May 24, 2010

Love, American Style

Update: Tongue totally entrenched in cheek, I do refer to some of the usual stereotypes bestowed upon Indians.  It may seem that I am saying all other Indians fulfill those stereotypes whereas my preciously perfect Manoj does not.  Do not get sucked into the sarcastic vortex, folks.  I know loads of Indians who would defy every stereotype you have ever heard.  Please do not think I was being serious.

Since I have had ample time to lie around doing nothing, I sifted through my stats last week.  I was curious to see how folks get here and why they even bother clicking around.  Some folks are trying to figure out whether they should knit English or continental (continental all the way, baby. Seriously, it is the most efficient method.)  Still, other folks appear to be arriving here under the mistaken Google Juice that they will learn something about multicultural marriage.  And I suspect they have been greatly disappointed.  Oh sure, I truck out my marriage for purposes of Making Points or Providing Punchlines, but for the most part, I do not dwell on the particulars that come with a Masala Marriage.  There are several reasons for this.  Some are simple, some are not.

Foremost? Manoj has been pretty clear in that he does not want me discussing intimate details of our marriage.    Period.  End of story.  Full stop.

However, even if Manoj was comfortable with me discussing our marriage, it is so much more complicated than that for me.  At this point in my life, I am not sure where I would begin.  My grandpa married an Indian woman before I was even born, so the sub-continent of Asia has always been sort of "around" for me.  In 1989, at the age of 18,  I began dating a Pakistani boy (Muhajjir ethnicity).  For the next 4.5 years, I studied Urdu, I followed Islam, I giddily wore the shalwar kameez with sparkly jewelry and I went to Pakistan in 1993 for 6 weeks.  Ultimately, in 1994, we broke up for reasons not really related to anything multicultural but rather that we were two young kids who were grossly immature and quite simply, not meant for each other.  What was particularly excruciating was that I not only lost my first serious,"thought-I-was-gonna-marry-him" boyfriend, but I also lost a family. Oh, how I loved his mother and father. They were good people.

After that relationship, I meandered.  I finished school, concentrated on my so-called career.  I tried dating Americans, but that did not really pan out.  I was in a weird place and I did not know where I belonged.  I realize that is probably more about me than anyone cares to know (all 3 of you still reading by now), but my past is very important to my relationship with Manoj.  I always tease him that I came "trained", but the truth is that there was little left to surprise me by the time I met Manoj in the fall of 2000.

I knew right away that Manoj was going to be different and we determined within a few months in our relationship that we were serious.

Manoj is from the same state as my Indian step-grandma (Kerala) and is the same religion. So yes, that helped.  And I already knew many things about Manoj before our first date, simple because of my experiences with dating desis. In short -  I already knew much of what to expect should it get serious.  For example, the responsibilities that many Indians feel towards their parents.  I knew that if I were to marry this boy, we would be sending cash (and loads of it, potentially) back to his parents or that we may be at the whims of requests for loans from cousins, etc.  I knew that if I were to marry this boy, that he would never grasp the importance of the holidays and traditions with which I grew up (yes, he will decorate the Christmas tree with me, but he does not enjoy it.)  I knew that if I were to marry this boy, he would never understand many of the silly things that make up the person that is me - why we should celebrate Valentine's day, why Ferris Bueller is not just a silly movie, why the 80s XM station is a permanent fixture on our car radio, why John Hughes is an icon for me, why as a little girl, I dreamed of being Laura Ingalls Wilder, why the remake of Electric Company is not as good as the original, why I loathe 100% polyester to the very core of my soul, why I know the plotline to every single Brady Bunch episode and more importantly, why it is important that I know those very plotlines.

I knew all of this going in.  And those are just the silly things in our cultural differences.

Even more complicated is that being married to Manoj is a little different than being married to just any old desi.  Yes, folks - I got me my very own special Indian boy.  He is from a very small, tiny ethnic group (Syrian-Christian) which is a sub-set of another very small, tiny ethnic group (Malayalee) in a very small, tiny province (Kerala) (Read: Malayalees are from Kerala, but a Malayalee can be a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or a Jew.  Yes, even a Jew, although most of them emigrated to Israel ages ago.)   Sure, Manoj celebrated Christmas as a kid, but they went to church, then came home and had a family dinner.  The end.  No Santa, no tree, no tinsel, no candy canes, no presents, no shopping malls.  And sure, he understands some Hindi, because he had to take Hindi courses in school - just like we learn a foreign language here.  Sure, he celebrated Diwali and Holi as kid, but only because they are huge holidays in India, the holidays do not really mean anything to him personally.  And sure, he does not eat beef but only because he is watching his diet (believe me, he never turns down a nibble when I have a steak.)

But.  Manoj does not speak with a lilting accent, he does not bob his head, he drives more cautiously than my grandma, he has no issues spending money, he wears tailored suits and he has an Anglo last name (most folks assume I did not change my name when we got married.)

Overall, I do not feel our life is very "Indian" or multicultural. Or maybe it is and I have been in this for so long, I can no longer see it after over 20 years of being in it  I keep an Indian kitchen and our parenting is very Indian, in many respects.  That is about it and I cannot take the blame.  Manoj has simply not been interested in sharing too much with Team Chaos.  For example, he has been adamant that our kids would learn Spanish or Chinese before they learn his mother tongue of Malayalam.  And while this fall, I am hoping to celebrate some parts of Onnum, the harvest festival celebrated in Kerala, I am not optimistic about doing it alone.  Realistically, we live in Kansas and some parts are not practical (snakeboats? elephants?)  and if Manoj is not on board, what's a white girl to do??

So.... yes..... I am not sure how much we have the Indian thing going on in our house.  I cannot imagine what I would write about even if I did try to document that part. Besides, there are already some excellent blogs out there doing this, so admittedly, I do not even feel a great pressure or desire to do so myself.  (Hat hip to the likes of Gori Wife Life who are doing a stellar job in this area)

And...and....  I am not sure what else.  Manoj moved to America because he wanted a new life here.  With his educational pedigree, we could easily move to India and live very, very well.  But we choose to live here, in a country that we believe in, a country that we love, a country to which we want to contribute.

At times,  I feel a little guilty, as if our children are being subjected to some great disservice by being denied their "Indian-ness".   At times, I do wish Manoj was more sentimental about his home and his past because I cannot be the sole provider of their Indian heritage.  However, I married a man who is constantly moving forward and rarely stops to dwell on the past.  I simply have to comfort myself with the fact that our kids are quintessentially American.

And hopefully, that will be good enough.

This layered varietal is grown in the midwest region.  Complex notes lean towards Asian-Indian, with a particularly strong density of Syrian-Christian, Malayalee extraction.   Smaller notes of Irish, Scottish and Native American flavors can also be detected.   Its bouquet is strong and highly dependent upon the timing of its most recent bath.  Pairs nicely with pizza.


kristen said...

Um, my husband is as "American" (read white boy) as it gets and he couldn't care less about a Christmas tree or any other American/Christian holidays. But I think it's just because he is a practical, (read tightwad) homebody. Can't you tell I love him?

Since I'm fairly ignorant about such things, how does one keep an Indian kitchen? Is it just the spices and ingredients you keep on hand or is there more to it?

Cute post and even cuter munchkins.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

Yes! Keeping an Indian kitchen means having all the staples on hand (spices, ingredients, etc.)

And your comment about stereotypes is exactly what I was trying to sarcastically imply, which I don't think came across very well. (I did update the top of the post to explain my sarcasm, lest anyone takes offense!)

For everything that I could proclaim to be "Indian" (good OR bad ;-), someone can easily protest "but my husband does that, too!" That is definitely one reason why I hesitate to claim publicly anything as "Indian" vs "Not Indian"

kristen said...

Oh it came across perfectly well to me. Sorry my comment was meant to be sarcastic too. Though I think there are some things that defy culture and can only be chalked to "men?". How's that for stereotypical? :)

I understand your desire to expose your children to aspects of their Indian culture. I still try to bring in bits of our German, Czech, and Danish culture and we don't even know any relatives in those countries.

Can I come to your house for supper? I'm tired of cooking beef.

D. Jain said...

Great post! Even if you don't normally blog about your Masala Marriage, maybe this post will be helpful to people who stumble across it who might otherwise subscribe to the idea that Indian culture is some sort of monolithic thing, and that one couple's bad (or good) experience is the rule.

My husband is pretty typical upper-middle-class Indian in a lot of ways, but in some ways he's more American than a lot of Americans I know. Here's a bunch more stereotypes for you, but he definitely believes in America as the "land of opportunity" and has a really innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.

Kristen, depending on the family's religion, keeping an Indian kitchen can also mean not having any meat/non-veg in the house. I know we'll be hiding some evidence when my husband's aunt and uncle visit in a couple of weeks...;-)

Count Mockula said...

Interesting read. I've been following for a while, but I rarely comment (sorry). I'm in a sort-of mixed marriage. My husband is half-Iranian. He was born in Tehran, but raised here. He doesn't speak a word of Farsi, isn't Muslim... but we want our daughter to appreciate her heritage. We gave her an Iranian name, we celebrate Nowruz, and we try to make Persian food frequently. We celebrate the other parts of our heritage, too, but she is 1/4 Persian, more than anything else in the European blend.

Cara said...

Funny - I never actively think of my marriage as multi-cultural, probably because my husband has blue eyes (to my brown) and light skin (to my olive). But, he didn't immigrate to the States from Eastern Europe until he was 18. Reading your post made me laugh, because I could suddenly see all the ways we mix cultures. More so, really, than what you described. But, as you said, it just became our life and I don't even notice it. On the other hand, our child will definitely speak Bulgarian, and I'm sure I'll notice that. I really, really need to get serious about learning the language!

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

Interesting post. Not a demi-desi, but a second generation desi (very very technically first generation since I was born on the mothership, but have been here since babydom) and from an immigrant family that faced some parallel issues. My parents went through a trial and error phase and at some point decided that we were Indian-flavoured North Americans, neither completely Indian nor American.

This has basically to making some effort at keeping our language when we were young (but they didn't fight our lapse into English as time passed), our religion and a general sense of "family is important". Along the way they've discarded a TON of stuff they grew up with-including caste issues, issues related to the position of women and men and even some religious traditions they consider stupid. They've also been very quick to change their citizenship, identify themselves as "American" whenever people ask them where they're from and allowed us to integrate in the sense of not fighting the small stuff for the sake of preserving our "culture" (example: having boyfriends, allowing us to make our own decision on beef, giving us Christmas etc.).

Two things I think are key is that my parents have general moral principals and pride but are pretty openminded at the same time, and that they were considered sort of independent-minded and different even when they *were* living in India. They came here quite voluntarily after leaving a cushy position over there. Maybe that has something to do with their flexibility-they seem to have traits that the general immigrant traits more than Indian traits.

Anyway, this is a very long comment to say that after some drama, my parents just accepted that we were American, that we were going to have quintessentially American lives and children, and that 3 or 4 generations down, the only Indian that would be left might be a name and a hint of melanin. At this point the only thing they want is to pass down our religion and a sort of distant respect for India and let whatever happens happen.

It seems like Manoj has projected into the future and has basically come to the same conclusion. I just think it's the price of being American-there are tradeoffs to any decision. I've never asked them directly, but I think my parents think it was worth it.

Annah said...

Please say your children are models. Beautiful!

meno said...

Yeah, but he makes pretty babies!

Rozanne said...

Excellent post and comments!