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Equal is Not Simple

Before Robbie and I had Aashi, got married, got engaged, or even entered into a long-distance relationship, we discussed the idea of having children who practiced our respective religions, Hinduism and Catholicism. Religion for Robbie and me was never a deal-breaker because we wholeheartedly embraced the concept of religious equality for our relationship and our future family. We figured that if we were already comfortable attending each other’s religious services, praying for the same things, and even planning an interfaith wedding, then we could handle the challenge of raising a family that practices both faiths equally. Of course, now that we have Aashi, we are beginning to realize that “equal” is easier said than done.

My internal debate over what “equal” really means began when Robbie’s parents gave Aashi a beautiful pendant depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary in honor of her Baptism. Read more

My Happy Heart: On Nidhi Chanani

Of the many glowing comments on illustrator and artist Nidhi Chanani’s webpage, the one that best describes her art and the sentiments it inspires is “Dil Khush” (Happy Heart). Chanani’s images are eye-catching, colorful, and just so cute. But what stands out to me most about her artwork is the culture that her images portray – her Indian American culture as well as the new cultural norm which accepts diversity in our close personal relationships. Born in Kolkata, India, raised in San Francisco, and married to a non-Indian (whom she lovingly calls hubbahubba), Chanani describes herself as Indian and American and draws from her “hybrid existence” and rich cultural experience to create pieces that reflect her identity and relationships. To do so, she presents intercultural relationships in a sweet and playful tone that others can identify with, regardless of background or Read more

The Name Game

I always imagined my future children would have Indian names like those I’d grown up hearing.  For boys, those were names like Raj, Sanjay, or Mehul.  But in the throes of a baby-name discussion during my sister-in-law’s pregnancy, I realized for the first time that the origins of my babies’ names would one day be a huge point of contention – not only between Robbie and me, but also perhaps between our families.  My sisters-in-law were discussing names like Ethan and Alexander – even Maximus! – but when they asked me what names I liked for a future baby boy, my top choices – all Indian names –  got less than rave reviews. Not because they disliked these names, but because they were so unfamiliar to Robbie’s family that the prospect of a nephew with such an unfamiliar name was difficult to imagine. My list of Indian boys’ names instigated a single thought-provoking (and nerve-wracking) question:

How about the name Robert?

Why not, right? I mean, my husband, Robert Conrad (Robbie) was named after his maternal grandfather, Conrado, and his father, Robert Joseph (Bob), whose middle name is the same as his father, Robbie’s grandfather, Joseph. One day, we would have a little Bobby, falling perfectly in line with the Milla tradition of passing on names.

But that was not my immediate reaction. Read more

Learning My Religion

When I was pregnant with Aashi, I began obsessing over the best ways to teach her religion. Robbie learned Catholicism through attending church and Sunday school, becoming an altar boy, and practicing ritualistically and regularly. My spirituality developed more organically, mostly through family discussions and prayers, and dance class, where learning a new dance was often the same as learning to convey a religious story through hand gestures and footwork.  I still get lost trying to wrap my head around some of the metaphysical concepts from the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu scripture), but if there was an artful and educational children’s version of it out there – like what I’ve recently seen from Pixar animator Sanjay Patel – I can guarantee that I, and in turn, Aashi, would never be lost

Sanjay Patel has contributed to several well-known works from A Bug’s Life, Ratatouille and The Incredibles, to Toy Story 2 and 3. But of particular interest to me is his contribution to religious education with his three books, The Little Book of Hindu Deities, Ramayana — Divine Loophole, and most recently, The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities. The Hindu Deities books introduce children (and adults) to the polytheistic world of Hinduism through colorful, pop-art illustrations of some of the more well-known Gods and Goddesses, with accompanying descriptions of their best-known traits that are presented with a touch of humor and whimsy. The Ramayana – Divine Loophole, on the other hand, reads like a graphic novel and beautifully portrays one of Hinduism’s greatest epic tales, the Ramayana. I don’t mean for these books to supplant all other methods of teaching Aashi about Hinduism, but they will provide such a colorful and engaging way for me to refresh my memory on some of the important details I’ve forgotten over the years, and at the same time, allow me to read to my daughter about her religion.

I’m hoping to find something similarly engaging on the Catholic side that Aashi and I can learn from together.  For Aashi’s Baptism, one of my sisters-in-law gave her the “Candle Bible for Kids,” by Juliet David, with illustrations by Jo Parry and the passages that Robbie has read to Aashi have been comprehensive, yet easy to understand, and beautifully told for children. I’ve also seen excellent reviews for “A Child’s First Bible,” by Kenneth N. Taylor.

My next move is to find a few good reads for adults and children on raising, and being raised in, interfaith households.

Stay tuned.

Proud to be Asian American

The other night while flipping channels, Robbie and I caught Director Jonathan Yi’s East of Main Street: Small Talk on HBO, in which a group of Asian American kids from different backgrounds speak honestly and openly – with innocence and humor –  about growing up Asian American, fitting in, and setting themselves apart. The 21-minute documentary is no longer On Demand, but hopefully it will become available again. Until then, here is a short clip:

I happened to catch the tail-end of the program – but even that was more than enough time to get sucked in, fall in love with every single kid, and shed a few tears as they happily and proudly discussed their identities.

Not Just an Other

“There are lots of nice people to meet” by Laura Berger

Before a standardized test in grade school, my husband Robbie was having a difficult time deciding which racial identification box to check. His half-Filipino side made him an “Asian/Pacific Islander” but to check that box would only tell half his story. To simply check “Caucasian” for his father’s side was also incomplete, and therefore inaccurate. He raised his hand to get some guidance from his teacher, but her response was both disappointing and eye-opening. She looked at him, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Just check Other.” He learned then that despite the pride he felt for his Filipino, Spanish and Italian roots, and despite his strong sense of identity as part Asian American, some would always label him as unidentifiable –  just an “Other.”

Test-makers have since replaced “Other” with the label “Two or More,” and have increased and even changed the available racial identifiers. While changes to these forms may signify a positive shift in the overall perception of racial identification, I wonder if multiethnic and multiracial children themselves have developed a stronger sense of identity. Admittedly, Robbie occasionally felt marginalized around other Filipino American children because he neither looked like them, nor had as homogenous of an upbringing. When I think about how my Indian American background so easily dictated my membership and participation in Indian dance classes, school clubs, and even now, professional associations, I can understand why Robbie sometimes felt a little bit out of place. Robbie’s experiences then and now make me wonder how Aashi will one day identify herself and where she will fit in as she grows up in even less of a homogenous household than Robbie did.

So I ask:
How can Robbie and I teach Aashi to embrace her diverse religious and cultural background in the most harmonious way possible? And in doing so, how can we protect her from feeling like just an Other? Read more