Ithaca, NY is where I grew up, and thinking back I remember some classmates in first grade used to think I was “Native American,” when they heard I was Indian. As a child in a school with only just a few others like me, it was quite difficult to express who I really was and where my parents came from. I did however correct those kids with a smile and say, “No, my parents are actually from India!” And I could tell, they still looked puzzled by their reactions. Therefore, anytime we had a school event, where we were asked to bring snacks, I made sure to tell my mom to prepare something Indian, so that I could share my culture & heritage with my classmates. My busy parents tried so hard to make sure we still spoke our native tongue as well as the importance of doing well in school and joining school activities. But at home, we were required to participate in every pooja and try to sing along with printed lyrics. Thinking back, I don’t know how they had time for it all, but they made it happen. I went to India several times with my family and was able to experience the rich culture and history in person. India was full of such intricate detail on buildings, and beautiful handmade clothing with embroideries. And the celebrations were like no other I had ever seen! So elaborate, and colorful, and I could just feel all the positive vibes, they were happy souls, and they danced liked nobody was watching! It was an eye-opening experience and I felt so proud of my roots, and I continued to appreciate and fall in love with it even more.
My parents were hard working immigrants, living in a small town. However, they managed to find other locals with the same background and thus created a small Indian community. This community was a way to bring everyone together to celebrate special occasions such as Diwali. I remember, my dad sometimes would play the tablas (Indian drums) and we would decorate with flowers and light up diyas and wore our most festive colorful outfits. Diwali was a fun occasion with music, dancing and shows, celebrating life in harmony with friends and family.
One thing, I really took away from my parents was knowing the importance of showing support and compassion to every person, especially other immigrants trying to make a better living. My parents always invited many people, anyone that was interested, no matter what race or religion you were. Doors were always open. To me, this was the true meaning of what Diwali, and what it symbolizes. Diwali, which also means “row of lights,” symbolizing unity and togetherness. The stories behind Diwali, is about humanity, the triumph of good over evil or light over darkness and being reunited with loved ones. My mom would always say, if you were a good person, Lakshmi would come to your house, and I grew up believing this very lesson. I am grateful of our parents, with all their hard work and sacrifice.
So therefore, it is now time to celebrate in any way we can, to make this year count despite the pandemic. We will decorate our home, to create a just a mere glimpse of what Diwali is like in India. We will light diyas, remembering the fond memories we had with our families and friends, to remember those that we have lost, to celebrate the present moment and count our blessings. Diwali also coincides with celebrations for a new year, and for new beginnings!
We will be face-timing our loved ones to celebrate and having a small dinner, cooking up some of our favorites!
From Lisa and the LeChicMom Family!