Though I may have not written as frequently as I once did before, I haven’t left the mission of what this blog Voice of ABPD was meant for : to be a voice for the voiceless. Voice of ABPD was created as a space to understand the cultural generation gap that exists among diverse individuals living in America.
For the last three years, I was able to write my rants and rambles of what I experienced as a first-generation proud Indian-American, all on this here blogspace, but it wasn’t until this year where I was truly able to see the impact of the messages I have tried so hard to convey.
Perhaps it was because I had the opportunity to be part of the largest network of Malayalees in North America (FOMAA) and change the norm of what it means to be a youth representative of that organization. Perhaps it was because of my pursuit of my PhD, or perhaps it was because I got tired of simply talking about the changes I desired for the communities and people around me and started to put action to my words. Whatever it was, something lit the flame for this particular ABPD to Rise From The Burnt Ashes and into a Bright, Phoenix.
This last year has been a blessing. I am humbled by how much this year has allowed me to grow as an individual. I may not be ranting and rambling as much as I used to and that is primarily because I’m doing it in person. Yes, I have stepped away from the comfort of my keyboard and started to put an actual face to the “voice.” I have been fortunate to have met many first-and-second-generation diverse individuals, traditional tout leaders who were genuinely interested in the conversation as to what it means to be a diverse person living in America and what they can do to help bridge the cultural generation gap.
This was the year where I was able to go back to my roots in Kerala, India (and not as the ‘first Malayalee Miss India Washington’), and really see the fruits of the efforts a passionate group of Malayalee-Americas were able to accomplish (The FOMAA Village), and actually meet the families of the lives we forever changed. This was the year I re-connected with family and friends. This was a year of many memorable travels. This was a year of growth.
And, this year, for the first time in my life, I was honored with the Presidential award from the India Press Club of North America for using my voice, for being a voice for the voiceless, for being a proud American Born Proud Desi. This honor will be one I cherish most in my life.
Of course, as per ‘Voice of ABPD’ standards, this blog wouldn’t be complete without a closing message of which I leave this: there are so many standards of what it means to be successful, many of which are socially within South Asian culture. The most prominent one being that you need to be a lawyer, engineer, or doctor to be truly successful and happy in life. Not only is this outdated but it is incredibly destructive to South Asian children and leads them to believe that they have little to no agency in making their own decisions in the world.
As mentioned, this year I have had the privledge of listening to many stories within my community and as such, I have seen far too many South Asian children sacrifice their mental health and wellbeing for their parent’s pride and dignity.
I always viewed parents who live through their children’s experiences as insecure. Parents who force their kids into a career they have absolutely no interest in for the sake of showing a good face to the South Asian community strike me as parents with bruised egos who are obsessed with their image and reputation.
To have never experienced this makes me incredibly thankful but at the same time, extremely disappointed in how the standards within our community are so difficult to change.
I have thought through this far too many times. I have tried to understand why the South Asian mentality is overwhelmingly egotistical. I understand that parents want the absolute best for their kids and will do everything in their power to help them become successful. But why is there so much comparison and competition?
I remember having used to go to Jacobite Orthodox church in Seattle. One of the member’s children was being recognized for graduating high school and getting into college and rather than simply congratulating the parents and the child for the accomplishment, the rest of the parents around me started to play the game of “my son/daughter…” ping-pong, where they go back and forth, discussing what their kids are studying and how their child one-upped the child getting into college by getting straight-A’s and getting a higher SAT score or started gossiping comparing how someone else’s child wasn’t on the “right path.” I was baffled.
The fact that these were grown adults competing with each other for validation in a community that feels far more like a gameshow was enough for me to wish I wasn’t a part of the community.
That’s when I knew I wanted to be someone to help change this and speak out against the toxic and destructive ways of parents in our community.
Around the time I finished my undergrad, I was unsure about which career path I should choose. As someone who is heavily interested in helping others and learning about social issues in our world, along with a love for writing, research and media, I combined these passions of mine by deciding to study communications.
As an Indian girl, I began to notice that my choice to study this was questioned and often looked down upon by parents (and sometime even the kids) in my community – particularly those in the Pacific North West (Seattle – this was the primary reason I left by the way)
From a young age, I knew I wanted to help people in a unique way. I wanted to change their mind about something; influence them to think differently about an issue, about a group of people, about anything.I wanted to be someone to make a difference in a world where hate, discrimination, and anger exist in far too many facets of our society. I have always wanted to break barriers, and, lucky for me, there are plenty of barriers to be broken in our lovely South Asian community.
Studying communications was the start of breaking these barriers. It’s strange to think that studying a certain degree is something to feel liberated about. However, it’s making the decision to study (and pursue a doctorate) in a degree that isn’t deemed successful enough that makes it even more liberating.
The puzzled reactions that dawn across the face of people when they ask me what I study, conveys the not-so-subtly-rude question: “Where exactly will a degree like that take you?” To which the “you won’t make as much money in that field of work” remark follows after. It’s the feeling that I have to constantly prove myself and my worth on a much greater level than a person who is studying a more “acceptable” degree that infuriates yet fuels my fire.
It is time our traditional community lets go of these sociocultural expectations for their children to pursue more traditionally accepted occupations. Parents need to understand that if there is something their child truly loves and will put their mind and heart into, they should not make them sacrifice that and their own wellbeing for money, reputation and a very skewed definition of success.
I ask you, South Asian parents, to stop fostering competition between your children. Instead, you should be teaching them to work with integrity, agency, and respect, no matter what field they may pursue.
South Asian kids, I urge you to continue to dream for great things but not at the cost of your own happiness. I am not saying “don’t be an engineer,” I am saying become an engineer if you truly want to be one and not because your parents told you to.
It’s upsetting to say that this is easier said than done. There is still a long way to go on this journey, even for me.
Every time I feel like I am truly confident and happy with my career choice and volunteer activities, I encounter someone negative in our community who sets me five steps back, which makes me question if what I am doing is really worth it.
Then I get reminded by the good. This year, I was reminded from a few prominent leaders and friends. Their support and encouragement remind myself that what I hope to accomplish is worth it.
It’s my ambition that continues to push me to work in a field that is clearly lacking in South Asian representation. It’s my ambition that makes me want to be an executive of a company – telling this very story, where someday a little Indian girl might be watching from her T.V. at home and thinking to herself,
I can do that job too.
It’s no surprise that the world needs more South Asian representation as it is. Now more than ever, we need this representation to be in the fields of work that we are too afraid to work in because of our own parents.
The world needs more South Asian journalists, politicians, psychologists, teachers, and the list goes on.
The world needs South Asian people in these fields to prove to both younger and older generations that there is not just one worthy occupation. An occupation that sacrifices your own wellbeing and happiness is not worth anything in the end.
I encourage you to challenge narratives and have the strength to grow into someone who can find their place in the world by pursuing something even if it is out of the ordinary for our community.
After all, you will never influence the world trying to be like it.