Profile photo of Anita Ayela A New Girl on the Block!

Originally published here (Huffington Post) !

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After spending almost three cool decades of your life in India, moving gear to a totally new country like the USA is sure a change of a lifetime! In addition, if you are struck in the face with a cultural shock, it is all the more difficult to cope up with the transition.

Believe me; my cultural shock didn’t come in the form of Californians wearing bikini tops and shorts to the supermarket. I knew the culture of America, and thanks to my avid reading habit, I knew what to expect. But, the immigrant Indians trying to copy Americans was a shock to me. The beautiful bhindis (a dot on the forehead) didn’t adorn their faces anymore, the Indian clothes gave way to shorts and their black hair welcomed shocking colors.

A smile escaped my lips when I saw a seemingly newly-wed couple in the Wal-Mart. The girl obviously had never worn anything short, not even her hair. And here she was trying to adjust her short skirt now and then, looking around to make sure that nobody noticed her long legs. The husband was trying to teach her to overcome her fears and “act” normal. Her hair was short to her ears, what I presumed could have touched her waist for all I know, when she was in India.

A lot of people have always asked me then, and still do sometimes even today — what is the little dot that I have on my forehead, which surprisingly looks like a tattoo to them! I simply say, “This is my culture,” they smile, admire it and walk away. Some of them, especially the ‘Iskon temple followers,’ do know about India’s culture so much that they put a lot of us to shame more often. They come forward and say, “Isn’t that dot on your forehead a symbol of you being married? “Or “How did the colorful ‘bindis’ replace the traditional red dot? ” “Why do South Indians have a dot on their forehead whereas the North Indians have it in their hair-parting?” I explain as much as I can, knowing very well that as much as our knowledge of our basic traditions is losing out in India, it is gaining popularity outside the country.

Now, this brings me to say that Indians who come to the U.S., immediately remove their bhindis, their ‘magulsutram’ (the wedlock necklace-a marriage symbol) and their toe-rings in order to become Americans. Knowing very well that our Indianness is written on our face, no matter how we dress up, every lady starts to feel that a bindi would give away her country of origin! Now, I would never understand what is wrong in being an Indian!! Jeans don’t go with bindi, toe rings don’t go with stilettos and ‘mangalsutram’ shows in a tee. Nice excuses, indeed!

Even today, Americans look up to India for its rich culture, and our immense traditional living. Indian girls who look and behave Indian are given more “looks” than girls trying to eat burgers with forks and mouthing “you-know-what-I-mean” for no reason. I know this because, when I wear a sari and walk to my car, all the Americans around my house give me admiring looks. I have gone shopping in my most expensive sarees, as much as I have gone in a tee and jeans, and both the times, I didn’t get any weird “looks.”

The totally unknown culture or a little knowledge of any culture always arouses curiosity in people. Cultural differences will always be there, but culture and traditions shouldn’t change for anyone for the sake of changing. After 14 years of living in this country, I don’t think I have changed much except for a little accent now. My tee shirts have matching color ‘bhindis’, my toe-rings cozily hug my toes, and my “mangalsutram” plays lovingly on my bosom. And I have the most American friends ever possible, partying at my house, eating ‘samosas’ and ‘Naans’; dancing to Bollywood tunes and admiring my Indian clothes!!

This is culture for me. This is how I want to be known as, an “Indian”! You know what I mean, don’t you?!!

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6 Comments

AKILA PRABHU says:

Hello! Just wanted to say I am a married women staying in India and I don’t wear a bindi or a sari or my mangalsutra on a daily basis. No disrespect to you of course. My mom and many of my older cousins do indeed wear their bindis and mangalsutras daily. But I for my part don’t; neither do any of my friends or married cousins in my age group. So what I am asking you to consider is, that it could very well be a generation/age issue than a country /location issue. I completely agree with you on the food wastage bit by the way. I worked in the middle east for some years and the amount of food that would go to waste at office parties etc was criminal!

Profile photo of Anita Ayela * Anita Ayela says:

Everyone to their own Akila. It is not the age… I have been wearing since I got married, the bhindi and the mangulsutra and there is nothing wrong at all in keeping our culture intact. I could also agrue that it has become a fashion fad with young women to think that by not wearing them, they are creating a revolution. No, they are not, nobody cares. Just as nobody cares if I wear them or not, similarly nobody cares whether you do not wear them . Just that the culture is lost in the process of trying to prove something.

I thinks its a matter of personal choice! If someone wants to let go of their Bindi, Mangalsutra or toe-ring, I think we should let them do that because most of the time Indian girls are forced to wear all that in the name of culture. Not wearing any of that doesn’t make one less of an Indian. Personally, I wore those things occasionally in India as well coz I neither have the time or interest in adorning those all the time. I think we need to respect personal choices more.

Olivia says:

Very well written piece. Glad that you have adapted to this country without letting go of your culture.

Regina says:

Great post!! In my opinion, I think many Americans are more intrigued by the cultures of others. I for one am fascinated at something other then my own culture. I want to know how others live and understand them more.

I say KUDOS to you for being who you ARE…no need to change, and thank you for your willingness to share your heritage, culture, food, etc with others. This is how we learn to live together when others are open about who they truly are. No need to hide anything – YOU are beautiful as you are! Blessings

You are so brave moving to a new country, I wish you luck! Thank you for sharing your story 🙂

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