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The Parent Trap - Chapter 2

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About "The Parent Trap" :  Students of Vedanta learn that Atma cannot be defined but may be understood only as what It is not! That process of logical negation, ‘Neti Neti’ (na iti meaning ‘not this’), explains that Atma is not the Body nor the Mind nor the Ego or Intellect; that Atma is neither the Sky, the Earth, Light, Wind and so on. It transcends all that exists and at the same time, pervades all existence!  This knowledge pretty much helps to describe my column. It is not about parents, nor about traps. It is not about schools, children, babies or brats.

My column is, well, the color that pervades Life's highs and lows in their infinite shades. Like yoga, that is union of Body, Mind, Soul, this column is a confluence of Life as a whole.

I'll share 50 years of personal experience; observation, introspection and some revelations. Perhaps through the lens of a nurturing heart, my column will celebrate living as an art.  I will share my experiences as a parent, teacher and child to present all of  the colors that manifest as Life

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Chapter 2 
 
LOST IDENTITY
 
 
The door opened as I heard my name being summoned. A tall, expressionless gentleman, with furrowed brow, stepped briefly into the hall and requested me to follow him. The corridor, a drab, endless maze was punctuated by glimpses of individuals of varied ethnicity encased in gloomy Immigration offices on either side. They flashed past like a film strip, each frame loaded with a unique tale of displacement.
 
Officer Bock’s manner was stern.  My inner smile reminded me that his attitude would have irked the Mona of twenty years ago. She would have bristled with resentment when he refused to oblige with the courtesy of a smile. Her blood would boil at his overbearing demeanor. “I’m no refugee begging for shelter” her heart would hiss, dispersing a fresh shot of venom through her every cell. That trek down the passageway was indeed symbolic of my long journey of transformation from the fledgling, eager, migrant to a seasoned, well nestled citizen.
 
I sat patiently as he lingered over each of my documents. If he was curious about the reasons for my declining an invitation to American citizenship 20 years ago, his countenance did not betray it. I vividly recall that stormy night, when the din of my inner turmoil drowned out the clamor of the elements outside. My husband watched helplessly as I agonized over the decision to surrender my Indian identity for an American one. “You will always remain Indian inside”, he tried to reassure me. “Citizenship is merely a formality” he argued, hoping to appeal to the practical in me, which at the moment scored a bleak 25% against my raging emotions. My conscience grappled with the prospect of swearing without intention and by daybreak, America had failed to acquire an extra citizen, “willing to bear arms” for the country.
 
My arrival in the United States thirty years ago could not have been more poorly timed. I had never known the word ‘recession’ let alone have the privilege to face its ugly consequences. If I chose to exercise my freedom and liberty to dress as I pleased, in Indian attire, I would be accosted by rude comments as, “Why don’t you go back to where you belong, Pagan?!”  A potential employer once asked whether I spoke softly because I was an oppressed Indian woman (!) and at school, a parent member of the ‘Diversity Task Force’ (no less) questioned, “Why don’t you guys assimilate? Why do you hold on to your culture?” That Macys would carry kurtis some day or Bollywood might capture America’s imagination was an ultimate fantasy at the time. For the Mona, who was nurtured in a once inclusive Indian environment, such discrimination was confounding. Pagan? YOU guys? Indian woman? Why, I had landed in America, an empty page and found myself stamped, tagged, identified, labeled, categorized and bound! ‘Alien’,’ Indian’, ‘Asian’ ‘East Indian’, ’Caucasian’, ’South Asian’, ‘Woman’,’ Spouse’, ‘Dependent’, ‘Hindu’, ‘Ethnic’, ‘Minority’ ‘Other’ and more! Quite inadvertently, I was trapped in ‘Identity’!
Never before had the Indian flag prompted tears the way it did on American soil. Neither school nor college or parents were able to instill such pride for country, race, religion that was aroused by the life changing jolt of immigrant hood. I watched other Indians surrender to the absurd demands of a close-minded American society and was nagged by its hypocrisy:   If this country is about freedom and liberty then why are its people so bound to conformity? If the pressure to ‘assimilate’ intimidated some, it ignited resentment in others and soon my finely tuned antennae were honed to detect any misrepresentations related to India.
 
Parents easily transmit their insecurities to their children so it wasn’t long before my little offspring picked up on the vibes. I never tire of repeating the following story of my boys at age 3 and 6. One quiet afternoon at home, I overheard their amusing conversation. Like many children of Indian origin, who secretly desire to speak like their peers, they would engage in role play, imitating their classmates, Timothy and Jordan with a forced American accent. After I had allowed myself to be sufficiently entertained, I tip-toed into the room and to my surprise, the startled siblings erupted into a chorus of the Indian national anthem, “Jana Gana Mana”!! It was hilarious yet, poignant.
Evidently, they had become victims of the ‘Parent Trap’, torn between wanting to please me and yearning to please their friends. My immediate response was to put their little hearts at ease. I reassured them that they were free to take the best from all cultures without having to choose. Perhaps it was that precious secret, which twelve years later earned my son the Global Citizen award on graduation night.  However, that incident prompted some deep soul searching and led to several ‘aha moments’. Do I bind my kids with a certain national identity or inspire them to be global citizens? What causes cultural embarrassment or arrogance? What is the source of the notorious phenomenon known as the ‘ABCD’ syndrome (American Born Confused Desi), when children of Indian immigrants are ashamed of their family culture?
 
The answers were clear and simple. Pride isolates, creates arrogance and demands assimilation, thus repels.  Appreciation embraces, accepts, encourages integration, and thus unites. I observed that the predominant ‘American culture’, was based on hype and a subtle denial of new cultures.  No wonder, ‘ABCD’ was the direct result of ignorance in the mainstream and lack of exposure or appreciation of global cultures. This syndrome was further exacerbated by IBCDs (Indian Born Confused Desis), parents who chose to denigrate everything Indian in their desperate quest to be accepted in American society.  No! Anger, resentment and hatred are not the answer. We are to blame for the ignorance and the onus is upon us to “Be the change we wish to see”!
In 1991, I embarked on a mission to help raise awareness. In the process I would help create ABCDs (American Born CONFIDENT Desis), through books, musicals, slide presentations, newspaper articles and whatever it took to reach out and dispel stereotypes. The spirit of my message was conveyed through the theme song that I wrote for my  musical, “Watch out for the Indosaurus!”: ‘I am the Super Indosaurus, I take the best from all that I see…I put on my Ghungroos or my ballet shoes;bring out my tablas or my pianos; sing out my sargams or my music scales, enjoy my dosas or my pancakes, show of my kurta or my denim jeans, hit out a home run or a century, pick up Pinnochio or Panchatantra..I take the best from all that I see. I am the super Globasaurus and THE WORLD IS MY FAMILY!”  It was a period of great catharsis. Unbeknown to me, the Divine plan to steer me towards the path of liberation had commenced.
 
Meanwhile I had acquired more tags, this time, bestowed by the Indian community. ‘Bharat Mata’, ‘Hindu activist’, ‘Fanatic Hindu’, ‘Mother India’ and so on. A plain and sincere attempt to generate awareness had thrust me onto a religious battlefield! I walked the fine line, ‘Secular’ in the eyes of sworn Hindus and ‘Fanatic’ in the eyes of the ‘educated intellectuals’. But my purpose took me beyond my wildest imagination.  As I lectured to hundreds of children in American schools across the Bay Area and adults in churches I felt our connection deepen. My explanation of Vedic philosophy, the basis of Indian civilization, would resonate with the teachings of all spiritual Masters. We discovered common ground through cultural similarities. I could feel myself transcend boundaries, mere mental superimpositions. Yet I struggled to release the knots of personal identification. The moment of truth arrived in the most unlikely manner.
 
It came during a conversation between two Americans in the movie, ‘Outsourced’. While one struggled to survive in the challenging Indian environment, the other advised him to stop fighting India. “If you embrace India, you’ll begin to enjoy it” he suggested. Those words struck me like a wand that magically taps a sculpture to life!  “Why of course! Until I perceive myself as a foreigner, I shall be treated as one!!” In that moment Pride took a step back. My Nationality, Language, Religion, Culture, all stood looking sheepish, silly and childish.  I felt as if I had burst out of a cocoon free to be Me.
 
Officer Bock’s cold eyes penetrated mine as he asked, “Are you ready to take the oath of American citizenship?” “Yes, I am” I beamed, knowing that it hardly matters. I could be born Russian in my next life!  Did I really see Officer Bock’s face morph into a smile?
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About the Author Mona Vijaykar is  the Director of The Globasaurus Program, a series of classes designed to bring deeper understanding of Vedanta for children of all backgrounds. Vedanta is the core wisdom of all religions and helps connect people of seemingly different cultural backgrounds. Mona, a mother of two grown sons has always been engaged in teaching spiritual values to children through books, which she writes and illustrates; musical theater which she scripts and directs as well as through classroom presentations (India in Classrooms) in schools,  across the Bay Area. 
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Perfect

An outstanding piece Mona. As I read it I found myself amazed as I have been before, by the exact correspondence between my thoughts/reactions and yours. I am sure I am not alone, and it is a testament to your writing skill that you evoke such resonance from the reader.

Perfect

Dear Guest User,

Thank you so much for your positive feedback and enthusiastic pat on the pack...sending you a warm embrace!...
Love,
Mona

A standing ovation!

Ruby Sahay's picture

Mona, just visited the B'khush site read this remarkable post. Loved the profundity of the piece, the writer's keen sensitivity and her discerning wisdom. Not to miss her brilliant writing skill that contributes to a compelling read.  This truly desrves a standing ovation! 

Am in awe of the words, " Pride isolates, creates arrogance and demands assimilation, thus repels. Appreciation embraces, accepts, encourages integration, and thus unites."  So so beautiful! 

A standing ovation

Ruby ,Namaste and thank you so much for your enthusiastic response. It is truly gratifying to connect with other inspiring people like you, through this wonderful platform. Love, Mona

Just one word! BRILIANT! will

Just one word! BRILIANT! will look forward to chapter 3
Surabhi

Just One Word

Surabhi, thank you...sincerely appreciate your interest.
Love,
Mona

Profound and brilliant, love

Profound and brilliant, love it.

Profound and brilliant

Thank you sincerely :)

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