Hello beautiful readers! 👋🏽
A very snowy welcome to the Long Way Home🏡, I'm thrilled you're here. Each week, I share my thoughts on a topic that fills me with wonder (generally emotional intelligence or creativity). Sometimes I'm able to think of something in a removed, almost clinical way (like The Sistine Chapel Inside Us All🔭), but sometimes I choose a personal topic that has major implications for my own life. Today's topic is part of the latter category—how growing up in a multicultural home will inform the kind of home I hope to build someday. Before that, here are some recommendations from this week.
🎙 - How To Save A Planet by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Alex Blumberg
📃 - APIs All The Way Down by Packy McCormick
Let's get into this week's topic.
Building a Home From Two Cultures
Being born in the country your parents emigrated to is the start of a complex life. These kids are forced to walk the line between two often opposing cultures and behave in ways that contradict each other on a daily basis. What’s appropriate at home may not be appropriate at work or at school and vice-versa. From this competing duality, a third culture is born. One that is influenced, consciously or subconsciously, by both.
Being a Third Culture Kid is constricting and liberating, terrifying and empowering, exhausting and inspiring, all at the same time. As my peers and I settle into the workforce and consider settling down, I've observed emergent and timely discussions about homebuilding, safety, and parenting.
Being from Brampton, Ontario, most of my closest friends are like me—South Asian. It's been a treat to observe how these young, educated, emotionally aware, brown men and women talk about building a home and raising a family. We all have things we loved about our upbringing and things we vow to never replicate. While this is a universal exercise, I have the added fortune of having two distinct cultures to pick and choose from when mulling over the possibilities.
Growing up in an Indian household afforded me plenty of luxuries for which I'm infinitely grateful, but I also recognize that Western households have some cultural attributes that I would like to replicate in my own home. I'm in the fortunate position to cherry-pick what my partner and I see as the best parts of both cultures and to fuse them together to create a home environment built for love, security, ambition, and adventure. Each culture has its advantages and blindspots, and being able to know two cultures so intimately gives us a chance at optimizing for more advantages and fewer blindspots if we are willing to do the work.
Anybody who grows up in a multicultural home is in a position to observe the best of both cultures and leverage these lessons to maximize benefits for their own children. For those that are raised in a single-culture context, this essay may serve as an argument to become familiar with cultural contexts outside of the one in which you were raised to minimize the severity of the cultural blindspots from which we all suffer. Here are three traits for each South Asian and Western cultures that I’m excited to hold onto.
Before I begin, I would like to preface that I don't mean to imply that any of the traits inspired by my Indian home are completely absent in all Western households, nor that all Indian households are devoid of the traits I hope to borrow from Western culture. Doubly, of course, not all South Asian homes will feature the traits that I am hoping to borrow from South Asian culture and it’s possible that they are commonplace in some Western households. Last, I recognize that my class and socio-economic status influence my perceptions of both Indian and Western cultures. Each is full of privilege. It’s not my intention to adjust for this.
My opinions are rooted in generalizations, stereotypes, and anecdotal evidence and I am well aware that I am painting large swaths of people with a single brush. However, I believe my points still stand. Further, each of these cherry-picked traits could be spun into their own dedicated essay. There's lots to say for each one. Since I will attempt to be brief, my depiction of South Asian and Western cultures will lack nuance. I hope to do this justice in future essays.
South Asian-Inspired Traits
South Asian culture, like many collectivistic cultures, features a tightly-knit social fabric, emphasis on academic achievement, and respect for authority. Watching my parents and their peers adapt their cultural norms to a vastly different social context taught me that while not everything has the intended effect, there are some traits worth clinging to.
Circle of Obligation
Like many collectivistic cultures around the world, the term "family" casts a wide net in India. Blood relationships are merely one piece of the social pie. Family friends are routinely called aunts and uncles and are treated with the same care that’s given to biological family. Ayomide Adebayo's Circle of Obligation beautifully describes the group of people to whom you feel indebted that will step up to reciprocate that care when required. Social obligation may feel burdensome, but social insecurity can have a deep psychological toll. When children grow up knowing that they will be cared for in a crisis, their sense of collective belonging is deepened. This unleashes a child to strive for personal achievement with a dulled sense of counterproductive fear when pursuing opportunities.
I've always dreamt of having friends that I could call over or drop by on without plenty of back and forth. Familial relationships outside of nuclear families can inspire my kids and reassure them that whatever their aspirations, there is somebody they may consult in advance who has their best interests at heart. Eventually, my kids will want professional advice and opinions on academic pursuits, and I hope to be able to create an environment where they will not need to look too hard to find somebody helpful. This means staying engaged with cultural and religious groups that share similar value systems as my partner and I, and modelling familial relationships with non-family members by providing value to other families and inspiring my friends’ kids.
Love Through Action
Traditionally, South Asian couples are not vocally affectionate with each other nor their children, but there is no doubt that love is ubiquitous in the household. Parental sacrifice and prioritization of family needs are a testament to their unconditional love for their children and spouses. Hugs, kisses, and phone-call-I-love-you's weren't present in my home, but it never occurred to me to want or need those things. I felt cherished without that.
My mom stood in the heat of the stove, cooking a full meal after an 8 or 10-hour shift. My dad went without well-fitting clothes to afford extracurricular activities for my brother and I. This taught me that loving is more than a three-word phrase. Love is doing. I learned that vocalizing affection, although meaningful and valuable on its own, is most effective when coupled with action that makes the emotion undeniable. And it taught me that care and concern can be communicated without any words at all.
To this end, I never want saying affectionate things to replace doing affectionate things. And I hope that my children are able to replicate this behaviour as well. For me, loving somebody means wanting them to be happier, more comfortable, and less worried, and there are always actions that somebody could take to show their loved one affection by engaging in such behaviour.
In addition to CNN, Friends, and the Academy Awards, I had Aaj Tak (Indian news), Kasam Se (Indian soap opera), and the Filmfare Awards playing in my house growing up. Western culture wasn't the only benchmark to which the rest of the world was compared in my household. We had multiple frames of reference and therefore needed to make less of a jump to empathize with those from other cultures. It was easy for us to imagine a way of life and a value system different from the traditional Western culture because we were living it. In other words, having two cultural lenses through which to make sense of the world opened my mind to the possibility that there could be many, many others.
This developed into a cultural sensitivity that is only becoming more important in today's rapidly globalizing world. I see those that grew up in a single culture household slowly realizing their blindspots as they befriend more non-Western people. I want my kids to start with that advantage like I did.
These benefits, of course, are not off limits to those raised in a single-culture home, but developing a global perspective would need to be an intentional effort in those cases. Consuming multicultural media and being exposed to multicultural people for years can likely develop similar sensitivities.
In the cultural shift towards globalization and away from Euro-centric cultural norms, we are so used to criticizing Western culture that it's easy to forget its merits. Western culture has numerous traits worth preserving and perpetuating into future generations. Here are three such traits that I hope to emphasize in my household.
Although the history of Western exploration is dark and dingy, (e.g., colonialism and the destruction of indigenous cultures worldwide) I can acknowledge that the West has a penchant for exploration that is packed with benefits on an individual scale. It's sewn into the fabric of Western culture to respect and strive for adventure and discovery. In the West, experimentation is deemed innovation and is highly sought after, and there is relatively little concern for tradition. There's a sense that however well one is doing, one could always be doing better.
The abundance of opportunity promotes a growth mindset that is in direct contrast with many other cultures' fixation on scarcity. The desire to explore is predicated on the assumption that there is more value out in the world to get, see, and experience and no harm will come to those that go out to find it. It's a form of privilege, undoubtedly, but helps, in my opinion, much more than it harms.
In the West, it's not so crazy for a teenager to pack a 55L bag and venture to another part of the world in search of spectacular experiences. It's not unimaginable to attempt self-sufficiency by moving out of your parent's home before marriage.
In addition to embarking on worldly adventures and innovating, Western culture also condones "following dreams" and promotes cultivating hobbies and passions for self-knowledge and self-awareness. Goals can be pursued for the joy of the process. This celebration of experimentation and openness to the possibility of venturing down a path only to hit a dead-end without feeling a deep sense of failure fuelled by family shame and embarrassment breeds the will to dream and the fearlessness to fulfill that dream.
In the West, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. There is no expectation that if a Westerner's need is not being met, they are expected to make do without. Here, the customer is always right. Institutions mould themselves to the will of the people instead of the people feeling fortunate to have the opportunity to be serviced by the institution.
Naval Ravikant famously says "Doctors won’t make you healthy. Nutritionists won’t make you slim. Teachers won’t make you smart. Gurus won’t make you calm. Mentors won’t make you rich. Trainers won’t make you fit. Ultimately, you have to take responsibility. Save yourself."
When this sentiment is combined with a cultural focus on work ethic and earning your slice of the American pie, it can result in a sense of ownership over your own destiny. In the West, unlike in more fatalistic cultures, there is no such thing as destiny or prescribed plan. Of course, class and privilege play major roles in the opportunities available to individuals, but there is a general sense that if the tools are available to you, you are expected to use them to the best of your ability. This freedom can be powerful for a young mind. While this could also result in crushing pressure and a sense of shame if the use of tools are not perceived to be maximized, I believe that that can be managed and purposefully reframed by good mentors. Of course, this could also result…
Brené Brown says there are kids-focused families, there are parents-focused families, and there are family-focused families. The way that I understand it, the focus dictates who gets priority access to the family's energy and resources. All cultures have families of all types, but I have observed that the idea of a family-focused family is much more normalized in the West than elsewhere.
In kids-focused families, the children's needs are always prioritized over the parent's needs. Ensuring the children are comfortable and accommodated for at all times steadily remains the family priority. Immigrant households are notoriously so, since children are seen as tickets out of poverty and a lower socioeconomic status.
In parents-focused families, the parents' emotional needs (sometimes one parent) dominate the family's mindspace. Their mood dictates the home environment and ensuring that the parent(s) is comfortable is the assumed family priority.
In my house, I want open discussions about how we should prioritize the family's finite resources to maximize family well-being given the circumstance at the time. I want my children to understand the logic behind their parents' decisions if they find themselves in a position where they are not getting everything they want.
Hearing my peers talk about communication styles, attachment theory, and the interplay of shame and vulnerability makes me feel like the next generation of educated South Asians is in good hands. We will strive to optimize for a nurturing environment for our families to the best of our ability, picking and choosing the best of both worlds.
We will have a lot of tough decisions to make—picking cultural traits isn't like picking items off a menu. Unfortunately, some traits may come as a package deal with some that we don't like so much. We'll learn as we go, like we always do.
Growing up, the third culture we existed in could feel like a handicap. Too white for the brown kids, too brown for the white kids. In moments like these, however, it feels like a superpower. It feels like a cheat code. And I have every intention of letting my kids cheat.
Marine biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and podcasting superstar Alex Blumberg add a much needed twist to the usual climate conversation. Each week, they bring us a story on positive climate news taking place somewhere in the world, what else could be done, and how we, as individuals, may be able to play a role in the movement. It's uplifting and motivating in a way that climate conversations rarely are. Listen here to uncover the truth on whether electric vehicles are actually better for the environment and what the true impacts of recycling are (spoiler: you will be pleasantly surprised).
With a YouTube name like Madfit, you'd expect a channel that's a lot more hardcore than Maddie Lymburner's channel actually is. After feeling like my mobility was suffering from years of under-stretching, I stumbled across this lower body stretch video that makes me feel loose for days afterwards. Maddie's kindness and gentleness come through in her videos—you will not be disappointed. If you're like me and doing lots of home workouts right now, consider this (or any of her other) stretch videos to boost flexibility and mobility.
In his piece APIs All The Way Down, Packy McCormick beautifully breaks down the complex world of software-building in a way that non-technical folks can understand. As he says, software companies are relying more and more on plugging into suits of products with hyper-specialized functionality and strictly doubling down on unique differentiator. Find out why this leads to better products for customers, better experiences for employees at these companies, and better returns for investors.