The Corner Store Man

Broken English was what I knew him as. The man behind the counter was nothing more than a the corner store man. He stood tall above the customers only because the counter made him look tall. Bulletproof glass was the only barrier between him and the customers. “Hello buddy” was said to everyone and each time I died inside because he had an accent. I was embarrassed of him and I didn’t want people to know this man was my father. He was nothing but an immigrant who the customers can mock, make fun of and disrespect. I was a young, shy and quiet kid who usually stood in the background because I didn’t want to be noticed. I remember one day a girl from my 5th grade class walked in and I hid under the counter because I thought I would be judged due to my father’s job and accent.

A bad accent was what I knew him as. The man behind the counter would make me broom and mop the store. I hated these tasks because I could hear the whispers of the kids my age laughing. I remember one day I was mopping and I saw this man throw change at the corner store man while he had his hand out to take the change. I remember people throwing racist remarks at the corner store man only because he had an accent. The corner store man would do nothing but smile back and do whatever he can to make the customer happy. I was so embarrassed because I couldn’t defend him. I didn’t know what to say, what to do and how to handle these situations. Instead I grew distant because I did not want to be at the corner store.

As I grew distant, the corner store man and me would only meet for breakfast and maybe dinner. He would always ask me to stop by and help him but I always was too “busy” or made some other excuse. At times I would wish he could just be a doctor or have a “real job”. While I was wishing what he could’ve been he dealt with body aches, back problems and various health problems. I was so blinded and so selfish at the time that I couldn’t notice he would need my help.

I soon went to college and I forgot the corner store even existed. The corner store man not only got me through college but also made sure I never gave up. The corner store man forgot all of his dreams to see me peruse mine. I followed my dreams of becoming a dancer, photographer and writer. I fell so many times during my undergrad career and he was always by my side to pick me up even when I didn’t ask for help. I was an asshole who was so concerned about what he did that I forgot who he was.

Yes, I proudly announce to the world my father is a corner store man but nobody is better at it than him. Yes, he has an accent but he can read, write and speak in 3 languages. The corner store man is not only a proud storeowner but also a son, father, husband and a selfless man who provided education to all of his kids.

As I write this I am standing at the counter greeting the customers who walk in. This time around my father is drinking tea at home while I try to manage the things he does with his eyes closed. My father is what I will always see him as.

For all of my South Asian readers, whose families are in some sort of a family business, show your parents love and appreciate them. The immigrant life is tough and it is not easy by any means. It’s a new language, new culture and pretty much new everything. Never let yourself be embarrassed of how they speak or what they do.

Unlearning everything I learned

I was spoon-fed to believe success is a degree, which helps you gain an X amount of money. I was enamored with people telling me only a certain majors will help you reach this success. For some reason I could never accept the fact that I was made to study biology, chemistry or some other hard science but I still went ahead and did psychology. The problem was that I did not know who I was at the tender age of 19 and I made this decision. I didn’t follow what I wanted but rather my family, friends, society and of course where I could find money.

Clearly I went to college for all the wrong reasons and everyday I walked into lecture hall knowing, this is just not for me. I ignored all of my internal voices because I just wanted to make my family proud. I remember wanting to leave my university and transfer to some other university because the academics got very overwhelming for me but my family always huddled around me and picked me back up. I got lost in their dreams to the point where I forgot to live mine out. I remember after three long years in my university I applied for graduation and I still felt like I had not done enough. So I applied for a masters in speech pathology because I figured my family would be even more proud of me once I get accepted into 1 of the 15 masters programs I had applied for.

Everyday I would tell someone that “hey I might be going to grad school for speech pathology”. Yet, every night I couldn’t sleep because I was so stressed about my future. If everything was planned to the T why was I so worried? Why was I still so restless?

Every morning I would login to my email waiting for an email that would read congratulations. Sadly, everything read we are sorry to inform you. I had been rejected from all 15 schools nobody even put me on the wait list. At this point I became over dramatic and realized “I will have no future”. I was depressed and embarrassed because in my mind I had let down my parents.

With depression came many sleepless nights and one of these particular nights I remember doing a lot of thinking. I realized my 22 years of life had been shaped to make others happy. I hated my major, I hated the masters program and yet I was still going for it. It was so stupid of me because I would have went on with doing things that “sound successful” or will make others happy.

Every individual is born with a certain skill and after enough polishing that skill makes him or her successful. I decided to write down my skills and see where I could take these skills. My list included dancing, writing and men’s fashion. My interests were photography and media design. For some people these are stupid side things people have but for me it makes me who I am. Im no longer ashamed of that because I cant sit in a cubicle, I cant be told to be what society accepts as a profession. Ever since that night I have never been this happy and this comfortable in my own skin. I am happy with my skills and future goals to become a writer, fashion blogger, website designer, photographer and dream about all of my goals.

For any parent reading this blog please stop having your child live out your dreams. Stop expecting your child to live up to your expectations because we are all born a certain way and we all have different dreams. Im sure for the sake of your happiness your kids will do it but they will not be internally happy. Happiness will only exist when the child has passion and a drive for what they want to do.

Next week I walk across the stage to get my bachelors of Arts in Psychology. I couldn’t be more proud of myself and I couldn’t be more excited to say I found myself. Even with a degree I had a chance to unlearn everything I was taught. Success is not about a degree, money or what society says but rather it is discovering who are and being unapologetic.

 

Dear South Asian Parents.

Dear South Asian Parents,

We love you immensely and respect all you have done for us. There are times we sit back and think how we would be unable to do the things you do every day, there is something you should know about us. Times have changed and compared to how you grew up, we are living in a different world. Males and females can be friends, women can get the same jobs as men. We want you guys to understand this about us. We do not want our actions to be overshadowed by what society will say or what people around us have accomplished. We have become a household of order and structure that we often forget that we are a family. We want you to ask about things besides school and work. Ask us about our day, what new movies are out, or what we have planned for the weekend. We want you to be our friends and take interest in our lives so we don’t make mistakes like Anjali. Often we pass by each other but do not have much to say which is starting to create a wall between our relationship. We all make mistakes but in this time and age some unfortunate mistakes in your eyes may be drinking, smoking, and dating. We want to have a frank relationship with you but if we feel like you are going to react and get upset with us, chances are we will back off and not say anything even when we need you. Maybe our major in college is not what you want or maybe we are in love but can’t tell you. We really do love you but we as kids are stuck in a parallel with our modern lives while trying to relate to your customs. The fact of the matter is the only consistent thing about life is change. Now we as kids have to be calmer and really understand that we are from two different worlds, and we want you to do this as well. Now that you know our side we want to know yours.

Anjali & Trust Issues.

My heart was racing because I was drunk and the walk from the car to the door felt like a mile long. It seemed like an eternity to unlock my door and the entire time I was reminding myself to “act natural”. My make-up was smeared, I did not change out of my short dress and by the time I closed the door behind me I saw my parents sitting down and trying to find a daughter in me. They demanded me to come sit in front of them. I knew if I walked to them they would be able to smell the alcohol from my breath and my slurred words would give it away. I took a moment then started walking to them with the help of the walls and furniture around me. By the time I took a seat I saw them get angrier and scream, “Are you drunk!?” I denied it, I swore to them but my mom leaned in and smelled it on me. Just by the look on her face I knew I was in a lot of trouble. I thought at the time it would be great to lighten up the mood by telling them a joke I heard. I looked straight at my dad and said, a sandwich went into a bar and the bartender said, “Sorry we don’t serve food here”. I got no reaction but due to my intoxication I laughed really hard. My dad ordered my mom to take me upstairs and get me in bed; we will deal with her tomorrow.

My mother pulled my arm and dragged me up the flight of stairs. She gave me my bedtime clothes and put some water by my bedside table. I thought I was dreaming about throwing up but when I woke up I realized my clothes, bed, and floor were covered in it. By this point my mom had to clean it because I was way to hung-over to even help. I was called downstairs to have breakfast with the family but I knew I was due for a lecture. I walked to the breakfast table and before I had even sat down he demanded my phone and told me no more friends and no more going anywhere without our supervision. I just nodded my head and slid my phone to him and quietly went to my room with my breakfast.

I still had graduation and senior week ahead of me. My parents basically had me on house arrest, checking my phone every time it would buzz, going through my closet to make sure I was not hiding anything, and kept a close eye on my actions. I thought if I kept my good behavior up everything would be fine. Boy oh boy was I wrong about that thought process. They just needed a reason to bring up prom night and even with my 500 apologies they just did not want to even talk to me. I was reminded constantly of how much of a shame I was to the family name and how I can never be trusted.

Graduation day was bitter sweet. I thought to myself this is it, the 4 years of high school are over and senior week was going to be my only way to see my friends. After walking the stage my dad told me I would have 15 minutes to talk to my friends and I had no choice because I was not going to fight back. I knew senior week would not happen. I knew my parents were on the zero tolerance policy but the worst part was how they overshadowed my accomplishments over the past four years. I earned scholarships but it was overlooked because they were still comparing me to girls they thought had good image although everyone knew they sneak out every weekend and do the things I once did.

I heard my name being called and I got up to retrieve my diploma. The entire time I was walking back to my seat I thought how I would have never handled the situation like my parents did. Unlike them, I understand the impulses teenagers have. The social environment and curiosity leads them to experiment with things that their parents might not be proud of. I knew in my college career I would drink again, but the worst part was that I couldn’t tell them anything anymore.

Anjali is not a real girl, everything was made up and fictional but being a South Asian teenager is difficult. We have to balance two worlds between friends and family but that often gets overlooked. I have decided to stop the story here but next week I will have a message to the parents.

Anjali in high school.

It was 12th grade and I was sitting three rows from the stage. During our valedictorian’s speech I just could not focus because she was so damn boring. I zoned out and started reflecting on the last four years of my journey through high school.

9th grade I woke up and my mom was telling me how she went to the temple yesterday to do Pooja for a good first day. We were not wealthy and had just enough money to make ends meet. My only option for a ride to school was my dad’s tow truck. The embarrassment I felt when getting out of his truck was indescribable. I would check my surrounds in hopes that no one would know that I was leaving from the rusty and squeaking truck. All the other students would be dropped off in luxury cars and walked with a sense of pride unlike me. When I walked into school the hallways were big which scared me because I had no idea where to go or even whom to ask for help. Everyone knew one another from childhood or was part of an extracurricular group so they all knew one another. I was the new girl in the neighborhood and had to find a way to be seen. I craved the popularity and recognition but my parents controlling everything I did made my journey tough.

10th grade was a little better because I met a few people and was able to walk in with them without the sense of embarrassment. The reality was I wanted to be the girls I saw in the corner with the guys. They were beautiful and everyone knew them! Unfortunately my parents had one major rule which was no talking to boys. All my childhood I followed this but I started to realize that there was no harm in having a few male friends. Plus at this moment I was desperate because I wanted more attention.

11th grade I found ways to trick my parents from “Mom I have a study group” to “Dad I have to get some extra help from the teachers” I always found a way to stay out later. Those excuses were my way to get to the mall and do some shopping with my girlfriend. I started packing an extra outfit every day in my backpack and would change once I got into school. I started wearing miniskirts and showing off extra skin as a way to get phone numbers. It worked but I could not save guys numbers because if a name showed up on my phone while I was around my parents they would lose it. At first I had a paper with numbers and names on it but then my friend showed me a clever way to not have to sneak around texting my new guy friends. They told me to save the numbers into the phone as female names. For example John is Jessica and Richard is Rachelle. I could not thank them enough because it worked like a charm. I got away with it until my last year in school.

12th grade I was making several friends, guys and girls and had become more comfortable with the secret lifestyle I had. This was all the same until I got asked to prom. Since I got so happy I said yes to “Rachel”. I could not use the same excuses as before because the night would end late, so my only option was the sneak out of the house. I did not tell my parents but I told my date I would meet him down the street. I remember running to his car and enjoying prom night so much because I had never experienced this before. I had my first kiss that night, I drank, and did so much more that I blacked out. When I got home I opened the door I saw my parents waiting in the living room. I was too drunk to stand and they sat down looking at my dress, smeared make-up, and a daughter they did not recognize.

A little about Anjali.

Before I get started on this four weeklong story I want to talk about something. We live in a world of problems but the worst problem to have is not knowing you have a problem. We all deal with internal or external issues, simple as a flat tire ruining your day, or maybe an argument with a loved one because they touched on a sensitive topic. Forget others, but I feel like the life is being sucked out of me when I am asked to help someone with their issues because I have dealt with people who would not do the same for me.

The story that will start next week is about a young girl named Anjali. She is a 19-year-old fictional character who is dealing with the generational, cultural, and mental differences since her parents are immigrants from Punjab and she is born and raised in America. This is a problem many South Asian communities deal with yet ignore because we feel like nothing can be done. It may be comical for some but believe me it is reality for most. This story will follow her journey in hopes to find her identity in a Punjabi family and be a part of American culture. Just to give some history, Anjali is a freshman at a university studying to be a doctor, not because she wants to, but because it will make her parents proud. Our South Asian societies focus heavy on social status and what others will think which is why many South Asians deal with internal and external issues such as Anjali will. Anjali not only lies to her parents but also to her self about many things that you will see as the story continues. From Anjali’s dating life, friends, and her crazy parents. See you next week as we explore and start from Anjali’s high school life!