Chai Talk: The beautiful Aamna on growing up in America and the beauty of Ramadan

Chai Talk: The beautiful Aamna on growing up in America and the beauty of Ramadan

In honor of Ramadan, I thought I would interview my dear friend, Aamna. She is super cute and extremely dedicated to her culture. Enjoy!

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and where your family is from.

My family is from Pakistan! I was born there, and we moved to New York City when I was a year old. I’m the only girl of three brothers, and I’ll be starting graduate school in Atlanta this fall. I like Oscar Wilde and pretentious cheese.

2. How was your experience growing up in the U.S.? How do you strike a balance between living in the U.S. but also incorporating your own culture?

I think growing up in America as an immigrant’s child always results in a kind of dissonance. It’s hard to reconcile the way our parents try to raise us, according to a culture we don’t live in, with the world we are trying to be a part of. A sense of balance is nothing if not vital, I think. For instance, wanting to go to prom while we were in high school, but knowing our experience would be much more modest and controlled than our peers’. That said, I hardly have anything to complain about. I’m in love with both of my cultures, and I’m so grateful for how open-minded and empathetic being an immigrant’s child makes me.

3. What are some of your struggles being a child of immigrant parents?

For me, the biggest sense of struggle I’ve faced in my life is a heavy complex of guilt. I feel guilty for absolutely everything. When you realize how much your parents gave up and suffered to give you this life, it puts weight on your shoulders. You want to make their suffering worth it, you want to give them something that justifies their hardships. That’s one guilt.

If you think about your family back home, your shoulders get even heavier. I think about my absolutely beautiful cousins, who are incredible and brilliant and graceful, and who’ll get to be nothing more than housewives — because they don’t live in a culture that serves them to be anything more. So it’s hard to feel like I deserve this life, full of endless education and true freedom, more than they do. I have a difficult time justifying in my mind that there are kids in Syria who know nothing but war and apartheid, while I somehow escaped those worlds with absolutely no effort on my own part.

I guess, if we were really parsing it down, I would say my biggest “struggle” is feeling like my life isn’t really mine. I’m the culmination of a million sacrifices and a thousand dreams realized. I feel like I’m living my life on behalf of everyone who can’t.

4. What is your ABSOLUTE favorite thing about your culture?

My favorite thing about my culture would be the language. That sounds strange, but Urdu and Hindi are such poetic tongues. I adore how whimsical and romantic their songs sound, but I also love how satisfying it is to call someone a bhenchod.

HOTTIE!

5. Everyone knows about the rituals of Ramadan, but some may not know the spiritual significance. What is the significance for you?

Ahhh, I love Ramadan! For me, it’s an absolute spiritual cleanse. I try to be a better person, more patient and tolerant. I also try to not swear as much, I don’t drink, and I won’t really put myself in any position where I’m doing things I shouldn’t be doing. It’s a month devoted to being charitable and gracious, and I try really hard to do it properly. The older I’ve gotten, the more seriously I take the implications of cleansing your soul. I recently read something about how Ramadan wasn’t just a month to force you to behave, it’s a month that proves how much good you have in you. I like that a lot.

So there you have it! The beautiful Aamna! In hearing her story, I hope you can relate to your own. I know I def can! The guilt complex is so real among South Asians with immigrant parents. But that’s a topic for another post!

Until next time,

Priyanka

You Need Not be a Coconut

 

Knowing my interest in preserving culture, a friend of mine sent me this article. I was immediately inspired to keep blogging, because well…this article sums up the very reason why I am writing this blog. So, bear with me as I tell you the premise behind this article. Keeping it short, promise.

Basically, Mindy, from The Mindy Project (ßshout out to brown actresses in Hollywood), goes on a date with an Indian man (something she doesn’t do often in the show, or err..ever?). When she is on a date with this guy, the most she can say about her Indian roots is that where her parents come from “has a river and tigers, she thinks.” Then, the guy says he can’t date a coconut. Brown on the outside, white on the inside. OHH YEAA…the show went there. For the record, the SHOW went there, yours truly did not. I stay away from such jokes, because umm…what does it mean to be white? Don’t answer that, lol. That is not what this blog is about.

Realizing she doesn’t know enough about her culture, Mindy decides to get her son’s “Mundan,” ceremony done. I will do a separate post breaking down a Mundan ceremony, but for now it’s a tradition in Hindu culture that involves getting your infant or toddler’s hair cut for the first time. She gets a priest to perform the proper ceremony. When her friends question her sudden interest and sense of urgency in performing these rituals she says, “I don’t want my son to learn about his mother’s culture from a Bombay palace menu.” “Wow, what an awesome way to sum it up,” I thought. No sarcasm, this is serious business. Indian tradition and culture is so vast, intricate and complex…I don’t think Mindy is the only brown person out there wondering how they are going to pass it on to their children. But, in order for us to pass our culture down to our children, we must learn it and live it. My (brown) friends, you need not be a coconut.

What I am saying is…it’s not extreme. It’s not black or white. You don’t need to completely assimilate into mainstream culture that you know nothing about your roots. And you don’t need to hold onto your values so tight that you don’t assimilate into your dominant geographical culture at all. Being included and fitting in is nice. So is having a sense of your individuality and the flair of a culture that is so different than the dominant. Maybe your parents assimilated into the culture and didn’t go in depth to teach you about your roots. Or maybe they were so strict that you weren’t allowed to watch certain shows, or hang out with certain friends and feel like you are now making up for it in your 20’s. Whatever the case, as millennials, we are in our 20’s. We get to decide. These are the years you create your own life and the foundation for the life you are going to pass on to your children. Act now. Get curious. Learn the meaning behind tradition, learn the Hindi, Gujarati, Arabic, etc. alphabet. Have a conversation with your parents about their childhood and what they did for fun.

Fighting to maintain your roots as you grow into your independence can be tough, especially if you aren’t living with family like me (tears), but it is so worth it. I promise.

So, my friends. You need not be a coconut.

Side Note: What is brown on the inside and brown on the outside so I can give you all a proper alternative? My nerdy self needs to be able to make such jokes. :p

Xoxo,

Priyanka

Why am I blogging about South Asian culture?

 

My second answer would be because I am fascinated with the digital area you and I have been fortunate to grow up in. Growing up I was obsessed with Shah Rukh Khan, but I knew I could never talk to him. Now, I am obsessed with a variety of bloggers, vLoggers and YouTube stars. And you know what, I can talk to these people via email and SnapChat, see their homes and their day to day lives. Blogs, Podcasts, Vlogs, Snapchat, Instagram, etc have changed the game. We live in an era where any and all information is going digital. Seriously, I never have an unanswered question any more, thanks to Google.

I am starting this blog as a way to connect with my culture and as a way to connect with you. Indian culture is very important to me. Learning about it, implementing it into my life and preserving and passing it on in a compact and comprehensive way is important to me. I might say I have found my life purpose, but I am pretty sure it found me the day I turned five and asked my mother to explain why Hinduism has so many “gods.” Along the way, I made many trips to India, traveled, went to college, entered the workforce and connected with other South Asians, “Desis”, brown people, whatever you want to call us. I realized I wanted to create a space for us to connect and share the experience that is growing up in a country and culture different from your own. I also want to get a dialogue going about what it means to be South Asian in a non-South Asian country. We are all so different, yet so similar. I’d love to share my culture and learn about yours.

So grab a cup of chai (or coffee), connect and let’s celebrate our cultures.

XOXO,

Priyanka

Why I Left Blogging

 

So I did the think that all newbs do. Which is to take years to finally pursue a passion and then give up when their insecurities get in the way. I quit blogging for 2 months before even becoming a consistent blogger. I’ve summed it up below.

1. Image: I‘ve always been conscious of my weight/looks. I know I am beautiful and no one has ever said otherwise. I feel beautiful and am 100% confident in my skin in my real life. I mean I’m not a Victoria’s Secret model and don’t get paid to look like one so I’m good. I know I have some chubs to lose and am working on it. However, being confident in your looks when you look in the mirror (which, mind you, is hard enough) and on camera are two different beasts. It wasn’t until I started photographing myself for social media a ton that I noticed I didn’t look like other “successful bloggers and Instagramers.” Let’s me honest sex appeal and looks sell and I know image is something I need down if I want to be successful. I’m a medium Girl, not thin and not plus sized so I’ve always been confused as to how to “own” my body type. Media, ya know? It wasn’t until a friend called my bullshit and told me to be confident and own whatever I am that I decided not to hide behind this excuse. Does it make it any easier? Probs not, but it does get me blogging again for the bigger picture.

2. Competition/Saturation: I’m highly jealous of the bloggers and influencers that started 5–7 years ago. Before the industry blew up and became so competitive these bloggers were able to build a loyal audience that continues to grow in today’s fast paced social media world. With everyone starting a blog/brand to build businesses and or add a layer to an already successful business it’s almost impossible to not feel the heat. I always think: what makes me different? And when I make my list, I find 5 other people doing that. I have yet to process that what makes it unique is, well, me. I guess you have to be super consistent to process this and find your niche. Which brings me to my next point.

3. Time and Energy: There is a famous proverb that says, “if you try to catch two rabbits, you won’t catch either one.” Story of my life! Confession: I am HORRIBLE at time management. So much so that that is the ONLY thing keeping me from succeeding in all areas of my life. For a while I was sucking at my day job and being inconsistent with blogging. My mind was all over the place and I felt guilty for pursuing one and not the other. Well work 9–5:30 and then come home and work on your passion 7–9:30pm, right? Damn it sounds so easy, why is it so hard? But, no excuses. So right now I’m working on finding little life hacks to work more. For example, I’m writing this post on my phone on the train to downtown Atlanta with a friend in town for the weekend!

4. Belief: I have immense confidence in myself, but for some reason I don’t think I can achieve my goals. Funny thing is I know if I put in the work I can get to where I want to be, but I don’t see others and think “I can do it too.” I’m working on shortening the amount of time I spend in my head with negative self talk so I can do more.

5. Confusion: Honestly, I don’t know where my career will take me. I know I enjoy writing and working with people. And I know I need a change from my current job. Im in the process of applying to grad school cause I can’t put all my eggs in one basket with blogging. More importantly, applying to school RN feels like the right move. But what will that mean for blogging? Will the direction of my blog change? How will I mesh it all with “my brand.” So many questions and only time will tell. For now, I’m going to focus on the present and trust that my brand, if I choose to build one, will evolve with me.

There you have it. I’m being honest AF. So here’s what you can expect:

1. About three blog posts a week and almost daily posts on IG. Focusing on all social media platforms wasn’t serving me well, so IG it is for now. And maybe the occasional snap chat.

Have you ever quit a passion that took you a couple years to muster up the courage to pursue? How did you avoid burnout and get back to it?

Would love to know,

Xoxo Pri

P.S: I am posting on here because my website is down and I am working with Bluehost to get it back up! However I will be cross-posting my blog posts on Medium as well as my blog 🙂

The Stigma of Mental Illness in the South Asian Community

It’s no secret there is a lot of stigma associated with mental illnesses and mental health in the Indian (and South Asian overall) community. I am usually all sunshine and rainbows, but it takes a lot of work for me to get there. Today’s post gives you an insight into some of that struggle.

Two years ago I woke up feeling different. I knew what it was, I had felt it sneaking up on me for months. As a healthcare professional, I had a hunch as to why I was having difficulty getting out of bed, lost all interests in my hobbies and woke up daily with raging thoughts and anxiety. I knew I needed help and fast. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Two years ago, I wanted my life to end, had no motivation, no ambitions and lost the love of my life to this illness.

I immediately went to see a doctor and came home with a bottle of antidepressants. I was alone and had a job and bills to take care of. I couldn’t afford to halt my life entirely, so I took the medication as a crutch to get me back on my feet. A friend came over to ask me about my appointment. As I sulked into a chair I said, “They gave me antidepressants.” “Don’t get depressed about being on antidepressants,” she joked.

And she asked: “Would you feel bad for taking medication if you had diabetes?” “No,” I said. “Then why do you feel bad for taking medication for anxiety and depression?” she replied. This analogy has stuck with me ever since. If some one had asked me a few years ago if I would ever consider taking antidepressants, I would have said “hell no.” I used to judge the individuals in my classes who performed poorly due to mental health issues. “Why can’t they just suck it up, I’ve been through some hard shit and I am fine,” I used to say to myself.

Me and Dr. Andrew Solomon, author of The Noon Day Demon

That was until it happened to me. Two years ago, my body gave up on me and it brought me to my knees. It wasn’t something a vitamin, deep breathing, Yoga, exercise or a pill of St. John’s Wart could fix. Two years ago, I had two friends who literally saved my life, a bottle of antidepressants, and a ton of faith to get me through.

The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality and your life.


As I was going through hell, all I needed and wanted was my mother. I was more terrified of telling my mother I was on antidepressants than I was of overcoming challenges of the illness. The shame and stigma associated with mental illness in the South Asian community is worse than the shame the disease makes you feel. I’ve heard my family and other members of the Indian community criticize Western medicine when it comes to mental health for years. It’s interesting to see that treatments for diabetes, heart disease and cancer don’t hold the same stigma. You can see it, right? But what does depression look like? I wish I could post a few pictures of myself from this time in my life; no one would ever know. I have deleted most of my pictures from that incredibly dark and trying time in my life, but below is a picture of myself and mental health activist and best-selling author, Andrew Solomon. I may look tired, but not depressed. But then again, what does depression look like?


I have yet to tell my mother, or anyone in my family about what I go through. My mother knew I was sad, but that was it. And I prefer it that way. Because sometimes, in the Indian community, it is so hard to get others to understand that attempting to get them to understand may hurt you more than it would help. I, along with many others, desperately wish this wasn’t the case.

Common phrases people throw at me include: “Just snap out of it.” “It’s all in your head, just think happy thoughts.” “You’re so young and successful, what could you possibly have to be depressed about?”

Well, I’m here to tell you that someone struggling from depression or any mental health issue cannot “Just snap out of.” And yes, “it is all in our head.” And the fact that we are young and successful only makes us feel WORSE that this disease is convincing us not be happy.

Depression is physical; it is chemical. It is “all in your head.” Because the chemical imbalance in your brain causes your body to ache, your sleep cycle to be ruined, and allows your thoughts to run wild and terrify you. You know it’s going to be okay, you know it’s anxiety trying to ruin your day, but it still affects you. It’s tiring, exhausting and so hard to remain hopeful. Oh, how a person suffering from depression wishes they could “just snap out of it.” That is why it is called an illness, condition, or disease.

You can’t just tell your pancreas to produce more insulin and you cannot just tell yourself to not feel depression. There is a huge difference between clinical depression and feeling sad.

And unfortunately, this gap is something the South Asian community is still ignorant about. This ignorance causes so many South Asians to suffer in silence. This ignorance makes it extremely difficult to get help. This ignorance is costing our community lives.

So I say proudly to my South Asian brothers and sisters: You are not weak because you are on medication. You have not failed your family, yourself or your community by reaching out for help. You are not alone in your struggle. You can and will overcome this. Today, two years after my initial breakdown from depression, anxiety and a heart-wrenching breakup, I live and work in an amazing city, have started this blog and am a Yoga teacher. To say I am living my dreams would be an understatement. I am rebuilding my dreams, one step at a time. I survived depression, a break up and successfully battle anxiety every day to live a life I am proud of.

And yes, I am still on a small dose of antidepressants daily. And no, I am not ashamed of it. And no, it doesn’t discredit my strength in any way.

Please reach out for help. And don’t feel bad about it. Your future self will thank you. I promise.

A few resources:

Andrew Solomon is a leading mental health activist and best-selling author, his book, The Noonday Demon, really helped me understand and fight through depression.

Famous Bollywood actress, Deepika Padukone is a depression survivor and mental health activist for the Indian community. Check out her interview here.

The following Ted Talks are very informative and provided me with a lot of hope during some dark times.

Therese Borchard, is a leading mental health activist in the U.S. Her blog is an amazing resource for all things mental health.

Here is an article by Dr. Jyothsana S. Bhat on the taboo of mental illnesses in the South Asian American Community.