Namaskar Y'all - 2017


Red, Blue and White

By Shyma Parui

Stars and stripes, red, white, and blue! These colors and patterns have come to represent not only the American flag but also summer, barbecues and holidays. Recently, I came across an article in Time magazine that noted how the popularity of the American flag is not limited to Flag Day or Independence Day but lasts all year. I guess we will continue to see the flag on a wide range of merchandise ranging from swimsuits to paper plates. Do we stop to think about the flag's significance and what it stands for?

Personally, I think it means so much more than a static symbol of a nation. It reflects the love and respect you have for your country. For that reason, images of the flag do not, in my opinion, belong on flip flops or disposable plates. Similarly, I would not appreciate pictures of Ganesh on shower curtains or candy wrappers as it has religious significance and is revered by many.

Just as we display our affections differently towards our loved ones, how we demonstrate love towards our country varies. Yet, as immigrants our loyalty comes under close scrutiny by both the country of our birth, as well as the country we have willingly adopted. Somehow, my dual identity as a Non-Resident Indian (NRI) and a naturalized American, is fodder for creative paranoia and unimaginative punch lines. Ignoring people's strange fears and lame jokes, I embrace my Indian heritage as well as my American citizenship with equal gusto. The words of Jana Gana Mana and Vande Mataram are still etched in my mind, and my heart swells with pride, when I hear the Star-Spangled Banner.

My journey has been like the transition from my Baaper Baari, the home of my father, where I grew up, to my Shoshur Baari, the home of my in-laws, where I moved after marriage. My childhood home will always be cherished with fond memories and I will always be grateful for it made me who I am as a person.

In India's traditionally patriarchal culture, a woman's parents' home is considered temporary and the in-laws home is the one that is considered permanent. When the young bride steps into marriage, she changes her address, her gotra, her last name and in some cases even her first name. Her previous identity dissolves like a spoonful of sugar in water and she becomes a part of her new world.

We feel fortunate to have two places we can call home, to have the ability to assimilate and yet stand out. I am also glad that my children have inherited a sense of belonging that does not end with the town's borders. Nevertheless, the dual identity of an immigrant is not without its drawbacks.

I am always a little different, one who cannot neatly fit into a box. I take pride in my heritage but earlier this year, I wondered if it was my Achilles' heel. The cautious and protective part of my brain made me question if we should be afraid to celebrate Holi. Would our playful, color smearing, make us appear scary or turn us into targets of unjustified anger? Fortunately, the optimistic and bolder cerebral functions took over and we celebrated my family's favorite festival without fear.

Another example comes to mind. A few years ago, we were attending Charlotte's St. Patrick's Day parade and out of the blue, a man looked in our direction and yelled out, “Hello foreigners!" Those two words stung like a thousand bees. What infuriated me was the irony of the situation – the city was commemorating an Irish holiday and a man dressed in a green, alien-like costume had the nerve to call us foreigners! I muttered an expletive under my breath trying to shield my children from bad language but I could not undo what was said. Even though my children are North Carolina natives, they may not be perceived as such.

Fortunately, such incidents have been rare. There will always be an aunt related to your spouse, who dislikes you or the cousin with a mean streak, but for the most part you accept the relatives you acquire by marriage, because the majority of them are good at heart.

So, what makes me patriotic? It isn't a list of specific things, but the overall experience that I love. In Spring, my family visited a popular water park and amid the fun and frolic, we noticed that there were visitors from around the world. While we were standing in one of the many lines, I noticed a horrified look on my 11- year old's face. No, there was no alligator in the pool but several women were wearing … what shall I say? Let's just say their choice of swimwear made my children ask if it was even considered appropriate in public. And right next to them, was a woman wearing a burkini.

My husband and I had an interesting conversation with the children, as we talked about having different ideas about what is appropriate and what is acceptable for our family. Despite their striking contrasts, neither groups of women were made to feel uncomfortable for their choice of swimwear. That was a clear example of having the freedom to express your choices. A freedom that I value and is not available in all countries. A small but precious feature that creates an environment for you to thrive in.

At the end of the day, patriotism goes way beyond a day off, wearing flag colors, and attending parties and parades. If you truly love your country, you will try to understand and exemplify her core values. Both India and America had to fight to gain independence and emerged as strong, if not perfect democracies. Today, there may a kind of inertia as there is no apparent threat to the common freedoms that we have come to rightfully expect. It may mislead us into a sense of entitlement or perhaps stagnation but we all play a part in nurturing the land we live on. After all, we reap what we sow.

Happy 4th of July!!