Across the Board Culture Mirrors: A Magazine Series Stories

My Parents Shattered the Mirror and I’m Forever Grateful

In Hindu culture there exists a superstition that breaking a mirror brings negative energy followed by the curse of misfortune. I beg to differ.

I was raised with certain values. Taught to speak well to my elders, holding kind conversations with every auntie and uncle I passed. I attended Kumon after school, went to violin lessons, took fencing classes, and enrolled in inane clubs and activities to “beef up” my resume at the ripe age of 11. No social media until the age of 14, no inappropriate clothing, no boys, no magazines, no makeup, no phone after 9:00, and the list goes on.

But when I turned down the music in the car and told my dad I had no intention of pursuing medicine, effectively flushing his 17-year-old plan down the drain, he calmly said “That’s fine, what do you wanna do?”. When my mother noticed that on even the warmest summer day I left the house in a long sleeve shirt and pants she taught me how to wax my arms and shave my legs to the dismay of the aunties because god forbid a 13-year-old girl have autonomy over her body. So is it safe to say that my Indian parents are more lenient than they appear?

Sure I would come face to face with my mom’s slipper if I ever talked smack, but that was necessary character development. Because when it came down to it, she listened. She listened when I cried that the boy I was secretly dating broke up with me. She listened when I told her I wanted makeup because I hated the way I looked. She listened, biting her tongue, when I explained to her that if she wanted to have a healthy relationship with me I should be able to wear whatever I want within reason.

While it may not seem like leniency to all, the constrictions that slowly loosened over the years shaped my youth. My parents never put on a facade to raise me. They instilled their own morals, culture, and religion. But they remembered that the country and generation that I was growing up in was not their own. Their wisest decision was that the day they stepped foot on American soil, they recognized the fault that lay in themselves and their families and they as quickly understood the fault in many Americans, and sought to protect me from both evils. My upbringing ensured that I never fell victim to the social colonization so prominent in this country. Making certain that I would never allow someone to question the food I brought to school or mispronounce my last name. But in all my “Indianness” I was taught to never replicate the toxicity that made my parents so eager to leave. I learned well that only I have the power to define my standards for love, and nobody could tell me otherwise. I understood that no matter how smart I am or appear to be I am not more than the people around me.

Although I still feel my fair share of rage when my mother picks at the holes in my jeans, saying I look like a hoodlum or my father asks me if I got a perm every time I wear my hair natural, I feel satisfied. Satisfied that as an adult I don’t have to grasp at straws to find culture long lost. I feel grateful, for in exchange for all their drama when I was a teenager, they completely distanced from me my adult life. So much so that I sometimes send a chain of Whatsapp messages to remind them of my existence.

In every immigrant family’s home, there exists a mirror, as a reflection of origin, some fully intact, many lightly fractured, and some smashed to bits. Our parents, more often than not, guard that mirror against damage with passion, riddled with love and fear. Rightfully so, for the unfortunate truth is they never took the opportunity to assimilate, thus they sit in a distant land in fear of the loss of culture and home. But they must stop and ask themselves what good comes from preserving that reflection? What good comes in displacing themselves in the foreign West with aspirations of elevated living, work, and education if they insist on replicating their past life? This is now their home and they have every right to make it so. But they are equally entitled to the grandiose wonders of the New World, ones that only become truly visible in a damaged mirror.

When I look into the shattered mirror I can see the fragments of India that still exist so firmly in my life, but between the cracks and gaps, I can see the bits of American culture that weaved their way into my family, my personality, and my beliefs. The broken mirror is not a bad omen, but a token of my growth as an Indian-American.

Lacey Bryant, Self Portrait as a Fractured Mirror

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