Being raised in a traditional Indian family, we were not really encouraged to advocate for ourselves, especially if any prevailing injustice or infraction revolved around a sacred tradition. Generally, it was considered uncouth and ill-mannered for a spritely young Indian girl to advocate for herself. And in short form, inevitably, one would be held in contempt of court if caught questioning the patriarchy about a seemingly incomprehensible cultural idiosyncrasy. It just wasn’t done.
The running protocol for us girls was one of subservience and tolerance. We were to do just as our mothers and grandmothers did, just as their mothers and grandmothers did before them.
Always comply, just concur. There was little permission or propensity for opinion or objection.
I loved my parents. I also loved my burly, boisterous ‘auntie-ji’s’ whose designated duties involved keeping us on the straight and narrow…. but it was rather frustrating having to contend (and not contest) inexplicable codes and covenants from high above. Since not only did they not align intuitively, but they also seemed quite out of lock step with one’s own read of the world. The establishment transcended every part of our lives. I distinctly remember being told that “a career in the medical professional was not conducive to family life.” Nonetheless, it was only when I was well into my twenties that I actually started to rebuff and reject any kind of senseless statute.
How things have changed. How things are changing. How things have taken so long to change. Irrespective of political allegiances, one needs to acknowledge the history that was made on the day of the inauguration, and the importance of having a bi-racial daughter of immigrants serve as one of the most visible powers in the world. For many little girls of color around the world this is now their norm. Which means that there is now one less layer of insecurity to shed pursuing in pursuit of their own big dreams.
Watching Vice President Kamala Harris being sworn in affirmed a deep-seated intuitive will in myself to want to stand up and advocate. In my wildest dreams, I would have never expected a part Indian woman to be part of the American administration. How “Indian” she really is, is irrelevant – the point is, she made it. She is a living manifestation of the dreams we dreamt but never shared, the empowered voices we heard but never voiced, the inner confidence we brewed but never manifested.
She. Made. It.
I hope VP Harris’s nomination inspires many a young Indian and African American girl to go against the grain of repressive protocols (cultural, social, familial) in the pursuit of audacious inspired dreams. I hope those demanding careers that are ‘family unfriendly’ are strongly sought after. I hope to hear the deafening sound of shattering glass as gallant young girls of color elbow their way through the engineering ranks.
My Indian girlfriends, my peers, and I made it. We are all fairly successful in our own respective ways, but it wasn’t without war wounds. I remember my mom saying to me, several times, “you have to work harder than the person next to you, never forget the color of your skin.” She was right. Being good wasn’t ever good enough, we needed to be exceptional, to stand out, head and shoulders above the rest – that was our conditioned baseline.
One of my white girlfriends recently shared with me that when she thinks of successful Indian women today, she considers them to be strong, stoic and smart, and for the most part they are, but we’ve battled our way there – through the battleground of bigotry, through the strife of sexism, and through the tussles of tired traditions.
We aspire to our role models. All the time. No matter our age. We peg them at great heights and every now and again remember to look up, when we need to fuel our fervor. I can still read an article or book about or by Jane Goodall and that alone will be enough to recenter my raison d’etre. She was one who broke the mold, and with no formal training in science, began studying chimps.
It’s no different for kids. And Kamala is some kid’s Jane Goodall now.
At San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum, we embrace inspiration and we love the inspired. We hold space for the originals, the future change agents in the world. It is because of this that we believe our space should be one that promotes curiosity, creativity, and exploration – where kids can be themselves and discover their passions and interests. We also believe that every child should have an opportunity to learn and grow in this type of dynamic learning environment. At the heart of all that we do, lies our Access for All initiative which seeks to make the Museum accessible to all children, regardless of any financial or physical barriers to visitation and participation.. Our hope is that all children who come through our doors, leave knowing that they are valued, and that they have unlimited potential to leave their own indelible marks on the world.
Between the conventionalists and the iconoclasts, we recognize the influencers who audaciously paved the way for change. Those that have sacrificed much for equality, liberty, and justice. It is these role models, in all the various fields, the bold and ballsy, that continue to inspire the little ones, plant seeds of dreams, and infuse their young minds with big ideas. And most importantly of all, we learn from these icons, that our power lies in upholding our dreams as premonitions of the possible.
For now it’s the momentum that matters. As Amanda Gorman so eloquently said on Inauguration Day, while reciting her poem, “The Hill We Climb”:
When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Be the representation you want to see in the world (instead of waiting and hoping for someone else to be it.)