I grew up in a very homogeneous suburb of Michigan. My graduating class was all white- seriously, every single one of us. My knowledge of other races and cultures wasn’t very strong, through no fault of my parents- how can you really teach something that doesn’t exist in your community? You can talk about it, but it’s hard to make that conversation a reality. Fast forward ten years, and I am in a mixed-race marriage, living in the incredibly diverse town of Providence, where people of all races, cultures and religions mix freely (many thanks to Brown University for the healthy mix) and trying to understand how to raise two mixed-race children.
Here’s what got me thinking about this subject- the following scenario plays out on a daily basis, and it’s hard to know how to handle it. I will get stopped while in line at the coffee shop, or while at the playground or library, and someone will ask, “Your baby is adorable. What’s his name?” To which I will reply, “Vikram.” Then comes the blank stare. Every single time…a blank stare, a pause and then some attempt at recovery. “Oh, how nice. Well he is certainly cute!” I’m never sure what to say (our boys do not look Indian, which adds to the confusion)- should I explain that my husband is Indian, and Vikram is a very common Indian name? Should I just say thanks, smile and walk away, despite the awkwardness?
I only ran into this reaction a few times pre-Vik since Vijay is a pretty easy name for people to understand. Most think it is V.J.- a nickname of sorts. Either way, it is easy for people to recognize and pronounce. My husband and I put so much thought into our boy’s names- we know they will be going to school here in the States, so it was important that their names be easy for people to say, to avoid frustration and potential ridicule. Vijay is a family name, meaning victory. Vikram, also a family name, means valor. They are beautiful, strong names that I hope will be fitting for my boys. But it is beginning to hit me- they will have a lifetime of answering questions surrounding their names. I can’t really help them with this from my personal experience, so it is my duty to better educate myself on how to guide them on this part of their journey. How do I begin imparting to them how their diversity makes them unique and special, how it is an honor to be linked to a place as indescribable and awe-inspiring as India? How do I make them proud of their family background and histroy? I know that one day soon we will travel to India with our boys, and introduce them to this half of their make-up. Until then, I wrestle with the question of how to guide my boys when it comes to the question of who they are.