Growing up, my brother and I had a very serious case of sibling rivalry. He is six years younger than me but I couldn’t care less. He didn’t get any concession or consideration from me, it all had to be just equal.
Exact same number of candy, exactly half piece of cake, exactly same amount for Dashain..it was a competition.
As years went by, the jostling for equality toughened. I left home and moved to India for two years, 1997-99, and that separation just added to the fire.
There was a time, when he was about 5 or 6, we were buddies and loved being around each other.Teenage angst turned me into a restless rebel and my brother was my first victim. The buddy years disappeared in a haste.
I have missed too many Bhai Tikas to count. Last day of Tihar festival, a special day to celebrate the brother-sister bond is like just another day for me. In America, Bhai Tika and Tihar, they come and go, it makes no difference.
Festivals, holidays and celebrations; these are social events. You need people around you to “celebrate”, lonely holiday is not much different than any other day of the week.
We do try to have fun as a family but how far can it go? Two adults and a child does not make a community.
When I decided to come to USA, lonely holidays were not on my
list of considerations. I was worried about finances, room and board and roommates; the emptiness brought on by years of living amongst a different culture never bothered me.
I can see why it didn’t it. I firmly believed that embracing America will automatically give me a new society to feel part of, I will not, cannot be lonely.
Well, it is not that easy. Yes, I love America and I do feel part of America but my adopted society is different from what I had before. There are no Tihars here, no Dashain. No holi and no jatra’s.
Celebrating Nepali festivals among a group of Nepalis living in US cannot match the satisfaction of celebrating with the larger society. I mean imagine the thrill of walking into a mall, any mall, and hearing Dashin songs as I shop, playing holi out in the yard without your neighbors staring at you-utterly surprised. Togetherness adds to the fun, it also makes you feel whole.
No matter how much I enjoy Thanksgiving or New Year’s eve; it does not feel the same as enjoying Dashain or Tihar. Loving America, even after all these years, hasn’t filled the gap inside. I do feel like an desperate outsider.
May be I am expecting too much from my life, after all an immigrant’s life is supposed to have some angst and emotional holes. Or perhaps I should see the gap as natural and not be so upset about it, not see it as a personal failure to properly integrate into a new society.
Or let’s push it further and say that the school of thought that pushes immigrants and refugees to integrate and assimilate, while still keeping their culture alive is wrong somewhere.
Look at major immigrant groups in America, you can see the confusion and the split. It is not easy to completely give up the old ways. Your identity, sense of self and views are moulded by your culture. How can one shed that overnight?
In an effort to keep the old alive and learn the new, immigrants are constantly torn apart. They send kids to Nepali, Hindi, Chinese, Arabic schools; arrange volunteers to teach the foreign born children culture of the land they have never lived in or have forgotten. At times it feels like they are putting up a dam to keep out a raging river, and that dam is made of flimsy plastic.
Children born or raised in a foreign land are bound to lose part of their parents’ heritage. It is natural and has been the way since centuries. Yes, some groups are more successful in keeping their culture alive but that is not the the rule. In the end, people become what they are surrounded with. Society, community is a stronger influence than what happens at home.
So what are we doing here? Are we trying to create a parallel universe hoping that our kids will be perfect (insert ethnicity here)-American kids; or is this our way of coping with the loss. The loss of the old.
And what am I doing here? Lamenting the hole in my social life and yet utterly in capable of forming a response.