Radhika, Dorian, Amari and Jayani
When I initially envisioned what Raising Mothers would bring to the online discussion of motherhood, this was one of my top priorities. I wanted a space that reflects my own life. Stories told through the voice of women like me. I have known Radhika for at least 15 years, meeting as freshmen and neighbors in college. I am honored to have her as my first interview. Here she talks about how family, race and culture inform her motherhood.
How do you identify yourself racially?
I am East Indian.
Where were you born and where have you lived?
I was born in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. When I was 6 months old my parents made the decision to send me to India to live with my maternal grandparents as they struggled to make ends meet in a country that was new to them. I lived in India for my first three years before returning to the U.S. Throughout my life, I have lived in Lansdale, Mechanicsburg and Philadelphia, PA.
Why do you live where you are currently? Did having a multiracial family factor into your location?
We currently reside in Pilesgrove, NJ. We are close to both Delaware and Philadelphia. Prior to living in Pilesgrove, my husband and I lived in Wilson, NC after getting married. However, growing up, family was a huge part of my life, not just mom and dad, but extended family. So, I was never 100% content living in Wilson and my husband sensed that. I wanted to raise my kids like I was raised, close to family, growing up with their cousins, holidays always being a time surrounded by family and friends. Then, an opportunity to move to Delaware presented itself, and I was all game. My husband wasn’t one to move simply to be close to family, but to my luck the opportunity was one that he just couldn’t pass up, so it worked out in the end for all parties involved. Although, I still hear from him from time to time that he hates the weather up here, the traffic, people’s attitudes, quality of life (which I argue is equal, if not better than the South) etc. We are now both close to our families, my children get to see and know their grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles – and it’s also nice in terms of support system (free babysitters!). We are also blessed beyond words to have the rare opportunity having my grandmother (who raised me) live with us and help raise both of my children for the first year of their life.
Luckily, the Northeast is relatively diverse, so seeing people of color is not a rare occurrence. When searching for a home in the Delaware area we focused our attention on areas with great school districts, knowing kids were in our future. My husband, having grown up in a small home, with 3 siblings, wanted to have a big house in the country, with lots of land. We were able to find that in Pilesgrove, NJ. I think having a multiracial family did factor into our location, but more so subconsciously. If we were moving somewhere where seeing people of color was rare, we may have reconsidered for the sake of our future children. Simply because I remember growing up, and being the only “brown kid” in the class, and I was different and it was very obvious – and kids can be cruel at that age. However, the world we live in is a much more diverse place than it was 20-some years ago, but I still I would not put my kids in a situation where they are always standing out in the crowd because of the color of their skin, because racism still exists today.
How did your families respond to you being an interracial couple?
It appeared to me as if it was a non-issue with my husband’s family. My husband is considered to be an adult and capable of making his own decisions. However, being Indian, culturally it’s as if you’re still a minor, and parents must still approve. At first, my parents were concerned, merging two totally different cultures is not an easy feat. However, they were willing to take the time to meet and get to know Dorian and things went well. They treat him like their own son, and that makes my heart smile. Especially because I know we all have our preconceived notions about people different than us, and it’s nice to see that bringing him into my family enabled them to see that we’re different, but that’s not always a bad thing! They have learned a lot from him, and he has learned a good bit from them too.
Do you know any other multiracial families? Is your community mixed?
Yes, we know several, but we don’t seek them out. Our community is fairly mixed.
How do you handle language?
My grandmother has raised both my children, and speaks to them in Telugu (South Indian dialect). My older daughter knows words here and there, but is far from being bilingual. My younger daughter may end up knowing a bit more, because I have asked my grandmother to be more vigilant about only speaking to her in Telugu, but only time will tell. My spouses family only speaks English, so yes Jayani and Amari easily communicates with them.
Have you explained to your daughters what their racial makeup is?
I haven’t sat down with them and explained it, but when they ask I will be sure to tell. I’m sure they know things are different in terms of how their dad’s side looks, acts, speaks, and eats in comparison to mom’s side.
Have you experienced any sort of conflict in public?
No, never been asked if I was the nanny (I might flip!). The Indian culture is big on trying to determine who the child resembles from the day the child is born. I have had people say the child looks like one parent because of facial features, but not so much because of complexion. Although, people have said things like “she will have her mom’s complexion” or “she has her dad’s complexion”.
How do you use tradition and custom to teach your children about their ethnicity and heritage?
My children experience everything both of our respective families take part in. My children have been to a church and a Hindu temple. They have celebrated Christian and Hindu holidays and customs/traditions. They are exposed to the different food, music, clothing, dances, etc.
Do you find you consciously lean to one side more than the other? Or do you make an effort to be even in your expression of race?
We do what comes natural, it’s never a “we celebrated Christmas, so we have to celebrate a Hindu holiday next”. Growing up Hindu, we still celebrated Christmas because it was an excuse to get together with extended family during the time off – and being that it is so commercialized, we exchanged gifts for the heck of it. My husband and I agreed to expose our children to different religions, and allow them to make the decision when they are older – we don’t believe in imposing a religion on them, but while we raise them we naturally are inclined to impart our own religious beliefs. End of the day, we believe that you may call your God “Allah”, but I or someone else may call their God “Jesus” – but at the end of the day there is a God – a higher being, and the stories we each tell about how he came into existence may differ as a result. Ultimately, our goal as parents is to teach them good morals and values, and everything else we believe will fall into place. We as parents are our children’s first teachers’ so everything is a learning experience in our home, we just may have more learning experiences we can pull from than other families who may not come from two diverse backgrounds.
How does your extended families aide in developing ethnic identity?
My parents cook Indian food, spoil them with Indian jewelry and clothing, take them to ethnic events, and carry on the age old traditions and customs (6 month rice-feeding ceremony called annaprasana). My husband’s mother isn’t as forthcoming with aiding in developing ethnic identity, but I think it has to do with her truly not wanting to interfere and overstepping her boundaries. However, my children are able to experience her cooking during the holidays (true Thanksgiving feast, not the kind my family did with a store bought Thanksgiving meal in a box!).
How does your culture factor in to your parenting?
My culture is a HUGE part of my parenting. I take great pride in my culture, I’m at an age where I’m not ashamed or embarrassed of it (I was when I was younger) – I love it and I’m proud of it! I want to pass as much of it on as I can, because I don’t want it to die with me simply because I made the choice to marry outside of my own culture/race. However, I don’t impose my culture on my children, I just allow them to experience it and take what they want from it – like I have from my own mother and grandmother.
All photos courtesy of Radhika Prout
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