SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2015 Personal Memory Ethnographies
A Hindu Report from the Borderland of Mexico & India
In 2003, I was fourteen years old, my family and I relocated from East Los Angeles to Pico Rivera in California. We rented a small back house that was owned by my neighbors. On move in day I was able to meet my neighbors. Their youngest child Gail was thirteen, and spoke limited English. It was the beginning of summer and we began to spend a lot of time together. Gail shared that she had moved here from India a year ago. She was the first person I noticed that was of different ethnicity than I.
Gail: My parents put an ad in a newspaper called, Pennysaver offering rent out our small back house. A few days later my parents told me a Mexican family would be moving in. On move-in day I met Griselda, her mother and siblings. I often wondered where her father was, but I didn’t dare ask this question for many years. Soon, we began to spend a lot of time together. She was the first Mexican I befriended. My parents were strict on who I could befriend, but Griselda was my neighbor. I had been in the U.S. for nine months when I met Griselda. I didn’t speak very much English, and couldn’t make friends at my middle school. Griselda didn’t mind my English, ethnicity or culture.
I noticed the clothes she wore were different than mine. She wore long shirts with pants made from a material that looked like silk. My mother would make Mexican food and I would invite Gail over so she could try some. She couldn’t eat meat because of her religion so we always made her a separate plate. I remember thinking that it was odd that she did not eat meat. She invited me over for dinner one day and her food had many yummy veggies and spices. She introduced me to Indian rap and I showed her Spanish music. We would play Chinese jump rope for hours until our moms called us back to our homes.
Gail taught me Indian words and I taught her Spanish words. At her house she had framed pictures of different men, and later explained that they were gods. Gail was Hindu and believed in twelve gods. She attended temple regularly and she said once she was eighteen she would be married off. Her father would arrange her and her brother’s marriage. Whenever her brothers were to marry they would inherit land owned by her parents. When Gail would marry her parents were to give the groom a large amount of money.
Gail invited me to an event at the convention center in Los Angeles. When we arrived I realized it was a Hindu convention, and I was the only one wearing jeans. All the women wore beautiful clothes named, “sari”. The stares quickly caught my attention and I began to feel out of place. However, Gail looked beautiful in her sari, and I remember pondering if I had only borrowed an outfit from her I wouldn’t have felt out of place. Gail never made me aware that we were attending a Hindu convention, and that wearing jeans was frowned upon. It was at that moment that I fathomed another culture.
At this event, there must have been several thousands of people walking the streets of downtown Los Angeles. When we arrived at the convention center I saw many people dancing without their shoes. People who weren’t part of the event stared, and stood near the edges to enjoy the dances. Today, I realize it was a festivity hypnotic-like ritual that went on for hours. I remember the loud heavy music, and screaming. I remember asking Gail about them. She explained that it was ancient Hindu prayers. They played Indian songs and walked miles with posters of their gods. The songs were coming from large speakers being carried by trucks. The speakers were screaming, “listen to me”, and I did but I couldn’t understand. The loud heavy music reminded me of the environment I was in, and what I was doing for my dear friend. It was the first time I had met other people of Indian descent. I had lived in the heart of L.A. for many years and I was oblivious to other ethnic groups. It was not until Gail’s friendship that I experienced a culture shock, and I am thankful she educated me.
Gail: We had a convention center event to celebrate Hinduism, and I begged my mother to let me bring Griselda. When we arrived Griselda was worried because she was dressed different from everyone else, but it was okay. She told me she felt out of place, but I told her this event would only last a few hours. We were hungry, and all they had was Indian food. Griselda had tried our food before, but never had a full dish. She loved the food, and even asked for more.
My mother told me when I returned from the event that it wasn’t right that I spent so much time with Griselda. Women had a voice in this country, but not in my culture. I was becoming “Americanized” and my parents disapproved. My mother said that Griselda was not Indian, and that I was to be married in a few years. My parents wanted me to spend more time with my family. I believe they were scared I would be discriminated against because I looked Muslim. I remember my mother telling me that after the 911 attacks their store in Los Angeles was vandalized, but I was in India when it occurred.
After a few months, Griselda was sent to live with her grandmother. My family was strict, and I couldn’t befriend people from other ethnic groups. When I was sixteen, family issues occurred and I was sent to foster care. I stayed in foster care until I was eighteen, and I had a baby with a Mexican man. My friendship with Griselda had made me open towards other ethnic groups.
I remember Griselda’s mother being liberal, and trying to help my mother escape abuse but my family reinforced gender inequality. In 2008, we had walkouts at our high school to support immigration rights and equality. Griselda and I decided to walk out and march with many other students. When I arrived home my parents punished me and her mother got an eviction notice.
In 2012, I received a Facebook message from my dear friend Gail. I began to cry as I read the message because it had been many years since I'd heard from her. Our parents had ended on really bad terms, and we weren’t allowed to speak to each other. In the message she gave me her cell phone number. The next day I drove to the city of Pico Rivera where we grew up to visit her. She lived near her parents’ house, but shared with me that she hadn’t spoken to her father in eight years.
As soon as I saw Gail I remembered the convention center event, because that day I learned so much about her culture identity. Her father wanted to continue their culture in America, but Gail believed that being an American meant adjusting to the “American dream”. This event has remained significant in my life throughout the years, because it is the only time I have been exposed to a large different ethnic group. I may well have been the only Hispanic at this event. The event was a celebration of Hinduism, but at the same time a break from oppression against woman and cultural norms.
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