A Community of Bullies

In recent years, the Indian community has begun to realize the delicate vulnerability of the childhood stage of one’s life. It’s when our self-esteem, mentality, and personalities are rapidly developing. The important thing to note, is that the utmost influential factor of the development of each of these traits – is a parent’s influence.

Ever notice how it a staple of our community to speak without thinking? This becomes especially true when an adult is addressing a child. Verbal abuse isn’t even considered abuse – it’s just the manner in which most Indian parents “parent.” Children who are misbehaving are degraded in the most aggressive and demeaning manner. It’s common for parents to call their offspring unpleasant names, comment on their physical appearance on the daily, and equate misbehaviour with poor character. If their children aren’t shaping up “on paper,” they’re told they’re terrible human beings.

Forget worrying about what this does to their self-assurance and identity formation. There’s much too strong of a emphasis on how a child or teen appears in the public eye. It doesn’t matter what’s going on behind closed doors or in the inner workings of a child’s psyche. All that matters is that the parents appear to be raising a stand-up kid.

Just from personal anecdote I can describe exactly when and where my self-esteem plummeted. I was born as a very fair and “cute” baby. I stayed that way until about 5-years-old. Then I began school, my nutrition took a hit, and most importantly, I began to play outdoors for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, as my pigment changed (due to increased sun exposure) – so did my self-esteem. But not because I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw, it’s because the adults around me didn’t like what they saw anymore. Their attitude toward me was tangibly different. I just didn’t know what I had done to cause the change.

They would turn to my mom and say, “she used to be so cute, what happened?”  I would hang my head in shame wondering what I had done wrong to go from being celebrated as one of the lucky “white ones” to receiving pity for now crossing over to “the dark side.” 

The Indian community places an unhealthy amount of emphasis on a child’s appearance. Don’t believe me? Just put on a few pounds and notice how many people will comment on your changing waistline. However, if you were to ace a test or master a new hobby, typically no one would bat an eye. The negative is always pinpointed and positives are swept under the rug.

Something needs to change in the way we communicate and raise our kids. How can we stop them from being schoolyard bullies when that type of behaviour is engrained in the very way they are raised? In fact, it is how they’re raised – through verbal threats, taunts, and expressions.

Be careful of how you speak to your kids and allow others to speak to them. Nothing grinds my gears more than when someone comments on my son’s weight, or other physical attributes – it makes me want to go ahead and pick apart all the things wrong with that person’s face.

Imagine throwing it right back at them – I used to be that vocal – but now I think I’ll teach my son to do the fending for himself. After all, it’s rather character defining to be able to learn of the way you can “woo” an easily swayed community or be shunned simply by the manner in which you respond to their adult bullying.

Backyard Bullies

Oftentimes, it’s easy to think of bullying as being something which originates from an individual much different from the target. Unfortunately so, there is a common phenomenon currently occurring for bullies to be targeting individuals who are “one of their own.”

These instigators may not be aware that they’re demeaning someone who is absolutely no different than themselves, and just how detrimentally damaging their behaviour may be.

Call it a defence mechanism, ignorance, or a result of a poor upbringing. But whatever it is – it’s causing newly immigrated South Asian children to feel ostracized and inferior to their peers.

Time and time again, the concept of those dubbed as “dippers” or “freshies” is always used as a manner to classify the “acceptable Indians” from the ones who are deemed unworthy of inclusion.

To make matters even worse, these taunts and blatant in school emotional antagonism is nearly always instigated by South Asian second generation immigrant children, toward first generation South Asian children.

It’s no surprise that this tendency is all too frequent in our schools, since the mass media portrays all Indians in such a unfavourable manner. The smell of curry and thick accents are synonymous with dark brown skin and hair. This drives western born offspring to become vehemently defensive of their own identities – causing them to wish to differentiate themselves from this portrayal of Indians.

It’s essential for our youth to understand that a kid may dress or speak a little differently from them as a result of the environment they’ve grown up in, or because they truly did just immigrate to Canada from India. It is crucial to engraving the notion that it is never acceptable to make these vulnerable individuals feel inferior simply because of who appear to be.

Certain aspects which are a part newly immigrated or less acculturated children’s lives, and are only a small part of their social self becomes pitted against them. This crumpled the odds of them having a well structured social life. It also sets the tone of their life trajectory.

It’s time to stop this phenomenon and educate your children about how excruciatingly hurtful such things can be for someone who may already be well aware of the subtle differences in their persona. Perhaps your child isn’t the instigator – but it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure kindness is at the forefront of their offsprings behaviour each and every day in and out of a school setting –regardless of if they think they’re “too good” to be classified with the kids who are actually in fact just like them.

Believe it or not, when you dig beneath the surface, typically we all wish for the same things in life (more or less). Less assimilated individuals are just children (and maybe even some grown-ups) who want the same thing the “more westernized” groups of society desire – acceptance.

Remind your children (and yourselves) that there’s no need to shift the spotlight onto an easier target in order to protect ones own self from being attacked. Rather, enlighten them on the importance of challenging commonly accepted stereotypes and demeaning portrayal of East Indians rather than support them by partaking in the quest to alienate those who don’t fit in with “the majority.”

Being a minority doesn’t have to mean to be on constant guard, it just means we have to be one step ahead the masses and not allow anyone bash those whom we share our roots with.

Would you like some chai?

If there’s one thing that is commonplace in the East Indian Culture it is a whole lot of finger pointing and labelling when it comes to others shortcomings.

Whether you’re overweight, indulge in a few too many drinks in the evenings, or don’t have a brag-worthy occupation – the aunties at every social gathering will be sure to let you know it.

But what about one of their major flaws. Something that is a staple activity in nearly each and every Indian household – the NECESSITY to have several cups of tea a day.

Yes I know it sounds silly. But the true definition of something being a dependency is when it starts interfering with your professional or personal life.

Recently I encountered a woman who quit her job because she wasn’t given enough “chai breaks.” She was bewildered by the fact that it wasn’t a natural right of hers to saunter off to the lunchroom to boil and sip her tea to her hearts content.

She just couldn’t function without having her top up on this substance at least every 2-3 hours.

In my own home I thought it to be a part of growing up. Grown up’s wake up with half open eyes, have their chai, and then go about their merry way and get on with their day.

I remember feeling like it was a right of passage into adulthood when I started joining my mother for her 4pm tea times.

Then I realized I really didn’t need the mid-day pick me up and it actually interfered with my ability to fall asleep so I started cutting back and eventually stopped having it all together. I recognized it as a crutch and didn’t like the fact that my day didn’t get on quite right without it. So I cut it out until I didn’t need it anymore.

I know several people my age and above who have actual adverse physical reactions when they miss their scheduled tea time. They get extremely fatigued, irritable, and experience headaches.

So what’s the difference between this and any other mind altering substance?

Are our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers harbouring a serious dependency problem? Need there be some sort of intervention here?

Honestly I think it it’s an overlooked and very harmful cultural norm we need to address.

Have an apple or a big jug of water instead. Sure your head might pound like the worlds coming to an end for about a week or so but at least you won’t be relying on something to make you feel like you can function.

There shouldn’t be ANYTHING you absolutely need in order to stay alert and present in your day.

Just something to think about. Maybe talk to your elders about this one and see how it is goes – perhaps over a cup of tea.

Drinks on Me!

Do you remember when and where you had your first drink? How about your last? Probably a few days ago or maybe even hours. It seems like alcohol consumption is now a integral part of many peoples regular lives. Going to a party? Well be sure to drink whilst getting ready, being transported to, during, and most likely after (if you end up having just enough that you don’t want the night to end when it does). I noticed amongst many of my peers that their social self was synonymous with their drunk self. It was like there was no possible way they could have a good time and be sociable without having a drink or two – or three.

But just because something is in the ‘majority does it’ column where you live doesn’t mean it’s that way EVERYWHERE. So whys it so hard to go against the grain and be different?

The point at which I even think this becomes a relevant issue is when someone can’t go a week without it. Or they can’t be in certain scenarios without it. It’s like their personality gets left at the door until they’ve had a few.

We learn in school about the various negative biological, social, and interpersonal effects of alcohol. However, usually it is outlined that there is only a real problem when one abuses the substance and has issues with limit control and determining appropriate times and places for consuming alcohol. But, it seems like it’s becoming more and more acceptable for alcohol to become a part of ones weekly and sometimes daily life.

I really think this is the perfect example of the contradictory way people live their lives today. I have never understood how one can be a supposed “health freak” in every other aspect of his or her life but make the conscience decision to consume alcohol one or two out of every seven days.

It doesn’t make sense to place your organs under repeated stress each and every week for years on end – and yet consider yourself someone who takes care of their body.

Look back to what got you drinking – was it to unwind? Was it to have fun? Because everyone else around you did? The curiosity? The taste? And now you just NEED it in certain situations. How well do you handle socializing without it? Or even just having dinner at home without it? Have you ever stopped to question your drinking habits – have you ever considered that perhaps you are a casual alcoholic?

There’s a whole new place in society for those of us who just can’t seem to get by without turning to alcohol. Regardless of what sent you there in the first place it seems like there must be some interpersonal or societal concept which requires repair if we as a cultural group are constantly turning to an external substance to feel better.

At what point did it become admirable to prove that you can “out drink” the next person. Why have we allowed marketing companies to convince us that drinking wine out of a tall stem glass is some how a sign of sophistication? Women now have it engrained in their minds that wine is their secret weapon and deserved treat for dealing with the ongoings of a typical female life. At what point do you admit the alcohol is now
consuming you? What does it take for things to “get real.” Your significant other leaves you, your parents threaten to kick you out just one too many times, or maybe when you realize hey you’re too old to be behaving like this and your teetering into dangerous dead beat territory. Maybe it doesn’t even need to come to this maybe it’s the simple realization that alcohol is a part of your life more days in a month than not. Whatever it is – it’s time to wake up and smell the tequila.

Maybe it’s time to put down those glasses and pick up a habit or two which actually improve your life and relationships in some way or another. Help yourself to better yourself by changing what isn’t adding to your life. Give yourself the power back to just be you – substance free, and be okay with that. Maybe once we can all accept ourselves as is we will become a lot better at accepting one another as well.

One Big Circus Act

Motorbikes, horses, entertainment, and luxurious jewelry and attire – no I am not talking about a circus, just your good ol’ run of the mill Indian wedding.

Growing up just like every other little girl I sat in awe as I accompanied my parents to family functions and weddings. I loved the shiny flashy outfits, the loud music, and general happy buzz in the air. I remember when my cousin got married when I was six years old. I felt the excitement of family coming together from all around the world to celebrate. It was my first dose of what was soon to become a whole big production.

The difference is back then reception decor consisted of paper bells hung on the walls and a string of helium balloons above the head table. The happy couple popped their $30 champagne, cut their $50 cake, and danced their way through the night with maximum 100 of their closest family and friends. It was an event you looked forward to for weeks and you thoroughly enjoyed because it was about two people joining their lives together and celebrating this union with their loved ones.

Fast forward some 15 years or so and now every weekend there are dozens of weddings occurring simultaneously at various temples in the metro-Vancouver area. And each of these weddings symbolizes not the love between a couple – sure there’s that too (most of the time) but rather a price tag. It’s about who booked the most popular makeup artists and will pop up on everyones news feeds before they even finish the fourth “laav.” Who hired the most expensive caterers, dj’s, and booked the best venue. Up to tens of thousands of dollars are spent on hair, makeup, jewelry, clothing, food, decor, photographers, and the list goes on. Weddings are more of a circus act than anything else. A grand entrance must be made, and sometimes (as seen in a recent viral video showcasing an unfortunate groom and a horse) these entrances can go wrong, very wrong. This is where you just got to stop to think – why have we raised the bar so high? Why do we need our dad’s, uncle’s, best friend’s, daughter’s father-in-law to be sitting front and centre. Is this all just one big opportunity to show off and prove who loves their kids enough to spoil them with a week of extravagant events that do nothing more than exhaust the poor couple?

Not to say I’m not grateful for my own wedding. I remember feeling infuriated when my sister would question – but does she REALLY need that? It’s all going to be over soon and no ones going to notice if you do or don’t do or have things as perfect as the next person. Well, after it’s all said and done, I realize it was a big huge waste of money. I wish I had spent half as much time and effort into getting to know what my life would be like AFTER the wedding was over rather than planning and focusing on something that was only going to last a few days. I was so consumed with the event that I forgot what it was all about! Boy was I in for a shocker when my life was turned inside out and upside down upon being oh so very blessed with the “wife” and “daughter-in-law” title. Bottom line – the focus should be on the MARRIAGE, not just the wedding.

At the end of the day I suppose to each their own. If it’s ones life prerogative to have fire throwing dancers and enter their reception on a motorbike with their dolled up wife perched sideways behind them – then all the power to ya my friends. But I really think our priorities need to be second guessed here because it seems things are getting a little out of hand. What’s next – having caged lions and real diamond encrusted outfits? Hm, that gives me a idea – perhaps it is time to start planning my son’s over the top first birthday party now ;).

A Letter for You:

Three years ago today the world became a whole lot brighter as my beautiful little niece was born! I watch her grow day by day into one of the most amazing individuals I have ever come to known. I feel honored and inspired by the amount of wisdom, love, and character already filling this tiny little person who I have the privilege of having in my life.

I feel apprehensive about her growing up in today’s day and age so I wrote her this letter to share some of my thoughts which I feel she needs to know. What better day to share that than today – her birthday!

Dear Anaiya,

First & foremost:

Believe in your inner wisdom, you have the emotional intelligence of someone well into their adult years, you even surpass some adults I know. Don’t ever mistrust or dismiss that – you’re different from the rest of them.

Don’t ever lose your innocence & most definitely don’t dull your sparkle for the comfort of others.

When confronted with mean hearts and cold stares – be it at school, at the mall, or at home — be kind anyways, chances are you have something they don’t and they want that from you.

Be aware of the vulgarity of today’s entertainment world. Sometimes it’s praised and hidden in obscure lyrics, or seemingly harmless image portrayal. I mean, Beyonce is amazing – but hip thrusting and booty shaking in an adult size underwear onsie is not normal behaviour if you really think about it.

When someone hands you a marijuana joint (and surely they will this is British Columbia after all) and you think it’s normal because every body else seems to be doing it — think about if altering your already beautifully perfect state of mind is necessary.

When people around you are sneaking drinks and persuading others to illegally purchase alcohol on their behalf – think about if you want to be one of those people whose bodies don’t function quite the way they should because they began drinking so young.

Don’t ever allow subtle stereotypes or racism colour the way you feel about yourself.

Don’t ever turn in on yourself when elders tell you to act a certain way because of your gender.

When you’re dying to find companionship in the form of a boyfriend – think about whether that person is dying right back to be with you because of your enlightened soul, your kind heart, and your seemingly effortless beauty and grace. Or if you’re just going to be a brief flicker in their adolescent mind.

Keep building your vocabulary. Read countless books. Write your thoughts and emotions out even if they’re a jumbled mess — there’s nothing more powerful than someone who is well spoken and well read.

Last but not least: Always remember that you’ll always have your family. No matter how many times you stumble from the essence of these words or how many times you fight against our guidance to find your own way. We will love the beautiful being you become because you’ll be the best version of the amazing person we already know you are.

Love Always,

Amrita