Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Column: What it's like being women from different cultural backgrounds

March 10, 2021

Verena Daniel - 

As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized I’m very lucky to be third culture.

I get to take the best parts of my ancestral culture and western culture and create my own interpretation of the world.

As the daughter of an immigrant from Egypt, I grew up listening to Nancy Ajram and Mohamed Fouad on repeat every Saturday morning and spent my summer nights piled on a couch with my cousins, mother and grandmother watching Arabic soap operas at 3 a.m.  

In high school, while all of my friends were going out to parties every weekend, dating and essentially living independently of their families, I was having a much different experience.

I always had a curfew, my mom had to have a way to get in touch with whatever friend I was with when I did go out and I had to give 3-5 business days for my request to go out to be processed. I was always the one stumbling out of sleepovers in the dark at 11 p.m. because I wasn’t allowed to spend the night away from home. 

I have realized as I’ve started nearing my twenties it is hard to escape certain norms of Egyptian society that I wouldn’t mind skipping out on sometimes.

The casual dinner conversations where my mom asks when I plan to get married, for instance. 

Although most families, especially in the diaspora, want their daughters to pursue higher education and have a successful career. There is a cultural expectation for women to get married, be a housewife and a mother on top of working outside the home.

I’ve learned not to take the ability to wear hot weather clothing in the summer at home for granted. Walking around in jeans and a modest top under the August Cairo sun isn’t exactly my idea of a great time.

Just like in every culture, including the west, there will always be extra hoops for women to jump through.

Even though, I don't think I would want to be from any other cultural background. Being able to take part in and learn about customs that have been around since antiquity, the delicious food and the memories I've made traveling to visit family in Egypt makes it all worth it.

Dina Kaur - 

Born and brought up in an Indian family in the city of Boston hasn’t been a walk in the park. As an Indian daughter, I was held to certain standards while growing up in an American society that had norms a lot different than the ones I was expected to follow.

I have always been surrounded by the culture and religion my family follows. My mom only spoke in Punjabi at our home and I went to Gurdwara every Sunday, a place of worship for Sikhs. We also visited India every two years to see our extended family and friends where I attended traditional Indian weddings and events.

As I started to age, I was told by my older Indian relatives to dress more conservatively. The times I did visit India I wouldn’t dare to think of wearing shorts or even a skirt shorter than knee-length. I had to bear the summers of over a hundred degrees in leggings or jeans and a t-shirt. 

I recall relatives and family friends at holidays asking my sister and female cousins when they were going to get married, the minute they graduated from college. As if that’s all we are meant to do, be someone’s wife. 

While at college one should major in something "practical" like a doctor or lawyer. I was lucky that when I told my family that I wanted to be a reporter/journalism major they were very accepting about it. 

In the culture that I come from, men rarely cook. It’s always women expected to be in the kitchen cooking, cleaning up the house, taking care of the kids. Women are expected to be traditional housewives, some may do all these things while also balancing a job. 

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Within Indian culture, we tend to treat elders with lots of respect. It's hard to see in America just how much more informal it is and to adjust to that.

Women in Indian culture don’t typically dye their hair a strange color or get tattoos, instead, they’re supposed to look prim and proper, pure. Women are expected to be quiet, no one should talk back or be loud.

I as a person who loves to share my opinion and talks a lot struggled with this.

Having a relationship before marriage or even having sex is a big no. Especially if it’s with someone who isn’t Indian. 

While there are many things about Indian culture that scream “NO” there are also things that I wouldn’t change. I’ve grown up in a culture that has such special traditions and rituals like Diwali and Rakhri for Hindus and Sikhs. Long weddings that typically last anywhere from three days to a week, the prettiest sarees and lehengas you can think of with elegant embroidery and beautiful hand stitching. The tastiest traditional food like pani puri, butter chicken and garlic naan. Breathtaking music, television, movies, dances, so many languages, the list goes on.

Having multiple layered identities as a woman of color I face many different struggles, some that my white friends may not associate with or deal with. I'm more hopeful that my culture adapts with me as I'm learning to adapt within a western society. I am proud of my culture and where my family comes from. I know I strive to set an example and be a strong Indian woman for my niece and other girls.


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