I’ve always had a strange relationship with my cultural identity, not really sure how to truly define myself. When I was younger and people asked me “what’s your background?” I fumbled through a list of words that didn’t quite capture who I was ...South Asian, East Indian, Hindu, Brown, Punjabi but not Sikh, Indian but not born there….so Indo-Canadian?
What did they actually want to know and how should I answer this?
As an immigrant family in a foreign country in the 1970s and 1980s, my parents themselves were embarking on unchartered territory, and we were learning together. Like many children of immigrants at that time, I tried to conceal my cultural identity...the exotic food, the gaudy clothing, the seemingly outdated traditions and customs. The duality of my identity was confusing, and there was no blueprint or instruction manual to follow.
As I grew older and my family got our footing, I started to feel a connection with my background and experienced an emerging interest in it. I am fortunate to my parents for exposing me to the multiple facets of our background. We traveled to India to visit family often, participated in important Hindu holidays at home and at the temple, and I even had a big fat Indian wedding with all the bells and whistles. My culture became more important and I started experimenting and inviting in the parts that I connected with most strongly, rejecting the ones that felt irrelevant or outdated.
What happened next can be best summarized in the Steve Jobs quote “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards”
2 years ago, I lost my Mom suddenly.
I knew that this would happen at some point, but the timing and circumstance knocked me off my feet. Along with the shock and sadness of not having my Mom with me in physical form, I started down the path of so-called “secondary losses”, a normal part of the grief process. Our family matriarch, the source of all things family, culture and tradition, was gone. I asked myself, Who would I call if I was attempting to make an Indian dish but didn’t know which spice to use? Who would tell me what to wear when a significant day or holiday was coming up? Who would be there to help me guide my children, family-wise and culturally? Who would help me answer the question, who am I?
Even though I am an adult in my mid 40s, married with children of my own, I didn’t pay attention, didn’t document, didn’t regularly practice my culture. I didn’t really “own” my cultural background... that belonged to my parents and by default, not by choice, it was mine. I brought out that identity and connection only on special occasions and trips to India.
Propelled by loss, I went deep into culture. I searched and searched. I learned in detail about the India / Pakistan Partition. I travelled from Western to Eastern India attempting to connect to my Motherland. I enrolled in traditional Indian Kathak dance lessons and perfected the stuffed Punjabi paratha after what felt like a thousand tries... despite my Father lovingly noting that I haven’t still “quite” perfected it. I launched a passion project to help others connect with the Indian culture through a celebration box for Holi. I’ve found excitement and pleasure in learning the meaning behind our rituals and family traditions, rediscovering a culture that gave my ancestors focus, direction and was their pillar of strength as they succeeded and struggled through the natural ups and downs of life.
I am immersed, I am smitten, I am full. My background has become my foreground. I finally found and “own” my culture. I know better who I am and more importantly how I want to grow and what impact I want to make on the world.
Inspired by a journey of searching and rediscovery, underscored by a year ridden with so much uncertainty, I am compelled and excited to launch the Root & Seed platform to help inspire others, who like me, desire to claim, honour and celebrate their family culture and identity, no matter what the spark.