Caught Between Two Cultures
Originally Published: March 10, 2014
Revised: March 10, 2014
You’re watching a movie or TV show with your family when out of the blue, there it is—the dreaded sex scene. We’ve all been there before, the awkward fidgeting, the nervous laughter, the let-me-look-at-my-phone-and-check-for-text-messages move. Well, try going through all of that with my mom.
You see, I was born in Nepal, a country more than 7,500 miles away from New Jersey. When my parents came to America, they brought all of their traditions with them. Their Nepali beliefs and virtues somehow managed to resist American customs. So, for as long as I can remember, my life has been a constant clash of two cultures: Nepali and American.
When my parents came to America, they brought all of their traditions with them.
Balancing Cultural Ideals
The last time my mom and I awkwardly sat through a film, a couple started making out on screen. I know what some of you are thinking: They’re just kissing. What’s the big deal? Well, try telling that to my mom. She’ll get really tense and then she’ll start her spiel: “Teenagers shouldn’t be dating because it’s important to focus on your education and to be independent and—” blah, blah, blah.
Sure, I can see where some of her points are coming from, but a lot of what she tells me just adds to my confusion. When I’m at home, it’s almost as if my views are pushed back in time, to an era where open sexual expression is shunned. No “inappropriate” television, no hanging out with only guys, no going to prom with a date. When I’m at school, at work or out with friends, my views are propelled forward to the American present, a time when people can hold hands, same-sex couples can kiss in public and girls can be empowered. I’m forced to go back and forth between these two worlds to find a balance and create my own system of beliefs.
Non-Existent Nepali Sex Ed
In Nepali culture, teens pretty much never have the “birds and the bees” talk at home. Sex, contraceptives and relationships? These are all topics I’ve never even briefly discussed with my parents. It’s difficult because they expect me to follow their beliefs, and they don’t realize just how much of an effect American culture has on me. I mean, how do you expect me to not want to be in a relationship when I see teenage couples on TV and in school and in novels?
My parents tell me that I’m not allowed to date until after college. But just because my parents have set rules, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have romantic feelings. I have crushes and go on dates. I sometimes have trouble telling someone how I feel or dealing with a confusing situation. Having an adult to talk to would have been and could be really helpful to me.
Finding My Way on Sexuality
In American culture, being in a relationship as a teen means you have two people who change their Facebook statuses, go on movie dates and talk on the phone into the night. This seems perfectly reasonable because our teenage years are usually a time to meet people and learn how to feel comfortable with romantic relationships and even with our sexuality. But in Nepali culture, many relationships are arranged by the girl and the guy’s parents and typically end up in marriage. No Facebook statuses, no movie dates, no late-night phone calls—just the belief that you should practice abstinence until you are forced to marry. I haven’t really discussed it with my parents, but it seems as if they want to choose my future husband. I find it funny that they actually think I would ever agree to that.
I can’t blame my parents for the beliefs they try to instill in me. Those are the ideas they were taught not to question. But now that I have the chance to make my own decisions, I have formed my own principles. I believe that same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states, all women should have access to birth control and teens should be able to have sex before marriage without being judged by society. More importantly, I’ve decided that I have the choice to express my sexuality as an individual, regardless of what cultures I am exposed to.
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