There’s this sort of identity crisis you face when you’re a first generation kid trying to navigate yourself into a middle-ground between clashing cultures
—feeling disconnected from an average American who’s lived here for generations, but also not as attached to your parent’s culture as you ought to be. Despite the Nepali blood running through my veins and the deep sense and pride of my ethnic roots, the immersion of American culture (or, at least, trying to fit into typical American cultures) has ‘white-washed’ me from members of my family. A barrier of slight disdain separates me, as well as the rest of my cousins, from my parents and aunties and uncles, who grew up with the traditional demands of their culture and can’t wrap their minds around the modern-day, Westernized morals that their children have grown up with.
So my cousin’s wedding, although bright and colorful like a van Gogh painting, felt more like a reminder of just how detached I am from my culture than an actual wedding.
Our entire family flew out to California for the occasion and to meet her fiance, an engineer from Florida (a sort of modern-day arranged marriage, if you will). And even though her younger sister, Prerena, planned the entire ceremony rather than having their parents do it, she and I were still one in the same—neither of us had any idea what was happening, before, during, or after the wedding ceremony.
No, really. The entire ordeal was just a blur of being told things to do and following odd traditions that we didn’t understand because nobody explained it to us. The first day I arrived to California, my cousin took me shopping at the local outlet mall and stopped by their local Macy’s to buy a sheek and shiny Calvin Klein suit.
“What’s that for?” I asked her.
“The bride buys the groom’s suit for him,” she told me matter-of-factly.
She simply shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m just doing what my parents told me to do.”
The following day, all of us cousins had to drive over to the groom’s house in Sacramento to deliver fresh fruits wrapped in ornamental, red cloth, as well as a personalized invitation to his own wedding.
I think they also may have blessed us, but I’m not completely sure.
And then came the actual wedding day,
which I can only describe as a distinct form of hell. First of all, our family resides in Yuba City, California, which takes a hot summer day to a whole new level. Sporting a sari, l got to walk around in this sunny 109 degrees wrapped up into ten pounds of pure cloth and glistening sweat. When we finally made it to the temple at 9:30am, we discovered that the place had essentially no air conditioning. Consequently, we soon morphed into a giant glop of melting attendees trying out best not to pass out, but keeping our make-up intact so that if it came down to it, we could at least pass out glamorously.
We’re all sitting there, thinking the same exact thing: When does this wedding start, and when the hell can I leave?
An hour later, the groom still hadn’t shown up. To make matters worse, the smoke from all the incense rings the fire alarm, and all of the sprinklers go off. The place is drenched. Truly a nightmare, but the bride kept her cool
—until two hours later, when the groom and his family were still nowhere to be seen. At this point, I was feeling exhausted and sweating like a pig and starting to feel a migraine form, but I still didn’t know what was going on and whether or not this was just another big traditional ploy. Turning over to my father, I asked, “Is he… supposed to be late? Is this another kind of Nepali wedding tradition?”
“No,” my dad shook his head in solemn. “He’s just the worst.”
Finally, two and a half hours later, the groom arrives with his family, throwing excuses about traffic and losing track of time and who knows what else, but nobody really cared enough to give them hell for it at that point because we were just glad the wedding ceremony could finally begin.
Honestly, it was just as brutal as waiting for the groom because, as I mentioned earlier, I’m disconnected from my culture and therefore have no idea what’s ever happening. The wedding consisted of about six hours of watching them sit in their thrones, accepting gifts, having photos taken, the priest saying things in Nepali that I didn’t understand, throwing rice into a fire, walking around a fire, getting more photos taken, and all of us still trying to not pass out from heat exhaustion (at seven hours in, we didn’t give a shit about our makeup anymore).
Another wedding tradition tidbit: during it, all the cousins were supposed to steal the groom’s shoes and only give them back for a price. It’s a classic Hindu wedding game, in which you’re bargaining for the shoe but also basically bargaining a price for the bride, kind of like inverse dowry. This part of the wedding ceremony was the only part that came close to fun, but I lost interest after the groom’s family started to cheat by putting his shoes in their car (…comes two hours late and then has the audacity to try to cheat? I was physically incapable of giving them the time of day anymore).
When it was finally over, I wanted to cry. Eight hours of sweat, boredom, and holding in my pee finally came to a sweet conclusion. Freedom had never looked more beautiful.
The following evening, we attended the reception, which was the complete opposite of everything the wedding had been—
It was music, lights, and a good time. It was the beautiful works of air conditioning. It was carefree dancing and Bollywood mixes. It was kind of like a prom with my family—all of us decked out in beautiful lehengas and suits and whatnot, under the influence, and just raving on the dancefloor. It was an absolute blast.
And, maybe it was the red wine, but at that point, something hit me.
I’d been feeling so isolated from my culture. But looking around at my entire family rockin’ out on the dance floor, I realized that it wasn’t so big of a deal at all. The only thing that separates us from our parents and older family is a few cultural practices and unheard of traditions, but we’re still connected on so many levels—including being unfuckingstoppable on the dancefloor. My cousins and I aren’t fully American nor Nepali; we shouldn’t feel the need to conform to American norms, nor feel too detached from our own culture.
We’re a novel generation—preserving the old traditions of Nepal and embracing the new ones that we’ve created here.
Side note: Also during this time, I learned that Newar people (our specific tribe in Nepal) get married three times: to a bel fruit and the sun before puberty, and then to your husband afterwards. The fruit represents Lord Vishnu and it’s supposed to guide your through widowhood if your spouse passes away.
So, my friends, I guess I am married to both a piece of fruit and the sun. Sorry I didn’t invite you to my wedding.