mostly for weddings.
We aren’t very culturally Indian. We don’t speak Gujarati or Hindi (me because I haven’t picked up more than a few words here and there, Ravi because he refused to learn). We are not practicing Hindus or Jains (although my mother in law is Jain), nor was Ravi raised to be Hindu or Jain. We don’t really observe any Indian traditions. I have a few saris and some salwar but I don’t wear them on a day to day basis.
If anything, our big concern/push has been to instill an American identity. Ellie very much identifies as Singaporean, even though she’ll tell you she’s American (or at the least that Ravi and I are from America), she is very firm that she is from Singapore.
Earlier this week I told her she had been born in America, in Boston.
Looking skeptical, she shook her head. “No, I don’t think so, Mommy. I was born in Singapore.”
The identifying as Indian was somewhat out of the blue for us. I mentioned it in passing to Ellie’s preschool teachers and they told me that she is very vocal in class about identifying as an Indian girl.
What I’ve learned from my husband’s experiences growing up is that as parents we don’t get to dictate our daughters identities. Rather, it is our job to accept them and help them feel at home in their own skin. If that identity is Indian, then my goal is to give Ellie support and to help build some family traditions that support that identity.
When our New Zealand friends arrived in Singapore, I suggested we go to dinner in Little India and see the streets lit up for Diwali. We had dinner at The Banana Leaf Apolo, and then after dropping them at the taxi stand, Ellie and did some wandering around Little India. We saw the lights lit up for Diwali, bought some Diwali decorations for our home, and a few lamps.
“What’s Diwali?” Ellie asked me.
“A festival of light,” I answered.
“……” I realized I didn’t know.
The truth is that I know very little about Diwali.
Our family does have a Diwali tradition, although it’s been spottily observed since we moved abroad; we eat Jalebi on Diwali, made by my mother in law. However, I have no idea why we do that.
I asked Ravi and his comment was that it’s a festival of light and the new year. That was his total knowledge of the holiday, having grown up Indian and having lived in India for several years.
Which is why I’m seeking out books on Diwali to share with the girls (any kid-friendly recommendations are very welcome). It’s why I bought jalebi mix (so I can make the jalebi this year) at Mustafa. It’s why I’m attempting to educate myself a bit more about Indian holidays (I’ve learned a lot about Indian culture during my relationship with Ravi, but very little about the holidays). It’s why I’m grateful to have been invited over to someone’s home for Diwali. And it is why I want to start building traditions for our family around Diwali.