I was sitting in a virtual chat room one day with women of all ethnicities, talking about our stories and our ethnic roots, when all of a sudden I found a surprising kindredness with my white sisters. Though it can often feel like our stories and experiences are as starkly different as night and day, in that moment I discovered something new. Each of the women there had become disconnected from their ethnic roots, albeit in different ways.
I first shared my story with the group. Much of my story is intertwined with my mother’s. She immigrated to the U.S. in the 70s and during that time lost most of her connection with her own family. It’s a painful story, but it’s not fully mine to tell. I can say, however, that I’ve never met some of my aunts and uncles. I’ve also never met my Ba, my grandmother. There are days where the ache in my heart for my family makes it hard to breathe. I so wish I knew my Indian grandmother. I wish I could tell her who I am and show her pictures of my own family. More than that, I wish I could get to know her, hear stories of her life, while cooking something together or sitting at the table drinking chai. I know parts of my mom’s story, but a lot of what pertains to her family is still shrouded in mystery. It’s something we rarely speak about — it’s still too painful.
Growing up, I wish I had been connected to my mom’s family. I wish I knew what it was like to be surrounded by fellow Indians, who all looked like me, dressed like me, ate the same foods, and celebrated the same things. There is an innate desire in all of us to be known and loved by our families, to have deep bonds and live life together. Often times when we are disconnected from them, we become disconnected to our deep sense of culture and identity too.
Interestingly, as some of the other women then shared, they realized they too felt disconnected from their ethnic roots. One woman with Swedish heritage recounted how her grandparents had immigrated to the U.S. and proclaimed, “We are now American. We are no longer European.” Another shared in tears about how her Dutch parents refuse to share any of their family story with her as an intentional way to disconnect from their ancestral past. Many other women reiterated similar stories. Many of my dear friends are transracial adoptees who have never met their birth parents. I have also spoken to many Black women who feel similarly because of the history of slavery and the way their ancestors were violently uprooted from their African homes. Perhaps you feel this disconnect in your own story as well.
It was a tender conversation and one that united us despite our ethnic and geographical differences. Here was a group of diverse women who, for all different reasons, were wanting to reconnect with their roots and flourish in the way God created them to. We were each created as cultural image bearers after all. In Genesis 1-2 we see that our cultural identity is encoded into the very heart of what it means to be God’s image bearer. Humans were stamped from the very beginning with the imago Dei so that we could be God’s representatives on earth. Every culture with its unique bodies, voices, thoughts, actions, and values reflects a piece of God Himself. Seeing, embracing, and living out our faith through our unique cultural identities and expressions is how we become fully alive.
But as many of my sisters asked that day, what does blossoming look like when you don’t have a model to build from? How do we flourish as cultural image bearers when our history has been stripped from us and reconnecting with our roots feels like an impossible task?
For those of you who feel disconnected from your past, for those who can’t speak to their parents (or whose parents won’t speak with them), I want to offer two words of encouragement:
1. Lean into your culture’s global story.
I’m encouraged by the stories of Indians throughout the global diaspora. Often times, part of the global Indian story becomes inspiration for the ways in which I continue to develop my own cultural identity. The same can be true for you and your cultural roots. Think about your ethnic heritage and the specific people group(s) you’re connected to. Consider this: What are the attitudes, mindsets, and values embedded within your ethnic heritage? What are the stories that are valued and passed down within your cultural community? Who are your culture’s heroes?
This is where reading plays an important role. Whether you have Nigerian, Cambodian, German, Italian, or Russian roots, you can do some digging by picking up a history book and learning about a historical past that you’re connected to. Go to your local library or search Google and find some folktales and legends from your culture. Read them, discuss them with your family and friends, and reflect on how your own story both interweaves and disconnects from the story of your global community.
2. Create new traditions and expressions.
There are a lot of traditions that I celebrate in my home with my husband and children that I didn’t celebrate growing up. There are Indian holidays that I’ve chosen to integrate into our family rhythm, new foods that I’ve learned to cook, and new figures and heroes in the history of global Indian Christianity that I now look up to and seek to emulate.
When our pasts have been stripped from us, God extends us the grace and creativity to create something new. In the same way that He promises to make all things new, He invites us as co-laborers to find our story within God’s story. What it means for you to be Korean or Hawaiian or Colombian or Polish or South African will always be unique to you as an individual, and that’s not something to be ashamed of.
Learning to blossom as a cultural image bearer will take time. The process will be slow, and that’s okay too. Be gentle and patient with yourself and allow God’s spirit to guide you on a beautiful journey of becoming fully alive.Leave a Comment