Although I was born in the greatest city in the world, New York City, I am a true Long Island girl at heart. My parents, like those of many Indian immigrants came to America for greater opportunities, to have a better life for themselves and eventually the family that they would build together. My story is not the same as other girls, of typical Indian parents. My father came to the USA at an early age, earlier than some of his generation. He is the youngest of his siblings, the most adventurous and open-minded. He encouraged my mom to learn and adapt to this country. My mother also knew how to embrace change well. The openness of the culture here invigorated her rather than scaring her. I am the oldest of 3 daughters. My younger sisters are 3 years and 7 years younger than myself. Being the oldest, my opinions mattered. In certain ways, I did act as the parent to my younger sisters. It was slightly easier for my sisters because I was paving the way. I have male cousins in the same age range; we all grew up together. We were all treated the same; there was never a difference in what we could do as boys or girls. This I know was probably unique for a desi girl’s upbringing.
My dad was twenty when he came to the U.S. in the early 1970’s. He completed his Bachelor of Science degree here and then went back to India to have an arranged marriage. My mother was brought here to the US at age 21 after marriage. She was a stay-at-home mom for the most part, she had jobs that allowed her to stay home and take care of us when we were young. She was active with us in our activities and in her own, like the punjabi associations, democratic party, volunteering at the hospital. Because my father had already been exposed to the American culture and some racism, he didn’t want any of that for us. That’s why my sisters and I have American names and he instilled a lot of independent values into us. We weren’t told that we had to get married and have kids. He basically taught us that we could do anything we want in life, but we had to have an education. I, along with my sisters, were taught to explore and were given the freedom to be our own women. My father felt it was important to let us know that being a woman didn’t make us less (nor equal to a man), but stronger.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed between our parents and others is that we had open discussions with our parents about things most kids didn’t. It was normal for our dad to talk to us about going out and being careful, to speak up if we were in uncomfortable situations. This really fostered open communication. They had most of these conversations with me, and then I had those conversations with my sisters. I have a very close relationship to my parents. I have respect for both of them and they have respect for me, knowing that they treat me as an equal. I learn from them and they know they have to learn from me, too. That's the only way to have this kind of relationship.
My mom made sure that we knew learning about our culture was important. She instilled balance with me and my sisters allowing us to go to the movies, prom, trips, etc. However they also insisted when they asked us to participate in cultural things. After a while, we didn’t need them to tell us-- we just knew it was the “right”, fair thing to do. Those values stay with you.
My parents knew I was dating my husband many years before we got married. I openly dated. I opted to tell my parents before people would come around and tell them. Other parents would ask my parents why they were allowing us, their daughters, to do all these things. My parent’s didn’t let it bother them-- my father would make a joke of it. My parents have, in their own way, tried to show other parents that some things are in the best interest of their kids, and that they should be happy that their kids are trying to communicate, versus lying to them. My husband and I had that struggle when we started dating. He didn’t think it was appropriate to bring me home to meet his parents in the beginning. I didn’t
understand what the big deal was. But it was a big deal as he was raised more traditionally, again something that was much more common amongst those of my generation.
As an adolescent, I had the opportunity to take all types of music and dance lessons, and other sports. I tried soccer-- quit that. Then tried tennis--quit that; and then tried the violin, piano and cello. Dance is what stuck; I danced for 16 yrs. I volunteered, I babysat, and I worked at a pharmacy. As long as I was doing fine in school, they were fine with my decision to work, dance and study. It wasn’t about making money. It was about learning to spend your own dollar and what it means to earn it. I learned to take care of my finances, just like learning to cook and clean. Dance of course was another means to express myself and keep active. As I got older in high school, my parents gave me freedoms to travel, date, voice my opinion as well as choose a career that best suited my own ambitions.
So an interesting thing happened along the way. When it was time for me to choose a college destination, I actually had a different reaction than most Indian girls. Most in comparison weren’t given the freedoms I had and many were forced to pursue “dreams” that weren’t their own but of their parents. I, on the other hand, had the challenge of actually trying to figure out my true passion. When it was time for me to go to college, my parents assumed like most “American” kids that I would go away to school. But I actually opted to stay home.
I work in Healthcare research, in the social media and market research arena. I’ve been in this field for almost 13 years now, working on both sides with clients and vendors. I have a dual degree in Marketing and Psychology. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I started college. Started off a political science major, maybe considering being a lawyer. Since I didn’t really know, my parents told me to take classes that I liked, hoping to figure it out eventually. I had difficulty choosing a career and sort of fell into my current career. I started to interview at different marketing firms, and came across healthcare research, which end up being very interesting.
When it was time for me to go into the work world, my parents pointed me to NYC. I hesitated at first thinking “How could I live here”? I grew up in Long Island, went to college in Long Island. I just loved Long Island. I wanted to commute from LI to the city for work. Change doesn’t sit well with me. I was used to having my car, my room, my parents, my sisters and my friends. I liked the idea of coming home to my space. It's not that I was afraid to take care of myself--I knew how to. It was just a big change in my life. I didn’t want to leave my parents. I like my parents. They never gave me a reason to want to leave and I thought we would just take care of each other; they would be okay and I would be okay. It was my comfort zone, my safety net, but it was also holding me back. My dad again, sat me down and talked to me about living in the city, trying it out and telling me that I’m close enough to come home whenever I wanted to. It was the best thing for me. Once I realized this, I knew I had to rip the bandage off and embrace change in the same way my parents did so I could open my eyes to the world my parents had shown me. All my sisters also moved out to go to school.
I am not a big risk taker; something I do regret. My mom is fearless, I don’t know if I can do the things she has done, endure and sacrifices like she has. My own pressures make me think I can’t be like her. It's not that she has told me that, I just feel it. She’s the most brilliant, beautiful, amazing, strong woman to me. Even though I think I am headstrong and vocal, I take some risks, but only with a cushion.
My message to other women out there is to take all kinds of risks, make mistakes....make a ton, but learn to be your true self from it. I would encourage every girl to work while in school, travel and participate in outside activities. You miss out on things when you just study. So many other skills are developed when you explore other social outlets. You learn a lot about yourself. You develop a work ethic and a different type of discipline. There is a reality of interacting with different types of people that you don’t get when you go to school and only hang out with the same friends. Don’t fixate too much on things not working out or falling or making any mistakes. It's about being exposed to different kinds of people and experiences. You also can’t jump around forever; eventually after all the experiencing, you have to focus and work towards a goal.