Living a Double Life – Anusha Mehta

I still continue to search for the perfect balance between my Hindu, Jain and Indian background and the American culture I have grown up in. Growing up consisted of a constant battle between these identities: I could never be too Indian for my friends at school or other westernized environments and I could never show too many American ideals around my Indian family and friends.

This divide is especially pronounced in my relationship with my parents. As immigrants who came here in their late 20s, they don’t understand the Americanized culture that I face. For them, media wasn’t so prevalent, the dating culture was practically nonexistent and they were accustomed to being the majority race in their community where Hindu and Jain households fell on the conservative side of the spectrum. This was a life much different than the one I live, a situation bound to cause some friction.

The biggest obstacle we faced was when I started dating my current boyfriend, Adam, who is white European and of Christian faith. It is taboo to bring a significant other around close family and friends at an age when marriage isn’t on the table, especially with arranged marriages being such a large tradition in Hindu culture. When I told my parents that we were dating, right away they told me, “This doesn’t need to be anything serious, you’re young, so school should be your priority.” However they let me make my own decision. Yet family is such a key pillar in Hinduism, so my parents had strong opinions about our relationship. They wanted me to spend less time with him than I had been asking for, didn’t want him around extended family and friends (because it wasn’t marriage-level yet), and they constantly questioned Adam’s familial dynamic and how it would work with our own.

Rather than fight, I learned to start conversing with them about my beliefs and values, something I implemented in other areas that had felt confrontational in the past. We didn’t have to become defensive and frustrated in the face of disagreement, but could advocate for our own beliefs and learn from each other. Now as a third year college student, living on my own, I have seen a positive change in the way they respond to my decisions and beliefs. The differences that led to negative fights and alienation now became a path to more open and inviting mindsets.

I noticed this change more significantly in our personal conversations after having broader talks about American culture and the political environment. Growing up in St. Louis close to Ferguson, MO, there were many debates about race, police brutality, and the resulting protests and riots. Over the years, I have noticed these conversations going from hostile to intellectual, focusing on understanding each other’s points of view, and reminding one another how our childhood environments have shaped our points of view. I found this openness to disagreement resonating in conversations about the way I live my own life in my American educational environment, and through my relationships and broader social life.

Though I continue to find myself unconsciously searching for that “perfect” balance, I have come to the realization time and again that maybe it isn’t about finding the perfect balance, but more about embracing both aspects of my background, finding what coincides with my personal values and goals, and being willing to stand up for my point of view while being open to others.

Have you found yourself negotiating your identity and/or experiences with your parents as a result of the differences in both your parents’ and your own religious and cultural upbringing? If so, what was it and have you found a solution or “balance”?

3 thoughts on “Living a Double Life – Anusha Mehta”

  1. Hi Anusha – your post is very relatable. As someone who also grew up in an Indian household, there was definitely points of conflict on American vs Indian culture. While my family practices Sikhi and is from Punjab, I resonate with challenges that you raised in your blog post. For example, my sister and I at one point really wanted to cut our hair but my mom was adamant we keep it long. The reason she wanted us to keep it long was because hair is considered very valuable and sacred in Sikhi and is also a key article of faith for Sikhs. My sister and I did not understand the religious reason for keeping our hair long and all we knew was that we wanted to fit in with the other kids at school – this was especially true because we were one of the few kids from India in school at the time so we stood out. I agree with you – it often felt as though I was not “Indian enough” for my extended family but not “American enough” for my friends at school. Eventually, as we got older, my parents began to understand that the experiences that my sister and I have growing up in America are very different from the ones that they had in India. Having open and honest conversations regarding what we wanted and what we believed in was the way we avoided confrontation – along with some compromise. I found that expressing my desires by communicating with my parents while providing reasoning was the path that had the best outcome. Having these conversations with my parents eventually led me to learn more about Sikhi which further developed my relationship with my faith. Great post Anusha!

  2. Hi Anusha!
    Thank you for sharing your experience. It was really interesting to read about! Honestly, I have always been kind of jealous of kids who grew up with another culture and language at home. Like when my friends with immigrant parents would get a call from their parents after school and just start speaking another language, I always thought that was the coolest thing. But I guess I never really thought too much about the challenges that also come from having two such different cultures pulling you in multiple directions at once. Your blog post was really enlightening about that.
    Personally, I never really had to deal with my parents disapproving of my decisions because of different ways we were raised. I think my dad definitely dealt with what you were describing about parents being skeptical of dating outside of your culture, so I guess that kind of paved the way for me. My mom grew up Christian, and when she started dating my dad there was a lot of backlash from my dad’s whole family. They always called her a shiksa, which is Yiddish for a non Jewish girl that a Jewish guy dates, and they would openly switch into Hebrew or Yiddish to talk negatively about her even when she was in the room. At their wedding, apparently my Jewish grandpa made a really inappropriate toast about how he “missed the good old days of arranged marriage” and then said something about how “we’ll see if this one lasts.” I think because of that whole experience, my mom is a lot more open to the choices I make, like when I tried to move to Israel after high school, even if sometimes she doesn’t understand them because Judaism is not so important to her like it is to me.

  3. Hi Anusha,
    I want to highlight something that Azariah had said about being jealous when friends would speak in a different language or had different traditions than everyone else. Because I totally thought the same thing! I think it’s really important to tell stories like this because it helps people like me realize my privilege. Also, I am really lucky that the only identity my parents ever cared about was that of me being their child, my religion, preferences, hobbies, etc… has never been an issue or even topic of disscussion.

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