Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas, Cultures, Quilting and Other Alliterations

My radio is always tuned to NPR and I woke up gently to the program "Living on Earth," which featured a Christmas special with Carribbean storytellers. It's always a delight to hear a writer speak because many at heart are such colorful storytellers. Every word from Yvette Brandy is lyrical, but she starts singing about the island Christmas: "For me Christmas is—you wake in the morning to scratch bands singing and dancing and they're singing, 'Good morning, good morning, I come from a guava berry! Good morning, good morning, put it on the table.'"

I've enjoyed Esmeralda Santiago stories about being a Puerto Rican immigrant. When I heard Santiago's memory of writing letters to the Three Kings who bring gifts for the children, I was touched. Santiago told it from the child's point of view, but it reached you from the parent's perspective.

The last storyteller was Ken Corsbie, who described ways to eat a mango. His style reminded me of my father's storytelling technique - anecdotal humor with a punch. (Side note: my father is quote known and respected in the Gujarati literary community.. we are working on his blog site for next year!)

Aside from the delightful stories, I enjoyed the diversity of it. We're so used to the Christmases of Paula "add more butter and bacon, y'all" Dean and Martha Stewart, where everything is proper and perfectly tied together in a satin bow from "my own collection available on my website". The majority of the world's population doesn't know what a cranberry is. Santiago talked about fresh oregano, rosemary, and herbs that grow wild on the islands. Brandy talked about dancing and revelling in carnival celebrations. Generally speaking, people living in warm or hot climates have a more laid back attitude on life. I suppose those that have to prepare and survive cold winters have to be more focused.

A comment I heard the other day about Martha Stewart (on NPR, of course) resonated with me this morning. She was raised in Polish-American family in Nutley, NJ. Somehow, she's been able to create herself into the ultimate CT Yankee. There's something to be said about identity. This is a country of immigrants, and everyone is extremely proud of their heritage. I remember my cousin visiting from India was struck how people called themselves Italian and German, yet they've lived in US for generations and never went to Italy or Germany.

However, is that part of the American fabric -- we come in with different colors, but we weave ourselves into one? Martha's makeover is similar to Louisiana Governor-elect Bobby Jindal. Indian-Americans are proud of one of their own making it, yet with resentment. They see his conversion from Hinduism to Catholicism as an abandonment. For every Martha Stewart and Bobby, there are lots more Martha Kostyras and Piyush Jindals. Shouldn't the American fabric really be a colorful quilt instead?

I'm extremely excited to see how comfortable my daughter is with her Indian and American identities. She lacks the embarrassment I did at her age. I wouldn't talk about the food I ate at home because it was too complicated to explain. My daughter proudly lists "laddoo" as her favorite food (her teacher had emailed me kindly asking for more information about it). She talks about going to her Balvihar classes for culture and religion, just as freely as Rachel does about her Hebrew classes.

Listening to these stories this morning made me realize how important it is for immigrants to keep memories of the "islands" and their own homelands alive.

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