The United States is made up of people from many different cultures and religions. Unfortunately, many people forget their traditions and cultural heritage when they’re far from their homeland and they settle in other countries. I believe in embracing my Indian roots.
My mom moved from India to the United States in 1985 and my dad moved here one year later. I’m 16 years old and I was born in this country. I identify myself as American but I am proud of my Indian ancestry.
I believe in learning the values of my Indian heritage, such as the importance of family and hospitality. The culture teaches me families should pray together and stick together through thick and thin.
Every other Sunday, I go to Story Hour, where local Indian community members get together with their families. Story Hour has been part of the Indian community in State College for over 40 years. While we’re gathered, we learn about the stories of two of the greatest Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the great Mahabharata. The leader first reviews and asks the kids questions about the story told the previous week. Then he tells us a new story. Afterward, everybody socializes over a meal. When we host Story Hour at my house, I learn how to entertain the guests so they feel like a part of the family. Everyone is welcome in our house.
Another way I stay connected with my culture is by observing Indian holidays with my family. We celebrate Diwali, one of the most important holidays in India. The businessmen begin their financial year at Diwali, which falls in October or November, depending on the Hindu calendar.
Diwali is also called The Festival of Lights, reminding us that light is always superior to darkness. As the Ramayana teaches, Diwali commemorates Lord Rama’s return from his 14-year exile, along with his wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshman.
When I celebrate Diwali, I do Puja. Puja means “worship” in the Hindi language. I worship the goddess Laxmi, who symbolizes wealth, and Lord Ganesha, who represents good luck. I put offerings in front of statues of these gods and ask for blessings for success in life and forgiveness for my wrongdoings. Afterward, my family prays together and then we enjoy dinner together.
My family has always celebrated Diwali, but I first remember celebrating it when I was 5 years old, and I’ve look forward to the holiday each year since. Diwali is important to me because it represents a connection with my culture and strong bonds with my family.
I believe people should remember their culture and traditions. If parents teach their kids the value of their history, younger generations will not forget the culture when they are older. While I love living in America, I still have roots — and relatives — in India. I believe learning about my family’s culture and practicing traditions from my Indian heritage allow me to stay true to my roots.
Anshu Choudhary lives in State College. His essay aired Thursday on WPSU.