The &ASIAN team understand that throughout the diaspora it might be hard to talk or voice any worries might have, even to family or friends. We are here for you, and in our &ASIAN Cares series, we try to help direct you to places that might be able to help you further. We are not an authority on what it means to be Asian or any of these issues, but we are always here to listen and help you feel less alone.
Dear &ASIAN Cares,
I’m a mixed race student at college - my mom is Indian and my dad is white. I’ve never learnt my mom’s language, Hindi because when I was little she wanted me to be as American as possible cause she wanted to make it easier for me to fit in.
Now I’m older I realise how much of my background and culture I’ve missed out on. I don’t have many friends who have a similar background to me and my cousins are in India so they are supportive of me learning but it’s not the same. I’m pretty shy so it’s not like me to just stroll into Hindi learning clubs or anything. I’ve never even found one at my college!
I’m not sure what to do or where to start. How can I reconnect with my mom’s culture and language? I really wish I’d started sooner and I kind of feel bad I haven’t.
Thanks for writing in, and don’t worry: lots of the &ASIAN team would happily call themselves introverts or at least ambiverts, so we understand how it’s hard to put yourself out there about anything, let alone about something that can feel so sensitive and meaningful to you like your heritage.
Firstly, don’t feel bad about your own journey! Having a diverse heritage is an amazing thing, but for lots of us in the diaspora we can struggle with what that means to us because of external pressures that might make you feel you need to let go of (or hide) certain aspects of yourself to survive. It sounds like your mom understood that really well and you’re definitely not alone; there are many people around the world that feel the same.
There’s no such thing as reconnecting with your heritage at some ideal, perfect time because there is no one-size-fits-all perfect time. Your own self-discoveries have happened at the time it was meant to be for you.
Let’s get to language learning! If you’re nervous about learning around people, there are lots of language courses online that can at least give you a place to start until you feel more confident or comfortable to go on this journey in classes or with other people. Searching ‘Learning Hindi’ on the Apple or Android app store will bring up lots of suggestions like Drops or Duolingo that can make the language seem fun for you, and probably makes it easier to fit in amongst your college classes too! Many of these apps have web platforms as well. That way you can take it at your own pace and not put any pressure on yourself.
Have you talked to your mom about how you feel? She might be a great place and person to start exploring your heritage and culture with, if you feel you can be open with her about it. Since you said your cousins are supportive you could maybe ask them to link you to things they’re enjoying right now, whether that’s sports, music or books. Immersion like that - though it might seem super casual - will still help you foster more and more connection to some aspects of your culture you feel you’ve missed out on.
There are also plenty of Hindi language movies and songs that are on media streaming sites like Spotify, Netflix or Amazon Prime for great Hindi language content. If those sites aren’t part of your budget then Vimeo, Soundcloud and YouTube are good, low-to-no-budget places where you can also immerse yourself. You can just sit in bed, open up whatever device you use and enjoy a great movie or album without having to pressure yourself into a social situation.
If you want to take a deeper dive into culture and history, the Know India Site can be a great place to start as it’s created to help educate people who are trying to find a starting point to learn about Indian culture and history. It’s not too complex, but if you feel like you’re really starting from scratch, this kind of site might be just right for you.
But if that’s too rudimentary for you, the contact for the Press, Information and Culture Secretary of the Indian Embassy in the USA is here. They should be able to direct you to resources that will be created by members of the Indian diaspora that will be helpful for you and if you have really specific questions about your and your mom’s background they’ll be able to answer them.
Since you’re in college, hopefully you’ll have access to academic journal databases like JSTOR or something similar: you can get searching there as well! Of course, be wary of whether the author has really spent time with the Hindi language or with Indian culture before taking what they say as gospel (look up the academic’s name and credentials!), but at least you’ll be able to find more in-depth academic writing about your heritage without having to spend a penny.
We hope those are useful starting points for you! Let us know how you do and come back to us with questions anytime. We’re here for you and are rooting for you!
The &ASIAN team x