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Growing Up Indian in America

Cover of “Are You Indian?: A Humorous Guide to Growing Up Indian in America” by Sanjit Singh

By Lavina Melwani

  • Does your family try to smuggle Tupperware containers filled with daal chaval into Disneyland?
  • Do your parents have drawers full of ketchup packages from McDonalds?
  • Do your parents yell into the phone even when they are not calling India?
  • Does your family own a Toyota or a Honda?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are definitely, really, Indian! These are part of a quick quiz by light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek “anthropologist” Sanjit Singh whose book Are You Indian? is a humorous look at growing up Indian in America. Singh checks out the Indian American phenomenon right from infancy: where the little bachas are already being prepped for a spelling bee by their anxious and ambitious parents, to SAT and college admissions, and right on to the traumas of finding a mate.

Sanjit Singh has an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and lives in San Diego. He is an entrepreneur, a speaker, and a contributor to the humor blog Bad Swami. This is his first book—and yes—there is a testimonial from the author’s mother: “This book is a disgrace! Sanjit should have been a doctor!”

You are bound to find many anecdotes which resonate in your own life, and you realize Indian families all have the same dreams, issues, food, and very often, the same cast of colorful characters from immigrant parents to Indian uncles and aunts. In a chapter devoted to Indian uncles, Singh proclaims that Indian uncles are the world’s worst dressers—and he’s probably right. Just think back on your own portfolio of zany uncles and aunts!

Singh presents a clear picture of an Indian household. “When pulling up to the driveway, you will usually see a Honda, Toyota, or one of each. Wealthier homes have two Mercedes Benzes with personalized license plates that say something like, “KRISHNA1” and “KRISHNA 2”. All cars owned by Indians have a box of tissues and a towel in the trunk. No one knows why.

As you enter the home, you will notice about 30 pairs of shoes in the entryway, which usually prevent the door from being opened. You’ll open the closet to hang up your coat and notice that inside the closet is a full pop-up mini mandir that allows a quick, convenient drive-by puja as you enter or leave the house. As you move past the closet, you’ll enter a living room with uncomfortable furniture. You’ll be admonished to stay off these mid-century gems which are covered in plastic. The rule is you don’t get to use the “nice” furniture or “pee-lates” (plates) except when “reweird” (revered) guests visit.”

From matrimonial sites to the Big Indian Weddings to ABCDs and FOBs, nothing in the Indian American lingo escapes Singh’s sharp eye or funny bone—and he’s generally on the mark. He writes, “I guarantee you that across town, there is a kid named Abhijit who is practicing his spelling during dinner, after dinner, and on weekends. While you are playing Xbox, his parents are making him spell ‘succeedaneum’ both forwards and backwards, provide the Latin and Greek origins, and recite the definition.”

While you may not agree with Singh’s verdicts on Bollywood films or Indian sweets, you still can smile at them, and you will learn new terms such as ISG—Indian Social Gathering—and all that goes on at one of these, and of course, the “Indian Goodbye” which goes on forever. Also, there are tips on inventing Punjabi nicknames. “To come up with a Punjabi nickname, pick any consonant and add the suffix “-ikku”, “-oopi”, or “-inku”. Examples include Tikku, Bicku, and Pinku.”

Are You Indian is a good read and gets you a few chortles and chuckles. And what’s better than being able to laugh at yourself?


Growing Up Indian: 6 Questions for Sanjit Singh

Author Sanjit Singh

1. Did you grow up in the U.S. and what part of India are your folks from?

Sanjit Singh (SS): My father grew up in Birmingham, England, and my mother grew up in pre-partition Pakistan and post-partition India (UP).  My parents’ marriage was arranged in India after which they lived in India and then in the UK where my two older brothers were born.  The four of them eventually moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where I was born and raised.

So, although I am technically a first generation Indian American, I am really a second generation westerner since my Dad was first generation Indian British.  So, growing up, I did not feel Indian, I certainly did not feel American, and I did not even feel like a “normal” Indian American.  I felt like an outsider in every sense of the word, especially in the 1970s when there were far fewer Indians the Bay Area than there are today.

2. Did you always see the humor in growing up Indian or was it something of a defense mechanism growing up brown in a white world?

SS: I wish I saw the humor back then but I was self-conscious, horribly awkward, and overly preoccupied with being different.  I was also not very good in school and suffered from what they would today probably describe as severe ADHD, but they were not very aware of this affliction back then or how to deal with it.  So my childhood felt like a struggle culturally, socially, and academically.

I think by the time most of us are in college, we begin to better appreciate our family heritage and start to see the two cultures we straddle a bit more objectively.  I think that’s when the humor begins to blossom…long after the “tragedy” is over.  Now that I’m in my 40s, I see my relatively mild suffering as a child as quite humorous.  My child self would probably hate my current self for laughing so hard at my child self.

3. Do you think children have it easier now?

SS: Generally, yes.  I enjoy the fact that it has become “more cool” to be Indian, aided by celebrities like Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, and Archie Punjabi.  These three, for example, are part of great TV shows and not playing horrible stereotypical Indian characters.  I can’t believe the number of TV shows where this is the case, these days.  Also, India’s meteoric economic ascent on the world stage has created a lot more interest in and respect for Indian culture.

4. What’s a typical day for you and the entrepreneurial work that you’re involved with?

SS: I have two companies that are focused on business development, sales, and marketing.  One is in the shipping business and the other is in the language services business.  Essentially I am a middle man and focus my time on getting and servicing both private commercial as well as government contracts and I outsource all the work to vendors.  So my typical day is calling and meeting with decision makers, closing business, and ensuring that contracts are serviced properly.  Now, my typical day also includes promoting this book which has been both fascinating and fun!

5. What kind of a response have you had to your book? 

SS: Quite positive.  So far, people seem to find it funny and enjoyable and have been very kind with their reviews on Amazon.  Two things have surprised me a little.  First, my family both in the US and India enjoyed reading my work though I tease them relentlessly in the book.  Second, I’ve had people from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds tell me they really enjoyed the book.  I footnoted extensively throughout the book to ensure that my stories were accessible for anyone and am very gratified that non-Indians have been able to follow along and have fun.

6. While Indian parents (uncles and aunties too) have their peculiarities, what do you think are their strengths?

SS: I think Indian Uncles and Aunties, on balance, teach their kids great values.  Many of them teach their children to work hard, get as much education as they can, appreciate everything they get, be frugal, and make their family a priority.


Lavina

Lavina Melwani is an award-winning journalist who has written for several international publications including: India Today, Newsday, The Week, WSJ, Travel Plus and The Hindu. She lives in New York. Her online magazine, Lassi with Lavina, is about Indian art and culture. Click here to visit her website, Lassi with Lavina.

 

Happy Indian Independence Day!

On this anniversary of India’s independence, as an Indian American I am thrilled to be part of a project at the Smithsonian that will be the first exhibition to recognize our incredible legacy. Just as our ancestors fought for the right to determine their own destiny, this exhibition will allow us to tell our own stories.

Today, we launch a campaign that invites you to share your photographs. When immigrants from India started settling in the U.S. during the early 1900s, most all popular images of these pioneers repeated the exotic stereotypes of the Orient that were already in wide circulation. For example, the Chicago-based McLaughlin Coffee Company marketed trading cards (pictured right) with highly exotic “East Indians” whose imagery was far from the lived experience of Indian immigrants in America at the time. While some may consider these representations to be from a different era, they continue to influence the popular understanding of Indian identity. I feel that more can be said about Indian immigrants and Indian Americans when images such as those in Hollywood films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom continue without an exhibition and curriculum to tell our story.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Share your family photos and contribute to our collective storytelling. Upload photos to our Facebook page, send them to homespun@si.edu, or mail it to the address below. Please include your name or your family’s name, the year the photo was taken, and the occasion. We will be accepting submissions until September 15, 2012.

Join and like our campaign on Facebook. Your connection with us on this social platform will encourage everyone to be part of this project. Click here to learn more about the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project.

Happy Independence Day!

Warm regards,
Masum Momaya, Curator

How to Submit:
1. Upload to our Facebook page or send them to homespun@si.edu
2. Identify what is going in and who is in the photo
3. Identify where the photo was taken and when

Mailing Address:
Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program
Capital Gallery
Suite 7065, MRC: 516
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012

 

My Silver Gods Come to America

We are excited to announce that Lavina Melwani is a new blogger for the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project.


Lavina's silver Gods

The Silver Gods Come to America  (Photo: Lavina Melwani)

By Lavina Melwani

For many Indians living in America, India is the talisman, the sacred thread around their wrists, which connects them to the past and their changing tomorrows. Visit any Indian American family and there are bound to be keepsakes that link them to their lost homeland.

For some, it may be a frayed album of photographs frozen in time. For others, it may be a much-loved folk painting or a pair of tablas (percussion drums). For me, it is my silver icons of Krishna and Radha, on their own carved throne, which sits is in my home in Long Island, NY.

I look at it and I am transported back to my home in New Delhi in the India of decades ago. My mother would bathe the many Gods in her home shrine and carefully put new clothing on these mini figurines, cutting holes in silken cloth with a small pair of scissors. This was followed by prayers and sweet prasadam, a part of the rhythm and ritual of the house.

As a new immigrant to America in the 80’s, when markers of India seemed to be few and far between, this little silver talisman became my connection to the homeland. If we happened to see Indians on the streets of New York, we would run to chat with them, to connect with a disappeared world. Sometimes these new roadside friends, equally happy to see us, would impulsively invite us home to have a cup of chai and samosas. I would see their little bits and pieces of India—wall hangings and crafts—all lovingly hand-carried to a new world, and I would know I was not alone.

In the old days the connection with India was static, painful, and almost one way—a link kept alive by expensive phone calls where the line crackled and voices seemed faint and far away. There was a feeling of foreboding that the world you left would get realigned and your place in it would be gone forever.

Now, India is as near as the typing on your keyboard via email, a chat via Skype, or a Facebook status update. You can talk forever on the phone with loved ones across oceans, for pennies. The changing world and a changing India have made the road between the two countries a Yellow Brick Road to be merrily skipped across. New York has become an outpost of India and New Delhi an outpost of America. You can live in two worlds—and be the richer for it.

My silver Gods now preside over a large closet in my mango-colored writing room, surrounded by books, magazines, and family pictures. Red Delicious apples from Waldbaum’s are the prasad I offer them, and the fragrance of gulab incense sticks from the Patel Brothers grocery store permeates the air.

My Gods seem very at home in America, and so am I.

Lavina

Lavina Melwani is an award-winning journalist who has written for several international publications including: India Today, Newsday, The Week, WSJ, Travel Plus and The Hindu. She lives in New York. Her online magazine, Lassi with Lavina, is about Indian art and culture. Click here to visit her website, Lassi with Lavina.

In the following essays, she explores Indian-American life, journeys to India, America and the emerging self.

 

How Doc Met Lady J

HomeSpun is excited to share a blog by Simi Singh Juneja of Scottsdale, Arizona, as she recalls a story well suited for Valentine’s Day. The fond memories of how her father (Dr. Amarjit Singh) met her mother (Ms. Jagdish Singh) before their arranged marriage in Delhi is retold just as Simi heard it as a child. Her parents eventually emigrated to the United States. This story serves as a key anchor for the family, even after they have celebrated their 50th anniversary.


Amarjit and Jagdish Singh

Jagdish and Amarjit Singh

by Simi Singh Juneja (Guest Blogger)

My parents had an arranged marriage. I can tell you the story about how they saw each other for the first time, in my sleep. I have heard it at every dinner party before the age of ten, and every road trip we have ever taken as a family. The details are always argued about.

“No Papa, I said it this way!” my mother would retort.
“No Mama, it was 1958 not 1959,” my father says. 

Even more, I can tell you how my father’s eyes light up, and my mother starts giggling. He is 75 and she is 73. They saw each other briefly. It was decided, and they fell in love with each other after they were married. I actually believe they fell in love with each other the first time they exchanged words—Urdu words. I know because I have every single one of their Urdu love letters that document where they stand on love, family, poetry and how they will choose to live their lives.

This is some of his first person recollection that I wrote down during one of our long road trips when Dad was in story telling form—which he always was—except during the Olympics when he wells up during opening ceremonies and no one can interrupt him.

I saw your mother on the road which leads to her village around 1958 or 1959. Prior to this meeting, her father had come to check me out for matrimony in Khalsa college when I was a professor there. So I then took it upon myself to go to her college for “Athletic Day” and there her father and mother recognized me. So on a dusty Batala road, her mom on her side, and my friend on my side…I don’t think we spoke directly to each other. In between there was another glance I got of her.

A meeting was arranged at the Golden Temple. That arrangement was never communicated to me. When I came home, my grandmother told me I was supposed to meet the party from Batala at 11:30am. It was already 12 noon so I took my bicycle and pedaled for two miles to reach the bus station to see if I could at least catch them on their way back to Batala. Lo and behold, Babuji, Bibiji, your mom and Jeeti Auntie were already sitting in the bus which was about to leave. I was drenched in sweat while I boarded the bus to say hello. There I briefly talked to everybody and apologized for not being at Darbar Sahib. My heart sank and it was a disappointing meeting.

Time passed, and I casually asked my maternal grandfather whether that girl got married. He understood my underlying sentiments and made a special journey to their house to see if the girl was willing. Her parents mentioned they were still looking for a suitable boy.

After this episode things started to sizzle. (I choke back open mouthed laughter because I can’t picture Dad, sizzle, and in an Indian accent.) It was June, the hottest month in India, noon time. I knocked at the door of her older brother’s house in Delhi. The aya opened the door.

“Is the man of the house here?”
“He is at his factory, how could he be here?” she answered abruptly.
“Is the lady of the house here?” I asked.
“She has gone to see her mother in Anand Parbat.”

Thereafter, I asked if there was anybody else in the house, visiting or otherwise. “Yes, one Memsaheb has come from Batala and she is having a siesta.” I begged her to wake the young lady up. She muttered something under her breath and disappeared behind the curtain. I waited.

Half awake and half asleep, a young lady pushed the curtain aside. Her hair was tangled and her veil was torn. I got the impression she recognized me, but she pretended not to and abruptly posed a question, ‘Aapki taareef?’ (An Urdu greeting which literally means: “How shall I praise you?” But the gist is “Who are you?”)

Not to be outdone, I gathered myself up and replied in Urdu, “Jitne keejiey, utnehi kam!” (Roughly translated, it means: “However much you praise would be that much less!”)

Even though it was searing hot weather, she froze like a snowman! (I roll my eyes at the hyperbolic simile.) Simi, I tell you, she. Could. Not. Move! She was stunned. (Understand that on this particular road trip, it is just me and Dad, so he takes full advantage of the fact that Mom has no opportunity to interrupt him and express her version of events which usually sound like she was nonchalant.)

At that time, I humbly asked if I have her permission to step in the house. If I don’t, then I shall leave: “Agar main jaanki aman paon, to deheliz aboor karun, agar aapki ijazat na ho to zeene se neeche uthar jaon?'”

She did not say anything but delicately stepped aside, and I walked in. She gestured toward the sofa for me to sit down. She went into the kitchen to get me a drink. She was so nervous, she started peeling the grapes for me to eat. Hahahaha. (He is delighted at his interpretation of her reaction.)

When I hear these stories I feel alive. I feel connected to a meaningful past. It may be the words, but more so, it is in the moments when my father pauses and takes a breath. It is in the way he says, “my grandmother” as if he is still at that age and his grandmother is gently scolding him to be on time. I wish I was there, on the back of his bicycle, urging him to peddle faster towards his destiny. I wish I was there on the bus so I could reassure him that he would get the girl, and that he would get us.

I like the way he assumes that everybody meets at the Golden Temple to arrange the first meeting for matrimony. I never tire of hearing how it all started.

Happy 50th Anniversary Mom & Dad!

Simi Singh Juneja is a mother, dreamer and a closet poet. She serves on the Piper Center for Creative Writing Advisory Council at Arizona State University and is currently producing a compilation of her parents’ love letters that span three continents and five different languages.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Family

 

The Story

by Priya Chhaya

I love listening to the story.

We all have one, a narrative about how we came to America, how someone in our family made a choice to leave a home in one country and create a new one in another. While each of these stories is fleshed out with common elements, it is the details that make it unique to our personal experience.

Famin and her father at Disney World.

Famin and her father at Disney World, 1970s.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to talk to the retired Dr. Momtaz Ahmed, and during the course of our conversation I heard hisstory.

In 1959, Dr. Ahmed took advantage of advertised openings through the United States Information Service exchange program and left his home in Bangladesh. He heard about the program from some of his friends and applied to different hospitals under the exchange visitors program. Much of his initial decision to train in the United States was because the country needed doctors. Dr. Ahmed was able to train here and used that income to obtain more training in the United Kingdom.

What fascinated me about Dr. Ahmed’s story was that he came to the United States (albeit temporarily, initially for about three years) well before the quotas opened up in the mid-1960s, and so I wondered, knowing that the late ’50s and ’60s were important in the civil rights movement, how a new immigrant would react to specific events.

It became fairly clear early on that while these events were occurring, they had very little impact on an exchange student at St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital in Chicago, but in the process I learned a little bit more about the different ways that South Asian Americans immigrated to the United States As Dr. Ahmed states:

“In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the United States was heaven for foreigners. The United States economy was good, jobs were plentiful, and the salaries were more than adequate for foreigners coming from foreign countries. It was easy to save money and establish yourself.”

Dr. Ahmed received his green card, and completed his residency in the United States by 1970 and spent much of his career working in Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country.  By 1971, Dr. Ahmed was married and had a daughter, Famin, who experienced much of the same elements of a proto-typical life as most Americans. When I asked her about her father, and if he told her anything about his earlier time in the U.S. she said:

“My dad didn’t tell us many stories about living here back then. He’s not much of a storytelling person. I think I asked him once who his favorite singer was and he told me it was Petula Clark, which I found very funny.”

For ten years Famin attended school here before the family moved back to Bangladesh, only to return to the United States in 1990 following her graduation.  She says that she remembers moving a lot, and looking back on her childhood in the U.S. she recalls:

“I worked hard in school and was a good student. My mom used to teach before she married my dad so she would assign me extra work when I didn’t have homework-she was definitely a Tiger Mom. Plus, she taught me how to read and write Bengali as well as surahs from the Qura’an, and all that was in addition to anything they could do to keep me ahead of the rest of the class.”

But things changed once they moved to Bangladesh where:

“Classes were much harder once we moved to Dhaka when I was in fourth grade. I’m not saying this means I got a better education in Bangladesh than I did in the United States, but it was very different and for me, in many ways, much harder. I was lucky in that I had good study habits and was a voracious reader because I read the textbooks on my own and just taught myself that way.”

And this is where I found the story to be extraordinary. To some extent, the Ahmed’s “How We Came to America” story is a tale of three separate migrations—migrations that included travel between the United States, United Kingdom, Bangladesh and India (Famin went to boarding school in India for a short time).  A family story that spans four countries and forty years.

We all have one, a narrative about how we came to America, how someone in our family made a choice to leave a home in one country and create a new one in another. Each one is unique, each one has its own connection to a personal history. Each one of us has a story to tell, to share, to reveal.

So….what is your story?

Priya Chhaya is a public historian that works with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American (and Indian American) identity.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 12, 2012 in Family

 

You Can Take It With You

by Priya Chhaya

Moving.

A room once full of books, electronics, posters, and photographs now bare. Each item packed away into cardboard boxes that all look the same. Boxes, filled with nearly everything you own in two cars.

Moving Out.

Two words that mean so much more than just the act of packing up your belongings and transporting them into a new living situation. Here in the United States the traditional path is that kids leave home after college (or even earlier, after high school) either because a parent wants the kids to learn responsibility, and other times because the kid wants some independence. To feel more like an adult.

For Indian American children moving out, while more commonplace than years past, is connected to jobs and opportunities that are in areas not close to where they grew up. And having said that, for many female Indian American’s moving out is an even tougher decision—and much of that has to do with the belief that the daughter stays in her father’s house until marriage.

It’s hard to tell how many girls today are bound by that belief, in my case the rationalization for staying at home had a lot to do with saving up rather than any restrictions by my parents, but as I took that leap from home to apartment a few weeks ago I found myself wondering: How much of my “Indianness” is based on where I lived? I know for some Indian American kids that tug of war can be strong and combative, while for others remains a gentle pull. And as a friend recently reminded me, where you stand depends on how much of the ritual, the traditions, you actually understand.

In my case, after five years post-graduate school, I wanted to try to live a version of the American dream. I wanted to take care of myself, to be independent, to make a space my own. So as I put my books, clothes and posters in boxes, as I bought furniture, and cooking supplies, and took an inventory of clothes to take, and what to give to the Salvation Army, I also began to pack up my life lessons from my parents: doing aarthi before going on a long trip, actually making roti and daal on my own, calling India to talk to my grandmother—instead of waiting for my turn when my parents called. Habits and ways of life that I wanted to take with me without the prompting and encouragement of my mom.

As for things I’ll leave behind? I think dependency is one of them.  Living at home was never terrible—but I think it unconsciously limited me from taking risks and being spontaneous—staying in the city to meet up with friends for example. Sometimes being comfortable means that there isn’t room to grow, room to stretch, room to become what you want to be.

While it has only been two weeks, I’m not entirely sure what I’ve taken and what I’ve left behind, but I know that it has been a definite learning experience. Not to mention moments when you miss the two people who have given you all the encouragement and support in the world.

For those intrepid Indian Americans thinking of moving out here are a few things to add to the “To Do” list: Check to make sure you are within an auspicious month. Then if you are Hindu like me, be armed with statues of Ganesh (I now have at least three in my bedroom) to bless the house. My roommate who is from Chennai boiled some milk (a ceremony known as pal kachal, which is symbolic of the first domestic act in the house/literally a house warming), while my mother (we are from Gujarat) did a short prayer and left a booklet of prayers in the house so it would be there before I actually spent the night. Finally, when setting up your furniture bring a compass to make sure your bed is facing in the right direction—North/South is best.

Remember, while moving out is for all a way of “cutting the chord” that tethers you to where you grew up, not everything has to stay behind. That culture, that history, those lessons are parts of your identity that you can take with you into the future.

Priya Chhaya is a public historian that works with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American (and Indian American) identity.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Culture, Family, Identity

 

Tags: , ,

It Must Be That Time of Year!

by Rajshree Solanki

“Raj! Lauren was taught a song at school,” Lauren peeked behind her grandmother’s legs and sheepishly looked at me.  “Her friend’s mother came into class and taught them an Indian song.  Lauren, would you like to sing it to Raj?”

Five year old Lauren nodded slightly and came from around her grandmother’s legs. She couldn’t look at me. She had to look at her grandmother while singing to me the Hindi song.

“Wow! She taught you that?” I was impressed.

Lauren’s grandmother piped up for the shy blondish girl, “Yes, apparently it’s children’s ‘Indian song’.”

Just the other day, I received an email from a colleague that her daughter, who is African American, is giving a presentation on languages spoken in India and had to bring in an Indian dessert.  She needed advice on where to get an Indian dessert.  She wrote that her daughter tried to convince her that blueberry muffins came from India.  No, definitely not!  I then sent her links to Indian grocery stores in the area.

It must be that time of the year again!  May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

Sushmita  Mazumdar

Sushmita Mazumdar and one of her handmade storybooks.

Various units at the Smithsonian Institution, along with the Asian Pacific American Program, is celebrating throughout the month with performances, talks, tours and family programs at the National Museum of American History and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.  And it’s all free!

For the Family Festival celebrating APA Heritage Month, local book artist Sushmita Mazumdar was invited to show children and their families how to make a “family storybook”.  Sushmita leads workshops teaching the young and old on storytelling and book arts in the D.C. area.

It started when her 4-year-old son came back from a day at preschool and wanted a turkey sandwich with orange cheese. It made her realize that her son will have an entirely different childhood in the United States versus that of her childhood in India. She wanted to connect with her son on how she was raised and teach him about India. She decided to do this by using stories from her childhood.

Family Bookmaking

A multi-generational family making storybooks.

Sushmita remarked, “Parents have a block telling their stories. People forget where they came from.  And their children are growing up differently.”

As a graphic designer, she decided to incorporate bookmaking to aid in making the story more personal.  It was a way to start a dialogue about cultural differences and similarities between growing up in India and growing up in the United States.  Her son, who is now 9 years old, corrects her pronunciation and asks her why she drinks so much chai instead of coffee.  She takes it in stride and wrote a poem called At Cha o’ Clock.  Her son did the artwork for the poem.

Bookmaking

Mother and daughter making books at the APA Heritage Month Family Festival (National Museum of American History).

The making of these storybooks provides an opportunity for parents and their children to share perspectives.  Sushmita sends her books to her mother in India, which then triggers memories and responses that normally begin with her mother saying, “I cannot believe you remembered that!”

The program focused on “Kitchen Stories” using handmade paper made out of mango leaves and cinnamon sticks for binding.  You don’t have to be an artist or storyteller; Sushmita always helps you through the process of writing and designing your own book.

Storybooks

Handmade storybooks.

The Family Festival was held on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Rajshree Solanki is the Registration Specialist for Loans at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Family

 
 
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