Earlier this month, the Hindu Student Council held its annual Garba celebration. Over 500 people attended the colorful event. What is Garba you ask? To put it in the simplest terms, it is a form of dance that originated in the state of Gujarat in India. In this dance, people form circles and clap to a beat.
To be very frank, although my parents and ancestors hail from Gujarat, I have never actually liked doing Garba, but I realize it is not about the dance alone. It is much more than that. It is about retaining something that is more important than just a few moves. It is about holding onto something that will outlast you and is ultimately greater than any individual person. That “something” is your heritage.
If you are like a large portion of Stony Brook Students, you, your parents or grandparents were born in another country and immigrated to the United States for either more opportunities, or maybe even a single opportunity. No mater how hard you try to remain loyal to the country you hail from, it will become increasing difficult to keep yourself in touch with all of its traditions and customs. You will slowly but surely assimilate into American culture, and by no means is that a bad thing.
I, for one, am a first-generation American. My parents immigrated to the United States from India long before I was born. So, by the time that I was born, my parents had essentially become Americans. They wear American clothes, speak English in the house and at work, and even adopted American versions of their Indian names. My older sister, who, like me, was born in the States, was completely immersed in American traditions by the time I was born. What I admire about my family is that we are just as American as we are Indian. There is certain value in retaining traditions. That is retaining your individuality.
Too many times, I meet people who say that they are, for example, a quarter Irish, half Italian and a quarter Chinese. I then ask them what parts of those rich cultures they keep in touch with. More often than not, they respond honestly and admit that they “do not identify with any of these cultures.” I guess you can call these people mutts, but nonetheless, I cannot help but feel bad for them. I cannot imagine living a life not knowing where I come from. There is some type of solace in knowing that you come from a long line of culture.
In some cases, people are lucky enough to be part of two races and thus, have had experience with multiple cultures. They have parents of different backgrounds. They celebrate the holidays and carry out the traditions of both. There is nothing more beautiful than that. You might think traditions like Garba, opening Christmas presents, lighting the Menorah and fasting during Eid may be superfluous, but their purpose is something greater. They are meant to be a force by which families, and people in general, stick together.