My Culture Isn’t Just A Cool Trend To Participate In
Fashionistas in the U.S. are always on the prowl for new and exciting trends, and often turn to different parts of the globe to glean inspiration for new outfits or accessories. Normally, this doesn’t bother me. I love seeing textile patterns from different cultures integrate themselves into the American culture, and become more popular as we inch toward a united globe. However, there is something sacred about my culture that people without my background will never understand. When I see beautiful white girls wearing bindis, I feel conflicted.
My family is from India, but I grew up in suburban Connecticut. The struggles that I have faced as a first generation American are the product of a great culture clash. India is becoming more Westernized, and children on that side of the world are clashing with their parents solely due to the generational divide. Not only did I have to deal with that, but I had to do it in a different country.
My first day of Kindergarten involved a lot of whispering and stares from kids in my town who had never seen someone with my skin color before. Growing up, people teased me for bringing curry into school and suggested that I wear deodorant because Indian people supposedly had hygiene issues. Besides daily torment at school, there was a constant pressure from my parents to achieve academically. They were never satisfied with marks less than A’s and were sorely disappointed when I graduated high school and wasn’t valedictorian. My social life was lacking, to be gentle, because a) my parents made me adhere to a 10:00 PM curfew until I was 20 years old and b) I was too nerdy to have friends anyway. When I finally found a boyfriend and he came to take me to the prom, my mom was almost in tears because I was canoodling with a boy and we were not married. I love my parents, don’t get me wrong: they did a great job to help me become an ambitious, caring person. It just seems like they had some inspiration from Amy Chua when they raised me.
Why does this matter? These struggles, these issues, are a part of my culture. MY culture. Wearing bindis and smiling for tumblr without having gone through what I’ve been through, without knowing what I know, just seems wrong. Years in Hindu Sunday School have taught me that bindis are not just decorative ornaments, even though they look beautiful: they have deep and spiritual meaning to me, and almost a billion others that practice Hinduism. When you put one on, it’s important to absorb its significance. It decorates your third eye; it’s a celebration of the intellect. Bindis have been worn for thousands of years by men and women alike.
I found this poem that was floating around Tumblr, that might shed a bit more light on how I feel:
white girls who want my culture’s bindis and saris and henna
take my skin colour too
and my dark brown lips
take my self-hatred because i don’t fit into the euro-centric ideals of beauty
take the oppression too
take the history of colonization that has devastated my country
and the drones that currently devastate my country
take all the bad stuff too
not just the pretty, shiny, sparky bits
take the ugly, dehumanizing and shitty parts too
Cultural appropriation of Hindu traditions doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. I watched So You Think You Can Dance the other day, and they had a “Bollywood Dance” number, in which they lumped a bunch of different dance forms into one “Bollywood” category. I have studied Bharatanatyam (an ancient Hindu dance form) for years. In classical Indian Dance, every step and every hand gesture is imbued with meaning, to transform the dancer into a physical manifestation of prayer. On So You Think You Can Dance, the beauty of this spiritual dance was bastardized into some dance where a girl gets lifted upside down and displays her crotch for the world to see. This is especially ill-representative of Bharatanatyam, an ancient and revered tradition. I dislike it when people mimic and fetishize my culture. My culture is not a trend.
Some Hindu students in the U.S. started a movement called “Take Yoga Back” which emphasized the spread of the spiritual knowledge of the practice along with the exercise form. Traditionally in India, yoga was a deep meditative religious practice, where every pose has significance and is meant to bring inner peace to the practitioner. Mastery of this practice is supposed to be a step along the path to Nirvana – becoming one with the universe. In America, it has become a health, fitness, and attractiveness marketing phenomenon (see “yoga butt.”) The original intention and spiritual significance is becoming lost in the U.S., and needs to be reinstated. The peace of mind that accompanies the practice needs to be spread along with the physical benefits.
I think it’s perfectly fine to appreciate elements of my culture, but the meaning and significance should be spread along with the symbols. Indians are a multifaceted and multitudinous people. While it is impossible to experience every corner of the culture from every region in the country, if you are going to put a bindi on your forehead, please take a minute to research what it means and what it means that you, personally, are wearing it. Please tell people that ask you about it where it comes from and what it signifies. Please try to understand my culture and how it’s not just a “cool trend” to participate in. It is an amazing and colorful phenomenon that I am lucky to be a part of. I am lucky to have this experience on this Earth – even the shitty parts, the spicy ones, and especially the sparkly bits.
May 21, 2013
May 20, 2013
May 19, 2013