Sunday, July 10, 2011

Challenging the norms of culture


Over the July 4th weekend, I attended a Pakistani wedding and what was different about this wedding from all the others I have ever attended is that I did not know anyone there except my boyfriend and was essentially his date for this 350+ guest affair. Those of you that are a part of this culture are fully aware of how something like this would rarely, if ever, happen. 

When describing my culture, the two things that I’m sure come to everyone’s mind are familial expectations and rampant gossip. People love to talk. Parents and extended family love to tell you how you should live your life, irrespective of how you actually want to live it. The two of us decided that we should take advantage of being in the same city at the same time and so I decided to attend the wedding. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive because I did not want it to become a negative experience because of people’s stares and judgments. But that only lasted so long.. We went, we looked amazing and we had a great time together. Nothing horrible happened afterwards and I think we actually challenged people to get out of their comfort zones and accept that the culture is changing and has been for a while now.

I had already lived that way. I did it for a good chunk of my life, like many of us do, solely because we feel some catastrophe will occur if we don’t. We grow up hearing a good child will listen to their parent’s every wish, become a doctor or engineer and basically be a robot that is guilt ridden for wanting any independence and will be directed by cultural norms rather than living a life that is guided by their own dreams and ambitions. 

When I slowly started breaking away and making decisions based on what I felt was best for me, I was scared but asked myself, “What is the worst that can happen?” And that always helped. My parents never disowned me or kicked me out of the house but gradually learned to accept my decisions and rationale and the best part is they actually got to know their daughter. We actually have a great relationship now where I can share things with them honestly and don’t feel compelled to live a double life- like many young desis do. I know I am also very lucky to have pretty open minded parents that even allow for such dialogue. Sadly, there are some that feel ruling with an iron fist is the only way to go and really don’t give their kids a choice. 

Fear and the unknown are two very powerful things. They prevent you from taking the necessary leap. But it is really important to remember that nothing will ever change if you don’t speak up and do things that challenge the norms. I have way too many friends that say things like, “I wish I had your parents” or “You are so lucky that you get to do what you want” but they don’t actually try to change their family dynamics. Parents need to be given some credit. At the end of the day, they do want to see their children happy and I really believe a middle ground exists, if you allow it to.

Updates from DC

I can’t believe over a month has passed since my last post. Apologies for the lack of communication but this is my first free weekend where I have planned to do absolutely nothing. The last 4 weeks have been a whirlwind of events from moving, family visits, cousins, weddings, and quick getaways- I know I am known to always be on the go but I will be the first to admit how nice it is to just sit on the couch and watch a movie.


I have been in DC for a month now and don’t really have anything to show for it in terms of a favorite coffee spot or happy hour or restaurant and so I have decided July will be the month where I will make a conscious effort to explore DC on a daily basis and find my niche. I haven’t really been able to identify with the city, partially because I keep comparing it to New York, wrong on my part, I know. And mostly because I just haven’t had the time. My internship, on the other hand, has been absolutely amazing! I am learning so much and actually getting to contribute to real programs and initiatives, which has also been contributing to my busy schedule.
What I have noticed over the last few weeks is that there always something going on-whether it be a visit by the Dalia Lama or movies by the Potomac or awareness campaigns for any given issue. They may not have a Time Out DC here but if you have a few minutes to spare and access to the internet, you can plan pretty interesting weekends and weeknights.
For example, within my first week here I got to attend a CNN human trafficking awareness talk, a conference on democracy for women, and an outdoor concert. But then again during the first two events I also got to see another side of DC, the lack of genuine concern/desire to bring about change. A lot of us associate the city with the ability and power to make a difference. But what I have noticed here is that very few people actually have that desire. Most do their jobs but real life issues get placed on an economic ladder where causes with the most funding get the most attention. I know that has always been the reality but it is disheartening  to actually witness.


What I miss the most about New York is the food and neighborhood walks and of course, my friends. But now I am equipped with great recommendations from some current and past locals and a new location right in the heart of Dupont (thanks to an awesomely generous friend) that I am sure will allow DC to find a place in my heart.