This weekend we went to D.C. to meet Ashu of Hindi University and his family. It was so lovely! A great experience. I can’t wait to see how the video interview turned out.
We also got to have some great conversation with Ashu and his wife. Ashu also introduced us to the Director of Education at HAF (Hindu American Foundation). That was a surprise honor!
I’ve heard people say before that there’s a struggle for young Hindus in America to feel connected to their religion and it hadn’t really clicked with me until the conversation this weekend.
For some reason, I’ve always embraced being different and standing out. I mean, I wore my cult clothes even when I didn’t have to! But I think that’s the case because I would otherwise completely blend in to the American mainstream. For a child who is feeling different because of having a minority ethnicity, that might be all the standing out they are okay with!
I think the situation for a lot of young Hindus in America is that their Indian parents grew up with Hinduism all around them in the culture and it was very natural but they didn’t realize that their kids wouldn’t be surrounded by that. Then the kids go to American school where the one little unit on Hinduism is full of misunderstandings and taught by a teacher who usually knows nothing about Hinduism. So shame enters the equation and Hindu kids aren’t feeling pride. Not always, but it does happen.
I saw a video the other day of a group of Muslim teenagers who were trying to help people get over some of their prejudices by having girls in a mall in America try on hijab scarves. One of the girls was of Indian ethnicity and after she tried on the hijab, the Muslim kids asked her about her background (which they did with everyone). And this girl was like, “Um, I mean, I guess I’m Hindu, or whatever.”
I felt sad that this girl didn’t have a sense of community and pride in being Hindu the way the Muslim kids clearly did.
I suspect that Hinduism to her was nothing more than her parents sometimes chant in a strange language and she was never given a reason to understand it or connect with it or understand why it should be part of her life.HAF is working to help change that. We were told about new units going to American schools to help teach about Hinduism in ways that aren’t full of myths and misunderstandings! I love that idea.
Another thing that I think helps is educational programs like the one at our Sathya Sai Baba group. They have a “Sunday school” for the kids to teach them about what Hinduism is about. When you’re a religious minority, you do have to put some effort into making sure your kids understand why that religion should matter to them. There’s Hebrew school for Jewish kids and there’s Catholic schools for Catholic kids. I think it’s really good for Hindu kids to have a school, group, community of other Hindu kids where they can learn about their religion and why it is so special.
I hope that another thing that will help is those of us who are strongly identified with Hinduism allow ourselves to be so visibly. Kids growing up need to see diversity and see that whatever religion they are or choose to be, that it doesn’t make them strange and alone and misunderstood. The culture here is strongly Christian without even trying, so people of minority religions need to balance that out a little bit.
I hope that Hindu parents will realize that it will take a little extra explaining and instilling to raise Hindu children in America and that we’ll see a new generation of proud Hindu kids!
(There are some similar things discussed in this article from which I got the image: http://hinduism.about.com/od/hinduismforkids/a/forparents.htm)