This Mother’s Day was the first one in a while that I was actually at home with my mom. The last time we celebrated together I was 16, in high school and a lot less understanding of where my mom came from. For a lot of relationships between first-generation Americans and their parents, love takes the form of compromise. This is a part of a ten-page letter I wrote to my mama—an ode to accommodation—but it's also a letter to a lot of mamas from a lot of daughters.
I have such a hard time listening and changing at 19. I get stressed out when I think about how before I become a mom or even a woman, I have to first become a better listener; how after 19 years of being one way, that I must become more rational, more understanding, more patient. And then you, after 50 years, continue to keep growing and changing with your daughters, for your daughters.
I think about you sitting in the back of the room at the gala where I gave my speech and our fight on the drive home about how it would look that all the boys from school showed up to support me, and me feeling like you didn’t. But it was also you who came for the award ceremony, you who dropped me off at every meeting. You support us even when it’s hard, exhausting, inconvenient, and unappreciated.
Each thing that might have seemed small or natural to you—driving me to every volunteer event, sending a picture of my award for work with women’s rights to the family WhatsApp in India—was a statement. I think about you sneaking out of your afternoon meeting at work early so you could listen to me talk on the radio about my work in activism even though I know how nervous you and dad were about what I might say and how people would react. I think about you letting me have a voice and an opinion around aunties and uncles, and I think about you listening to me when I said I needed to stay in New York after I was assaulted even though you wanted me to come home… Each of those things is why after it happened, I was still able to say “I am a woman with power and that makes me powerful.”
I think a lot about relationships and the relationships you have.
You chose a dad for me and Divy who is why every time I see a sunroof on a car, I want to stick my head out. When I see a tire, I don’t think about cars but swings. When I buy furniture, I never think to hire somebody; I always put it together myself. You chose a husband who knows you’re just as smart as him and treats you as such, who every time I’m rude to you comes to me and explains why you’re more deserving of our respect than anyone—including him. He whose first thought when he travels and gets to see the world is wanting us to see it with him. A man who will give his free upgrades to his mother, his siblings, his siblings’ children, an old friend he bumps into at the airport, before he takes them for himself.
Thank you for choosing a dad that I always want to hug for choosing a mom, wife, and woman like you. You, who balances out his logic with empathy and fun (crafts on snow days), who during stressful conversations offsets his frustrated silence with support for me (even when it’s me getting in trouble for being rude to you, just to make sure I don’t feel alone), who balances out his excitement for adventure (random snacks at Costco) with reason and grounded humility (vetoing said snacks).
Sometimes when I’m sitting at the kitchen table and I look over and see you laughing—the laugh you do when you’re stuttering and your voice gets kind of high and you start to lose your breath because you’re laughing so hard—it’s like I’m seeing you for the first time. You’re so, so beautiful.
When we travel and Dad wants to explore everything, you see me tired and say that you’re the one who's tired and wants a nap. But when Dad and Divya are tired, you’re the one who will go explore the streets of Venice with me until we can find a beach for just us two, where we—the two lactose-intolerant family members—can share an ice cream. Even though we haven’t had dinner yet and our tummy will hurt after, because sometimes it’s just about living in the moment.
Sometimes it feels like we’ve lived a million lives in a day, each an ocean apart. To you, it was natural to take my phone away for a few months because a boy texted me “haha.” But you also fought your parents for your love marriage, so it was natural for you to also chastise me years later for not having a boyfriend. I remember how getting a car meant autonomy to me and tracking my location to you. Privacy and independence aren’t coming-of-age rights everywhere. In fact, I’m beginning to realize that you’ve gone your whole life without them.
I think about you trying to relate to Juno as I sat next to you on the couch laughing through it. I think about how in the past month you’ve held your tongue probably a million times about what I’m wearing, or my door being locked, or choosing quinoa over your home-cooked food. I think about how on the last night of high school you let all the boys sleep over too, not just the girls. When I compare that to your friends whose children were never even allowed to have sleepovers, I sometimes feel guilty that we don’t make it easier for you. Like Divya and I aren’t simple enough to only want to hang out with girls. Like we aren’t good enough Indians because we want to go to parties, concerts, and random countries, because we want to wear tighter pants or sneakers with our lehengas.
But then I think deep down it must make you proud that you raised complex daughters who dare to be different, who don’t let shame or other people’s opinions change who they are and how they act.
We’re your daughters who choose to be Indian, who choose to learn with fervor, who choose to be good and warm. After years of me and Divya being at times very difficult daughters, you know that we’re stubborn and strong-willed enough to be who we want. We haven’t been scared or restricted into our personalities, actions, and interests.
So when you’re at the next big Indian community event, maybe feeling embarrassed that you have to yet again say that Divya and Aashna aren’t coming, or when you’re worried about the day you’ll have to tell them that Divya is dating Alan and he moved to San Francisco to be with her, remember that you wouldn’t have it any other way. Because along with all our flaws are our best traits: our big hearts, our love for our family, our love for the sensory, our loyalty, our logic, our hard work—traits that you not only taught us, but gave us the freedom, time, and space to adopt. We’re the kind of women who men follow, not the women who follow men.
Whenever I see the way some of our family friends struggle, I think about how lucky I am that I was able to struggle so openly in front of you. A guiding force, you taught us how to fish instead of fishing for us. But that doesn’t mean you’re any less a part of every fish I have. It’s just that I caught the fish myself, and that makes me proud.
There aren’t enough words to describe your beauty, intelligence, empathy, and power—but you’re also the one who taught me to always keep trying. I’ll never stop looking for the words, and I’ll never not be grateful for how much you’ve bent over backwards to make sure me and Divy see, taste, and love the world we live in.