I am not your average American

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Arpita Das

The dress I wore to a wedding that I attended over winter break.

“You’ve never eaten steak?”

“You don’t have chores?”

“You never get grounded?”

“Your parents pay for you?” 

These are all things people have told me intermittently from the moment I entered first grade until now, and to be honest, it surprises even me that I don’t have these things. Both of my parents were immigrants from India who moved to America and got married. However, they aren’t far from your average, traditional parents. 

Before my mom came to America, she went to college in India. She then came to America to eventually work at Amway. For my dad, traveling to America was an entirely different experience. His oldest brother lived in Lansing, Michigan, so naturally, he chose to live there after he finished college in Kansas, but he only came into the United States with $40. My parents both had two older siblings and were the youngest members in their family. They couldn’t be more alike. 

After my sister was born in 2002, I was born in 2005. Growing up, my parents weren’t strict when it came to raising us. We never got grounded, however, we were certainly punished if we made mistakes. We were never assigned a list of chores, but we were expected to be organized; however, this didn’t prevent us from buying things we wanted or from hanging out with our friends. In terms of a curfew, there wasn’t one; as long as they always knew where our location was, we were free from this restriction. 

When it came to buying things we really wanted, there was no question of who would pay for it. My parents would always cover the cost of everything, including both mine and my sister’s college tuition. Now, you might ask how this was supposed to help me learn the value of money. Eventually, I did, but not in the way most people would. 

I was fourteen years old when I got my first job. My sister was in her senior year of high school, and I was covering one of her shifts every week. I would work four hours a week at this education center called Kumon, which devoted time to helping kids with their math and reading skills. When I learned how to set up my bank account and pay taxes for the first time, I realized that you can’t just spend your money on all your wants. Although I have never touched an ounce of money from my bank account, saving it up has taught me to spend my money wisely. At the end of the day, I am the only person working for my own money. 

I get to experience being an American and being an Indian, an opportunity that my parents never got growing up.”

— Arpita Das

Because my parents were from India, that also meant that they weren’t born in America.  They were tasked with not only learning to adapt to a new country, but also learning how to speak English and get used to our nation’s norms. Naturally, when I heard about my friends being assigned chores or being grounded, it seemed odd to me, but then it also made me think about how others perceive my parents. 

When it came to parenting, my parents were far from stringency or the old-fashioned standards of society. When you think of Middle Eastern parents, you often think they want their kids to be either a doctor or a lawyer, that the expectation is straight As; but my parents couldn’t disagree more with this statement. Doing well in school to them meant that I tried and that I gave it my all, and when it came to pursuing my interests, all that mattered was the fact that I was doing something that could both support me while bringing me joy.

But when it came to eating at fast food places, we had to be careful about what we ate, specifically meat. Our family was never really a big fan of meat, so when it came to eating it, the only days we couldn’t were on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it started to become a common rule in our house. 

In more ways, than others, I consider myself lucky to be an Indian growing up in America because I get to experience two cultures at once. I get to experience being an American and being an Indian, an opportunity that my parents never got growing up.