Faith Finding Fulfillment Reflections

Why Celebrating Cultural Identity Shows Self-Love

Celebrating one’s cultural identity reflects confidence and pride in who you are.


This post is part of blogger Brita Long’s Love Blog Challenge, a linkup series focused on addressing various aspects of love. Today’s prompt is about Reflection.

I have always considered myself the most Indian American I know and the most American Indian I know. Growing up, wearing a bindi, the traditional forehead marking worn by Hindus, to school everyday certainly set me apart from the rest.

People would ask me if it was “real”, a question which, to this day, I still don’t understand. Did it mean I was married? Was it tattooed on at birth or drilled into my head? No. The only thing that had been drilled into my head as a child was the robotic response my parents had programmed into me: “It is a religious custom worn by women to show that they are Hindu.” At six years old, I didn’t even fully understand my own response.

Then in middle school, I finally begged my parents to let me remove it, but my mom insisted I wear it to show my identity. By the time I reached high school and college, I was proud to be wearing it. Some of the girls thought it was just another form of makeup, a decoration, and some of the guys just thought it was exotic. Ultimately, I had been wearing it for so long that I felt naked without it.

Know thyself

The bindi is just one of the most visible examples of how I’ve celebrated my Indian and Hindu identity over the years, but I also continue traditions through the practice of my faith, cooking and eating traditional foods, performing ancient Indian classical dance and music, and surrounding myself with peers who value the same balance of cultures that I do.  I’ve realized that celebrating one’s cultural identity and heritage need not make you stuck up or backwards when practiced alongside tolerance and understanding; instead it can be demonstration of confidence and self-love. I am grateful to be living in America which has opened its arms to people of all nations and ethnic backgrounds and ways of life. I believe in awareness, tolerance, and acceptance.But in our efforts to blend in and create unity, we should also be mindful not to lose the rich traditions of our ancestors, whose values, beliefs and customs made us who we are today. My culture and faith instilled in me a strong set of values, but thanks to my parents’ guidance, my education and exposure to people from other walks of life, I was able to balance, what I believe, is the best of both worlds.

Now, while I may be confident and proud of who I am, celebrating my heritage and balancing two worlds still has different challenges into adulthood.

Working Twice As Hard

As a Hindu Tam Brahm now married to a Malayalee Catholic, I’m now working twice as hard to retain the culture and traditions that both of our parents so diligently worked to preserve when they left behind everything they knew in India and took a chance coming to this country.

I’ve always felt a strong tie to my roots because over the last 30 years, my parents recreated here in the U.S. the cultural milieu they would have experienced back home, and I’m thankful they did. I enjoy participating in (most) of these traditions, and the love for the Indian arts — music and dance, which are considered offerings to Gods themselves—  they instilled in me have been one of the greatest gifts I’ve accepted. I know my in-laws have done the same for my husband and his brothers, and he feels the same way. So now, after having gotten married and knowing that my husband and I will have to split our time in passing on whatever we have grasped of each of our two traditions to the next generation, I’m making extra effort to observe the holidays from both sides, even if that means waking up at 6:30 to attend Mass before my husband had to go to work last Easter, or scrambling the Friday evening before to put together manga pachadi with whatever ingredients I could find to ensure an auspicious Puthandu celebration.

The extra effort is necessary for three reasons:

One is that among my generation, there is less interest in following formal, organized religion, and increasingly people are identifying themselves as atheist. I can certainly understand and appreciate the reasons for why this is, and I have no problem with that: each person is entitled to believe or not believe as he or she chooses. However, since my husband and I have grown up in families where faith has played a huge, positive influence, I would love for my future kids to have some sense of faith if I can help it. I want to give them the opportunity to experience the same traditions that I did, feel a similar connection to a higher power and reap the benefits that religion has to offer. I recognize much of this is not in my control since each person has to make his/her own decisions about faith and spirituality, but if it worked the way my parents instilled these feelings in me, then maybe I can try a similar approach.

Two, as a woman, from what I have observed in Indian homes at least, we are keepers of culture and tradition and are responsible for passing it on. That’s not to say the men are not involved; from my experience, they are typically responsible for transmitting teachings from the scriptures and providing moral guidance. Yet for the day-to-day rituals and customs, it’s going to be my task to get the kids to church and initiate the pujas at home. Some might say these rituals are not actually meaningful, and I agree these activities themselves may not bear any significance. But they are important because they provide focus. I learned that from a swamiji who once visited our home in Gainesville. At the time, I was in high school— rebellious, cynical, and not happy about sitting through a spiritual discourse for an hour instead of being out with my friends. However, once he started talking I admired his modern and relatable approach and was glad I stuck around. His words made me reconsider what I had, until that point, thought were arbitrary rituals.

“Why do we do puja? Why do we say put the flower here, light the deepam like this, ring the bell? It’s not because it actually matters when or where you put the flower. It’s to give your hands something to do and to keep your mind on God. Otherwise, your mind would wander.” It’s probably also why I have now found yoga so helpful in finding peace and calmness in the middle of a stressful work week. There is so much to focus on during yoga– where you put your hands, the position of your feet, which muscles to tighten, and even the seemingly simple task of breathing— that it doesn’t leave space in your mind for much else.

Life gets busy, so even though the rituals don’t matter, they are tools to help us get focused. That’s where women, who get their husbands and kids involved in the rituals, play a pivotal role.

Finally, since we are an interfaith household, we have to work to impart not one but two traditions. This now means researching a little more so I can understand and explain the significance of some customs— previously not necessary— and observing some festivals even within my own religion that I previously would not have formally recognized.

But I don’t mind.

I said it at our betrothal and I’ll say it again: I consider having the strength of two faiths on our side a blessing itself. As Jis joked to me the other day, it also means, “we have something to celebrate year-round because there’s always something going on.”



This post is part of blogger Brita Long’s Love Blog Challenge, a linkup series focused on addressing various aspects of love. Today’s prompt is about Reflection.


Brita Long is the pink and sparkly personality behind the Christian feminist lifestyle blog, Belle Brita. While her first love will always be Paris, she lives happily with her husband Daniel Fleck in the Atlanta area.

Follow her on Twitter or Instagram. 

My co-host for today 

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Alessia is a lifestyle blogger, entrepreneur and post-graduate student in History from the best borough in London, up and coming Croydon. She’s a bit like Emma Woodhouse (Pemberley Digital version) and just about no longer the most eligible Catholic bachelorette, as she has found her Mr Knightley in sunny Derbyshire.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for more on her musings about life as an entrepreneur, as a single city-dweller. 

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