As I reflect back on the last eleven years of my life, I feel a surge of gratitude. I moved to the United States from India in 2007, after getting married to the man I loved. It was meant to be a charmed life as I enjoyed the freedom of the Western society while spending my days next to the person of my dreams. A charmed life it turned out to be, only not as romantic. It was more an immense struggle between fulfilling other people’s expectations and realizing my own dreams.
Leaving a place where I grew up was hard in many ways, but it was in every way perceptible. The act of physically moving from one place to the other is probably the easiest thing. It’s the adjustment to new surroundings that comes later that can be hard. However, nothing can compare to the adjusting to a new culture. At the same time, I am grateful that I was exposed to a brand new culture when I moved to the Bay Area. As I learned about ways of life here, I had the perfect opportunity to evaluate the ones I had grown up with. While I recognize the beauty of my culture in many ways, one thing stood out to me: growing up, repressing my thoughts and ideas was a common occurrence. Mine was a culture of submission when it came to men and older people. As a girl, I was expected to defer to the judgment of others much wiser and smarter than me. Mapping out my life was as simple as getting ready to be a wife and mother. Everything else was secondary. Oftentimes, I felt stifled because I couldn’t assert my own identity, express my innermost desires and dreams for myself, career included, without fearing judgment from others. However, once I was surrounded by women who actually heard me out, appreciated my ideas and celebrated my potential, I realized that I didn’t need to repress my thoughts anymore, that my voice mattered and I needed others to hear it.
Mired in my cultural beliefs, I measured my self-worth with how happy my husband and his family was with me. I was told as much by them. My duty was to think of them first, fulfill their needs and cater to their expectations of me. When my then husband would come home, I was expected to look after him and take care of his needs. The fact that I didn’t do anything for myself, and spent my time either at the job or taking care of my husband, his parents or the house was a matter of pride for my mother-in-law. I didn’t think it was okay, but I didn’t really know if the alternative, taking care of myself too, was okay either. Finally, reading multiple articles on self-actualization, going back to school here and having friends who made me feel worthy all of my own educated me on the fallacies of the concept of self-worth that I adhered to.
Encouraged, I carved my own path from then on, asserting myself, paying the price with a broken marriage. I disappointed loved ones along the way, people who have ultimately come to see my point-of-view and are even empowered to take similar actions for themselves. My parents didn’t feel entirely comfortable with my decision to separate from my husband. They were worried about how the society would view a divorced woman. I felt helpless for the longest time, sticking it out just because I was afraid of the shame my family would have to bear. It took much courage and ultimately, the realization that I couldn’t go on like this for a single moment longer, that made me disregard all my doubts and walk away. Hard as it was, the challenge of finding my own way in this new country was probably the most empowering and uplifting experience I have had in my life.
As women, we matter, our intellect matters; our vision for ourselves is not second to anyone else’s. For me, the change happened organically. It was gradual: an empowering conversation with a friend here, a thought-provoking article on relationships there. I am grateful for the change. But RAWW is even more significant to me because it provides women with a dynamic, current, ever understanding support network of other women, empowering us in the most powerful way, one RAWWTalk at a time.
I am empowered just by the opportunity to share my story. It is my first time putting my innermost thoughts about my struggles on paper. Thank you for this beautiful platform. I hope it empowers you too. I will continue sharing my reflections and my journey of self-actualization. As I get ready to start working on the next phase of my life, I am deeply grateful that I have the power of RAWW to support me!