I’m Not A “Gori Wife”

There is an entire genre of blogs that are often known as the “Gori Wife Blogs.” Gori is a Hindi word for white person and it can be derogative. Some people decided to sort-of “take back” the term and apply it proudly to themselves. Others would fit into the category but don’t like to use the word “Gori.” However, the word itself isn’t my point today.

The “Gori Wife” blogs are written by non-Indian women who marry Indian men (Not all are Hindu. Some are Muslim or Sikh).

There are lots of them. There are many who don’t keep blogs and aren’t on the Internet at all. There are many, many non-Indian women marrying into Indian families. All the ones I know work hard to be respectful of their husband’s culture. They take on aspects of that culture and the family’s religion to varying degrees, often taking cues from the family as to how much to get involved.

It seems as though many of the mother-in-laws are delighted and relieved by their American daughter-in-laws learning their culture and taking on Indian behavior, values, dress, etc.

Some women happily immerse themselves in the family’s culture, not feeling any particular connection to any other culture and others fight to maintain their sense of selves and the traditions they grew up with in America.

They are very interesting blogs to read and I enjoy the “gori wife” perspectives on some of the same issues I’m dealing with.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if I am the only one in my situation. I feel a little lonely because in the end, I’m not one of them. I don’t have a mother-in-law guiding me towards a particular tradition. I don’t have the “excuse” of an Indian husband for my interest in Indian culture (and I don’t believe I need an Indian husband to justify my Hindu-ness).

Though there are non-Indian Hindus who are introduced to Hinduism through a spouse but then find that it was the right path for them all along, where are the others like me who knew Hinduism was who they were without anyone introducing them to it? Perhaps some of these women were already Hindus and married an Indian Hindu man because they were Hindu?

Now that I wear a mangala sutra and sindoor, Indian ladies that I encounter in day to day life assume that I’m married to an Indian man. But no. I’m not. I’m the Hindu one. 

People really don’t know what to do with that. When they think I’ve married into Indian traditions, they are delighted that I am “agreeing to” Indian marriage traditions. When they find out that I’m the Hindu one, there is usually awkward confusion.

In a lot of ways I grew up Hindu. I didn’t call it that, but it was Hindu philosophy and belief that was instilled in me from birth. Sometimes I feel like I have the most in common with American-born Desis. My Hinduism is colored by my American-ness. I have a lot of knowledge but then some big gaps. I was okay with an interfaith marriage because I knew that nothing could take my Hindu-ness from me.

This often seems like a female issue. I’ve never seen a blog of a man exploring Indian culture and traditions because he married an Indian woman (if you know of any, please do share!). I do know non-Indian Hindu men who discovered Hinduism on their own, not through a wife. Why is it that the majority of stories are either: woman marries Indian man and becomes interested in Hinduism (or whatever his family’s religion is) OR man does spiritual exploration and discovers Hinduism is the right path for him?

I know I’m not the only non-Indian Hindu woman who wasn’t introduced to Hinduism by a man. Where are the others? Speak up and let me know!

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • esha

    This is a interesting read.
    I myself am not indian but I’m black but people just say I’m either south indian or even bengali lol! Guess I do look like one.
    I am with an indian hindu man but I was hindu was before I even came of knowing him.
    But he made one strange remark once saying “once you marry me you can be a proper hindu”
    I just thought it was odd and didn’t even say anything back to him.
    I think his family might be the same on this also because they were shocked to know im hindu! And shocked on the bit about me knowing hindi lol!! Thought it was a joke. But were happy to know I follow hinduism and read gita.
    Btw im not american or live in USA.
    And I do have indian people in my family but they are dead… like long time ago. They came from jamaica.
    I don’t really share this with anyone but since I’m unknown on this part of the internet thought I would say it to you :)

    • Ambaa

      Thank you! I appreciate hearing your story. I’ve heard that idea before too, that marrying an Indian man is a way to become a “real” Hindu.

      • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

        lol, I’m married to an Indian man and I hardly feel like a “real” Hindu, whatever that is

    • Sabina

      Now I have tons of questions, but I don’t want to invade your privacy. =) Awesome of you to share your story here!

      That is certainly odd. Maybe he meant that you would be viewed by society as a proper Hindu after marrying a Hindu Indian man? Society generally has problems understanding that women having their own, strong identities distinct from their husbands’… which is messed up. I know that people married to each other reinforce each other’s identities, and that the things both people have in common become stronger, but somehow people perceive that women’s identities are more influenced by men’s, than the other way around. Which really isn’t true.

      • esha

        You can ask me anything you want. Just not my full name lol.

        I still do not have a clue what he meant by it. But yea maybe he means that others will see me as hindu after marrying him and maybe get accepted more. Very confusing.
        Tbh people where he lives, they are very judging. Its like you cannot please them and if we are seen walking together and we are not married then people give us weird looks lol.
        So I guess he was saying that to protect me. Not sure. But I don’t need to prove im a “proper” hindu by marrying him yet :)

        • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

          There are people who think you can’t be Hindu unless you are born into a Hindu family or you marry into a Hindu family (this last only if you are a woman because you become part of the husband’s family, take on his gotra, etc. in the traditional view)

          Of course this is one view of many and there are many who think you are Hindu if you follow a Hindu way of life, and still others who think everyone is Hindu, even Jews and Christians and Muslims and atheists :)

          But it seems your boyfriend’s thoughts may fall into the first group – that you can “follow hindu practice” now but after marriage you would “be a Hindu”

    • Agni Ashwin

      Hinduism Today had a article about Afro-Caribbeans who have rediscovered their Hindu roots: http://www.himalayanacademy.com/media/books/hinduism-today-current-issue/web/ops/xhtml/ch58_61_st_lucia.html

      • esha

        Just read it and it is really interesting :) thank you

  • Sabina

    It is kind of assumed that women who marry someone outside of their religion/culture will take on elements of the husband’s culture. I have seen the opposite happen, with a few Indian women I know from the Indian community in my hometown whose new husbands delight everyone at their weddings with their ability to dance bhangra or speak a few words in Hindi/Gujarati/Punjabi, but I have never seen a blog about it. I wonder how much of this is that more women have personal blogs than men? (I don’t know if this is true- but from what I’ve seen at least, many women have personal blogs that act as public, selective journals- and the men I know who blog are usually blogging about a specific topic, like gaming or programming. But my experience is pretty narrow.) I think that the non-Indian men who marry Indian women do think a lot about this, and do adapt to and adopt Indian traditions, either by choice or because they feel they have to in order to appease their in-laws (I think fathers-in-law care about this as much as mothers-in-law probably). But maybe they don’t blog about it as much, for whatever reason… I think exploration of emotions is still stigmatized for men, so a man blogging about his own emotions and feelings will be subject to potential Internet ridicule, which is messed up.

    The gender implication is bothersome though, too- the concept that it’s assumed that a woman will adapt/assimilate to her husband’s family’s culture and religion, but not for a man. I think part of this comes from the benevolent-sexist idea that a woman’s strength is in her flexibility and adaptability- so women are encouraged to change themselves, but men who change themselves for the sake of the women they love are considered un-manly, or “whipped” (I really, really hate that term), or not being true to themselves. Both of these gendered ideas are harmful, and I think that individuals should choose how much they want to change. No amount or lack of change is wrong, if it feels right to the person involved!

    I also wonder if some women who grow up with Indian culture, and then marry someone non-Indian, simply have less desire to maintain Indian culture in their adult lives because they want to let go of the oppressive aspects of it as they have personally experienced it. I am one of these women. I know I run the risk of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater though- Indian culture has many wonderful and liberating aspects!

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

    Oh hai here’s a joint blog between American man and Nepali woman – http://littleblackyellowseeds.com/

    I agree with Sabina that women are more comfortable blogging about ‘life’ than men are, who are often socialized not to share their feelings. So maybe that is why the stories that you see are overwhelmingly female. But what’s on the internet is just a small portion of the story, as you mentioned. The number of white women married to Indian men that I know *in person* (as opposed to on the Internet) is actually LESS than the number of Indian women I know married to white men! There are all sorts of intercultural relationships and I am happy that there is less stigma and more visibility.

    And as far as non-Indians at the temple in two places I’ve lived, it’s always been single white women. *shrug* When I’ve been to temples in Dallas and Portland though, it’s a more multicultural and both genders are represented.

    As for the other part, how people react to you… some of it may be the whole ‘religious vs. cultural’ thing you have explored before. There’s not a “definitive Hindu” way to do things, as practices vary across India and other places Hinduism is widely practiced in the culture. But at the same time, it’s not pick and choose either; each community has its own ways of celebrating, festivals, and variations within a theme. As an example, we had to tell the priest a couple of times that there was no mangalsutra given in our wedding, that we had rings instead. My husband (before he was my husband) told me that he thought it very “filmi” that women would go around wearing a big mangalsutra because “nobody does that” – at least not where he was from! I asked him what married women wear and he said “sindoor and a big red bindi.” Not familiar with Bengali customs at the time, I thought *that* was filmi! :)

    So maybe the person that you encounter isn’t used to seeing *anyone* wear mangalsutra, or at least not in this country, and assumes the only reason you’re doing it is to make your husband or in-laws happy. So when you tell her that you’re wearing it because it is a symbol of your marriage, but your husband’s not Indian, BAM! cognitive dissonance. But if he’s not Indian,then why would you …?

    I think it’s rather difficult, if not impossible, to be a “solitary” Hindu, to borrow a term from the Wiccan community. Of course, much is written that we can learn from, but much is also passed down from generation to generation, shared within a group, caught somewhere between “culture” and “religion” which cannot be easily separated. I always feel a bit disconnected at our temple, despite being married to an Indian, because of how much I do not know, the songs I can’t sing, the gods I can’t name. But it is my community and I go to learn, and the things I learn there become part of me too.

    • Ambaa

      Great insights, as always!

  • Avanthika

    Hey, I’ve been lurking on this blog for some time now,but was too shy to introduce myself, until your prompt brought me out of hiding.

    First, I want to thank you for being a voice for all of us who have found their path in Hinduism. I’m a Sri Lankan Sinhalese, and was raised as a hardcore Buddhist. I decided to call myself a Hindu when I started learning about Hinduism two years ago, and it became clear that my beliefs were more in line with Hinduism than Buddhism. I don’t look any different from my Tamil Hindu compatriots, and speak Tamil without much of an accent, so I don’t have to worry too much about standing out-until I get into a conversation with a Hindu person,when things can quickly get awkward. You see, Sri Lanka has been frought with Sinhala-Tamil racial tension for a long time, and Sinhalese Hindus and Tamil Buddhists are extremely rare, if not non-existent. So I worry a lot about being found out- my family would not take too kindly to me publicly embracing Hinduism. For them, it would be betrayal of my “race”, because in Sri Lanka, converting to a religion other than Buddhism, especially without the justification that “my spouse is from this religion”, is seen almost as a sin, and carries social stigma. On the other hand, I worry that the Tamil Hindus will not accept me as a Hindu, that I will be seen as guilty of cultural appropriation, although the few people ( in whom I have confided)have been cordial towards me after their initial confusion.

    That being said, I try to live my life as a Hindu as best as I know how, and to learn more and more about Hinduism every day.

    Anyhow, kudos to you for having the guts to publicly embrace what you believe in. Keep writing-you are an inspiration to all of us :)

    • Ambaa

      Thank you so much for telling your story. It is so brave of you to express all of this!

      Let me know if there is any more I can do to help :)

      It’s really hard when you can’t be honest with your family and those around you. I admire your strength!

  • HARRY

    I don’t think word Gori is derogative because it also means a girl as well in northern slang bearing in mind it was chosen by British them self. I don’t want to sound nasty but I think it does apply to you as well but the only difference is, you are not married to an Indian, if you see my point. I think a right definition is a gori wife without an Indian husband. :)

    • Ambaa

      Ah yes, I wasn’t clear. I meant “Gori” does apply to me but “Gori Wife” does not! (At least, I don’t think Gori Wife does. But I suppose maybe, since I am white and am also a wife!)

  • Patala

    I am Hindu (at least studying it seriously and i consider myself one) and my fiancee is not Hindu at all, i don’t even know any Hindus! My family is catholic, i was surprised that they accepted me!

    • Ambaa

      Yay! Someone else like me :D

  • Enchantra108

    You are certainly not the only one of your kind, I can say that for certain because I know more than a few of your kind personally, was taught by more than a few about hinduism growing up. My mother was born and raised hindu, my father was raised non religious jewish (caucasian)- my father is now more of a hindu than anything else but eschews labels. My family was always involved with Sri Sathya Sai Baba- a guru who advocates for more than one religion, however there are many followers who identify as hindu even though they were not born to it, and are not of indian ancestry. I have known more than one friend with a hindu name and a caucasian face, who is likely faced with the same questions and comments you are. Actually, I find myself identifying with you in some ways because of my mixed ethnicity. I have heard some of the same rude/ hurtful comments you have written about on your blog. I try not to get too bogged down by the people who would ostracize me for my heritage (a behavior I get on either side) because generally, the people saying these rude things don’t really know what they’re talking about. At least on the hindu side of the coin. As per my understanding, the whole “but you’re not really a jew” stuff is part of the Torah. Personally, I identify as myself, but often call myself hindu because that’s what I was raised with and most closely identify with.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you! I appreciate your thoughts.

      I’ve been going to a Sathya Sai Baba bhajan group recently and really enjoying it!

  • Kamakshi

    Hi Ambaa… I am a Sri Vaishnava convert engaged to an Indian Hindu. I was Vaishnava and vegetarian before I met my partner, it was after he met me that he became a vegetarian. It’s funny because whenever someone sees me wearing a bindi they automatically assume that I converted after being with him & became vegetarian for him. If I can be bothered to try and explain my story again, they just end up with a very confused look on their face lol :P I wanted to marry a Vaishnava, as well as someone who was open to living in India, so it just made sense that I marry an Indian Hindu. But..I know of a few non-Indian Hindu couples around, and actually there are heaps within iskcon. I don’t have a ‘gori wife’ (lol) blog yet, but plan to start one this year with a hint of Sri Vaishnavism, so I’ll keep you updated. A few of those bloggers were Hindu before meeting their Indian partners, but the majority were not.
    Take care,
    Jai Sriman Narayana!


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