gujarati

THE MORE TRUMP AND HIS SUPPORTERS REJECT & HARM DIVERSITY, THE MORE MANY OF US WILL EMBRACE & ADVOCATE FOR IT.

MY CONTRIBUTION OF THE DAY: A PROCLAMATION TO PUSH THE BOUNDARIES OF WHAT IS SEEN AS DIVERSE IN YA FICTION.

DEAR YA FICTION, NOT ALL DIVERSE TEENS CELEBRATE THEIR CULTURE(S) 

By: Sonia Patel

In June, my husband and I took our two half Filipino-half Indian teenagers and their three half Filipino-half white cousins to a Little Simz concert in Chicago. Little Simz, a black rapper from England, delivered nothing less than powerful, feminist bars. Her inspiring lyrics seemed to light up Lincoln Hall’s dimness and hypnotize the eager crowd. My family and I head nodded, deep in the zone. And when Little Simz spit the words “the Philippines” in a hook, our kids, nephews, and niece exploded with pride, their fists thumping their chests then pumping high over their heads. I stood behind pressing my hand on my heart and smiling, overcome with a mix of awe and happiness for them. But then a thin layer of sweat formed on the small of my back. I peeled my shirt as guilt and grief took turns trying to tug the corners of my lips down. 

Why can’t you be that proud of being Indian?

You know why.

Sure, but it’s not like you’ve ever been starving or had acid thrown on your face so get over yourself.

But things were bad in a different way.

I don’t celebrate my Indian culture. I never have. I don’t know how to because I was raised around it, not in it. Growing up, it was as if I was an outsider sitting in a dark theater watching our Indian relatives and family friends on the big screen like a Bollywood film. I studied the intricacies of my mom and grandmother’s daily Hindu worship of Thakorji. I noticed the way my mom lent a helpful ear and hand to everyone, despite some of her in-laws putting her down. I plopped down on the sofa next to my mom when she was engrossed in one of her pirated Indian movies depicting perfect, loving families. I was fascinated by the beautiful, intricate saris and gold and diamond jewelry Indian ladies wore to weddings and garba...the delicious, complicated food my mom and aunties made......the emphasis on hard work and education...the sacrifice to help my generation make it in America….

Still I didn’t feel Indian. I felt worthless. What no one knew was that at home, my family’s way of life, our secret culture, was that of isolation, conflict, and abuse. 

Now as an adult I recognize the elements of patriarchy, misogyny, and intolerance long present on one side of our extended Gujju network but the culture of dysfunction (COD) at home was its own terrible beast. Simply put, my dad was a charming tyrant. My role was his wife. My mom was his servant. My mom and I existed, voiceless, to accomodate my dad in every way. 

Instead of getting a shot at normal teen emotional development, I was in a perpetual state of anxiety to keep the peace at home, and then in my future relationships, even if that meant making poor decisions. Instead of having the opportunity to build my separate identity and self-worth, I learned that my only value was in pleasing my dad, and then men like him who similarly lavished me with attention in exchange for my emotional and/or sexual usefulness. And instead of developing skills to maintain healthy, nuanced peer relationships, especially with girls, I didn’t trust anyone.

Looking back I’ve come to understand that my family’s COD trumped any protective effects of my Indian background. Why? Because the COD was the lens through which I saw everything Indian. And since there wasn’t a single day of my youth that I experienced my Indian-ness independent of the COD, the two became inextricably linked for me. Being Indian was foreign to me yet I equated it with pain. 

I’m not alone. Many of the diverse teens I treat who live in COD don’t have strong connections to their birth culture(s) either. Let’s face it—COD is universal. In my office, when these teens reveal their agonizing stories of abuse, neglect, parental drug use, parental mental illness, and/or other severe adverse childhood experiences, their mental suffering is similar regardless of their backgrounds. It’s true that they may manifest some culturally specific variations in symptoms, but there are undeniable commonalities in their negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. That and the medically proven trauma-induced brain changes are the same. 

In order for youth to survive traumatic experiences that are out of their control, dysfunction can become hardwired in their developing brains. They can become stuck in survivor mode as COD clouds their vision and becomes the blueprint for future relationships, leaving them prone to an endless cycle of repeating and recreating what they’ve endured at home with others. This is largely why the buffering effects of their birth culture(s), such as positive relationships with extended family members or participation in traditional activities and religious practices, can remain out of reach.

It’s crucial to understand that these diverse teens are often alienated from their backgrounds because they never experience it apart from their COD. They are shoved onto different playing fields of development far apart from teens being reared in healthy families where culture isn’t shrouded in toxicity. So to expect all teens, particularly those from cultures stereotyped as nerdy and family-oriented immigrants, to rise above their struggles is unrealistic. More likely these vulnerable teens living in COD may have extreme difficulty making friends. Or, they may choose another family of  “bad kids.” They may not be able to set limits with people. They may engage in repeated risky, quick feel-good behaviors (sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.) not condoned by their birth culture(s).

Let’s take fifteen-year-old Kaya (not her real name), a part Native Hawaiian-Filipino-Japanese girl who I began treating recently. She wants to feel connected to her family’s blended way of life but can’t. She’s spent her youth battling recurrent negative thoughts, flashbacks, depression, suicidal thoughts, and worthlessness. Our talk therapy to this point has given her insight into why her neural circuitry hardwired with depression and anxiety—it allowed her to survive the abuse. Her symptoms told her that the abuse was her fault, thus giving her a sense of control in a situation that’s been totally out of her control. It’s my fault. I’m bad. I deserve it. Why else would the people who say they love me the most hurt me the most? Why else would the people who’ve taught me cultural values of family, respect, and honor treat me and each other like this? She wants to feel pride when her family participates in Native Hawaiian activism but ends up feeling disgust. Her profound emotional burdens have denied her the mental free time to be a “regular teen.” She hasn’t dreamt about her future or romance or hobbies or college or achievement or the next party. She can’t help but feel like an imposter at family gatherings and traditional ceremonies. She hasn’t had a fair chance to form strong female friendships. She hasn’t been able to set limits with boys—she’s allowed them to push her around and she hasn’t been able to say no to sex like she wants to. She also hasn’t been able to come out as lesbian though she identifies as one.

This brings me to YA fiction. Obviously teens read for different reasons. Some of my diverse teen patients enjoy escaping the hardships of their lives by immersing themselves in YA fantasy, dystopia, or paranormal. Some are drawn to YA romance. There are some, however, who seek to find themselves in books. But diverse teens being raised in COD have a difficult, if not impossible, time finding themselves in existing YA fiction. At this time most of it celebrates different cultures. Most of it includes at least one functional parent who protects against the occurrence of COD and therefore makes it possible for the birth culture(s) to be appreciated. 

Kaya hasn’t found herself represented. How can she when COD has prevented her from experiencing her birth cultures without bias? How can she when she feels distant and, at the same time, repulsed by her birth cultures?

When I was Kaya’s age, I couldn’t find any Indian or Indian-American YA novels. There are some these days but I can’t relate to any of them. That’s one of the reasons I wrote Rani Patel In Full Effect. It’s why I decided to keep writing (Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story, Bloody Seoul, and a fourth YA novel in the works). 

Teens living in the complex dynamics of COD may not be able to see themselves in diverse YA fiction, including realistic bestsellers, that happen to be by or about people of their same background. To think otherwise—from my point of view as a child and adolescent psychiatrist in the trenches with vulnerable teens—is short-sighted, minimizing, and insulting to those in the midst of survival and in the most need of empathy from sources outside of the family. 

YA fiction needs to expand its boundaries beyond safe, popular stories that affirm and praise different cultures. It needs to push past the expectation that all diverse teens can conquer adversity in a tolerable way. It needs to depict the ugliness of when COD hijacks birth culture. It needs to represent the unpalatable perspectives of teens who don’t have the luxury of enjoying their cultures and working through typical teen concerns. It needs to embrace painful reality, not just what’s convenient. It needs to champion these types of troubling diverse stories the way it does those stories that make people feel comfortable, content, and less guilty. Afterall, the Kayas of the world are worth it even if they themselves can’t feel worth it yet. 

 



IF DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES HEAL, MAYBE WOMEN-HATING LEADERS WILL GET LESS VOTES.

Modi was just re-elected as prime minister of India and Trump might be re-elected as president of the United States of America, things that make many of us shudder. I try my best to be open-minded but I can’t help but wonder why some of my brown-skinned Gujarati-Indian relatives are pro-Modi and/or pro-Trump. It’s shocking to me, but mostly sad. Especially when the relatives are women.

We’ve all heard about the hate of women that goes on behind the closed doors of some everyday families. Families where husbands beat wives. Families where uncles rape nieces. Families where daughters are sex trafficked. Families where sons take part in honor killings of their women relatives.

And as leaders of two big democracies, Modi and Trump don’t do much to end the hate of women. In fact they often perpetuate it in their lack of support for women’s issues and their bold declarations…

Trump: "If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”

Modi: At an election rally in Himachal Pradesh, said about Sunanda Pushkar (wife of politician Shashi Tharoor), “Have you ever seen a Rs 50-crore girlfriend?”

So do the leaders of other countries…

Bolsonaro: He said this about a fellow lawmaker in congress. “She’s not my type. I would never rape her. I’m not a rapist, but if I were, I wouldn’t rape her because she doesn’t deserve it.”

Kim Jong-Un’s government: The North called former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the country’s first female leader, a prostitute.

Duterte: “They said there are many rape cases in Davao. As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases.”

When misogyny is proclaimed and acted upon as truth by powerful male leaders, it hurts women by making them worthless objects instead of worthy humans. The effect is the same when misogyny is proclaimed and acted upon by any man—a husband, father, son, uncle, etc. The very nature of oppression can make women more likely to have blind faith in cruel leaders and men in general. Maybe that’s why some of my women relatives are pro-Modi and/or pro-Trump.

I remember the misogyny proclaimed and acted upon as truth in my Gujarati-Indian family of origin—husband/father is god. A euphemism for wife is servant, daughter is wife. Years of this crushed my mother’s soul. It left me hating myself and needing men to validate my existence. To survive we had to accept and recreate the object status give to us by “god”—have blind faith in a the husband/father.

Thankfully, my mother and I broke away from our traumatic past. But the scars will never disappear. That’s why I’m passionate about helping others heal through individual and family therapy. That and I’m dedicated to writing realistic young adult novels that depict the ramifications of misogyny on adolescent development.

Thinking out loud about the big picture, perhaps part of what can help change the existing cruel, misogynistic leadership plaguing our world is to start small scale: one vulnerable family at a time, change the dynamics of dysfunctional families from all walks of life. This is obviously complicated and would require multiple levels of resources, but it may just be the paradigm shift that is needed. I don’t have all the answers but imagine if abusive husbands learn and want to treat wives like the equals that they are. Or imagine if all fathers treat daughters with respect and teach sons by being good role models and all mothers had the privilege to teach daughters to use their voices and teach sons how to treat women. Imagine if there were no women who hated themselves or their situations. If that happened in every family, perhaps generational misogyny would end. Then, who would vote for Trump? Or Modi? Or any misogynistic bully?

At the end of the day, if we don’t help families heal when possible, then aren’t we allowing husbands in those families to play god? Aren’t we allowing Modi and Trump to each play the god of gods?


YUP, RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT IS FEMINIST AF.

I’m passionate about providing psychiatric treatment to diverse teens who are struggling through various hardships. Along the way, these teens make poor choices in relationships and in self-care because that’s how real life often plays out when youth are raised in chaos. It’s important to me that their imperfect journeys aren’t dismissed. That’s why I’m also dedicated to translating their struggles into realistic young adult fiction that isn’t written to please but rather to expand narrow-minded views of mental health issues and diverse life experiences.

Real life isn’t perfect prose. Real life isn’t a perfect plot. Real life isn’t a perfect, happy ending. Real life can be brutal, scattered, mistake-filled, and beautiful. And when these real-life teens embrace their worth and learn to use their voice, they are fierce. They are feminist AF. Like my teen patients. Like Rani.

This School Library Journal blog post lists amazing, diverse feminist YA books. I’m delighted that RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT is on it!

Click on this link:

Feminist AF: Feminist YA That Does Not Disappoint, A Guest Post by Mary Ellis

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RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT: WHY DID RANI GET THE SAME LAST NAME AS ME?

Why Patel?

I bet you know a Patel.  Patels are everywhere.  Literally.   The Patel diaspora from India is such that there are over 500,000 of them living in countries outside of India (1).  In the United States alone, there are over 145,066 Patels and according to the 2000 U.S. census, the surname ranks 174th on the list of most common surnames in the country (2). And they’re not all related.  

 Most Patels are from the Indian state of Gujarat.  Their is some debate over the exact origin of the Patel surname, but it’s likely the term Patel first referred to village leaders and/or a caste of landowners or farmers in Gujarat.  Nowadays, Patels are involved in many types of professional occupations ranging from doctors to lawyers to engineers, though they are most often associated with small business trades, particularly motels and franchises.

Patels immigrate to America for the many of the same reasons as people from other countries.   

For economic opportunities.  For educational opportunities for their children.  For a better life.  My parents were no exception- they immigrated in the early 70’s seeking the American dream.  

If you know a Patel,  it’s probable that you know someone who is hardworking, independent, bent on accumulating wealth, and driven to help their children find educational success.  Whether it’s the Patel motel owner.  The Patel husband and wife 7-11 owners whose tireless dedication to the business allows their two children the opportunities to become Dr. Patel and a Patel engineer.  Steve Zwick gives an interesting account of Patels on Devon Avenue in Chicago, highlighting their roots in Gujarat and their reasons for immigration to the United States (3).  These stories abound, and I’ve been witness to my fair share growing up as a first person on both sides of my family to be born in America.  Stories about the financial triumphs of friends of my parents. Stories of amazing academic achievement of the children of immediate and extended family members.  Stories of the prosperity of unrelated Patels that spread in family gossip like the colored powder on Holi.  

Patels often pay a price when they permanently move away from Gujarat.  The price could be working two jobs with no days to rest.  The price could be difficulty with adjusting to the American culture and language.  It could be discrimination.  The list is long, and not unique to Patel immigrants.  

But, there is something missing from the Patel immigrant story.  Something that casts a long, dark shadow.  Something that I fear many Patels, including myself, haven’t been able to name.  Something we don’t handle because we are so thankful to live in the land of opportunity.  It’s something that crept into the suitcases of our parents as they boarded the Air India flight from Mumbai to London to New York City.  Something that was easily caged or hidden in the cultural confines of Gujarat, where the close knit homogenous social network allowed for good of the whole and the good of the individual.  But, once out of this cultural safety net, the something started it’s slow sabotage.   And some Patels suffered.  Like fish out of water.

I’m sure many Patel immigrants escaped unscathed, and achieved the American dream shielding themselves from the explosive mixture of old and new.  But this wasn’t the experience for a number of the Patels I’ve known.  For although they may have secured some financial stability and perhaps even amassed great wealth, their most intimate relationships broke.   Couples.  Parents and children.  Adult siblings.   From the outside, no one could see the damage, because there might not have been divorce or CPS involvement.  No actual splitting of families.

But I’ve seen the collateral damage.  The problem is that Patels don’t talk about it.  Even as they whisper about rumors in the Patel community or chitchat over chai no one speaks of the long term emotional ramifications of malfunctioning interpersonal relationships in families.  Maybe in Gujarat, the endless social supports from other Patels provided enough cushion to prevent or diminish these negative emotional outcomes, but in the States, I’m sure it’s a different story.  Balancing adjustment to a new culture while trying to hold onto the old culture creates interpersonal relationship strains and situations unheard of in Gujarat. Some Patels weren’t ready.  And perhaps tending to the emotional needs of a spouse or child wasn’t as much of a priority as making it in America.  It’s the breakdown of the interpersonal relationships in some Patel families that I think has profoundly affected the succeeding generations.  Me included.  So much so that I chose the medical speciality of psychiatry, with a focus on children and adolescents, despite being told by several Patels that a psychiatrist is “not a real doctor.”  

One thing I know for sure from my years of helping children, teens, and adults in individual, couples, and family psychotherapy is that the healing process absolutely requires talking truthfully about the elephant in the room.  And that elephant in the room is often some sort of malfunctioning interpersonal relationship issue.  

Since my experience as a Patel was that no one speaks about interpersonal relationship issues, I often wonder how emotionally hurt Patels find healing.  I don’t think they go to psychiatrists.  Plus, there isn’t much out there in fiction or nonfiction about Patel interpersonal relationship issues, particularly in the young adult genre.  Either way, I want to shed light on these interpersonal issues that affect Patels just as much as they affect the families from every culture and nation, immigrant or not.

That’s why I chose the name Rani Patel for the main character in the young adult novel, Rani Patel in Full Effect.  Rani Patel, her parents, and their experiences are based on a subtle alchemy of Patel individuals and families I’ve known and some of the non-Patel teen and family patients I’ve treated.  Rani Desai, Rani Shah, or Rani Amin would not have had the same impact.  

You probably know a Patel.  It is my hope that Rani Patel in Full Effect challenges you to think beyond the Patel stereotypes and truly see their humanity in their family relationship complexities. There might be more than you could’ve imagined going on behind the closed doors of the Patel that you know.

1.Global Gujaratis: Now in 129 Nations. The Economic Times. July 4, 2015. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-04/news/57663531_1_gujaratis-patels-united-nations

2.Global Gujaratis: Now in 129 Nations. The Economic Times. July 4, 2015. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-04/news/57663531_1_gujaratis-patels-united-nations

3.Zwick, Steve.  Who Are All These Patels? Chicago Reader.  February 10, 2000.  http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/who-are-all-those-patels/Content?oid=901436