There is something about November that is very different from other months. Once the clock turns to 2 AM in the morning (remember Daylight Savings ends October 31, 2020), the air gets crisper, you get your sweaters out. The leaves start changing colors and falling. You hear the faint sound of bells jingling at a distance, and the wind brings the smell of pumpkin pie.
For most Americans, November is about family and Thanksgiving. An American tradition since 1621. November is unique because it’s the month to give thanks for family, the great things that happened in our lives, the lessons we learn, and honor those we have lost in our lives.
During November, the I’m Loving Me Project will highlight those amazing stories about family, tradition, loss, and redemption. This Sunday, we have our Self Love Conversation with Vinita Khilnani and discuss keeping family traditions alive in 2020.
Vinita Khilnani, a first-generation Indian-American, is an actor, comedian, improviser, singer based in Los Angeles, California. As a daughter of immigrant parents from India, she can relate to those who merge family tradition with the traditions of where they grew up. Her parents were raised quite differently from how traditional American kids are raised. She is a product of two Indian immigrants raising their firstborn in this confusing but compassionate country. She lovingly calls herself an “ABCD – an American Born Confused Desi.” She shares what she has learned over the years that have helped her preserve her Indian culture while living in the US.
1. Communicating with family members – Even though the Pandemic has all of us stuck working from home, unable to visit our family and friends, and worst, take-out doesn’t taste the same as sitting down and enjoying a nice meal at your favorite restaurant. For many, the lockdowns have shown us how important family is. It brought to light how, in the past, we have prioritized other things instead of spending time with those we love. Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook Portal, FaceTime, and others are all great options that help us keep in touch with family who lives far away or, as a safety precaution, we cannot visit. She found a new appreciation amid this time, “I have personally learned how much fun my family is during this crazy year. I have video chatted with them a lot more, and it has made me feel even closer to my family and our culture. I even got married a few weeks ago, and video chatted with the family to share the experience!”
2. Be Curious About Your Heritage – There is beauty in being different. To preserve one’s heritage is very important, to be curious to learn where we come from, why we are here, and how it happened. Learning about our history to understand the struggles, the victories, the mistakes, and the hardships that we as a people face helps us relate to others in one way or another. It is our duty to teach our youth the history of our cultures in order to preserve it for generations. There is a similarity in how our story in 2020 is similar to our family’s story in the past. That curiosity to learn more about our family’s history and heritage will create a thirst to learn more and share with our youth. In addition to our own history and culture, it is imperative to educate our children of other cultures. Vinita shared a meaningful reason why it is up to us to teach our youth about our culture and heritage. She said, “It will teach our children to be empathetic to others, become tolerant of their differences, will become more open-minded to other’s cultures, and appreciate how they and others live. Only then can we live together in harmony and unity.”
3. Embrace your local community – From the fear of the unknown, being different can be a reason for being ridiculed and bullied. Most first generations can relate to movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Bend It Like Beckham. The female protagonists feel “forced” to participate in traditions from “the Old World” and wish their families could be more like their stereotypical American friends in school, “The Cool New World.” However, it is imperative to embrace your culture’s community to keep family traditions alive in 2020. Vinita’s parents were no different. They highly encouraged her to have Indian friends. “I mean, who doesn’t want to talk about the three-hour-long pooja’s we experienced in our teenage years when all we really wanted to do was be on AIM!” She explained pooja is a worship ritual performed by Hindus to offer devotional homage and prayer to one or more deities, host and honor a guest, or spiritually celebrate an event. The beauty of age is that when we get older, first-generation kids will find a balance between their American and, in Vinita’s case, her Indian American friends. She acknowledges that keeping both cultures, her Indian heritage and American lifestyle, has kept her a well-rounded individual, and can see different points of view much easier.
4. Language – Studies discovered that the language spoken by an immigrant family would be lost by the third generation. Families will inevitably assimilate into the cultures of the country they are currently living in. However, it will take a conscious effort from everyone in the family to speak their original language as much as possible. Vinita’s parents went to extreme lengths to always to speak in Hindi and Sindhi. As difficult as it can be for a child of immigrant parents to rebel against “old traditions,” their diligence allowed her to understand Hindi and Sindi. Just like food, language is a way that allows us to remain connected with our culture and heritage. Many of you can agree that certain sayings, jokes, idioms, and expressions only make sense in one’s language versus the other. She believes teaching your children multiple languages at a young age is very important. The younger the child is, the easier it is! After all, she does hold two master’s degrees in science.
5. Family Time – Vinita’s final and most crucial tip on keeping traditions alive is family time. For those who can enjoy their family, it can be a source of strength, understanding, support, laughter, and most importantly, they are a direct link to your family’s history. Her family still celebrates family holidays such as Diwali, Raksha Bandhan, and India’s Independence Day. She admits that as a family, they have faced challenges in keeping their culture alive. However, they have persevered and made it through. For her, family is what keeps her grounded. Even though her family has adopted and assimilated the American culture, they keep honoring the traditions from where they came from fresh in their memories. Vinita shared a family joke; her father constantly reminds them of every conversation that “everything comes back to India.”
Vinita Khilnani is an actor, comedian, improviser, and singer based in Los Angeles, California. She also is a voice-over actor with a massive library of voices and characters. You have probably seen Vinita in numerous Buzzfeed videos, as well as a few commercials for Toyota, Geico, Walmart, and Chewy! She performed on several improv and sketch teams, performed with The Actors Company, and is quite active on TikTok, where she plays characters imitating her Indian mother. She is a recipient of the Groundlings Diversity Scholarship and is currently studying characters at The Groundlings and UCB. You can also find her performing with the Story Pirates!
She is a car enthusiast, a board member of the Porsche Club of America, and loves extreme sports. She volunteers her time with the Give-Mentor-Love Foundation, where she spends time and fundraises for young victims of human trafficking, and at the Symphonic Jazz Orchestra, where she assisting them with their social media management. She also pursued pop singing career where she wrote her own songs and toured. And because she is not a busy woman, she holds two master’s degrees in science. You can connect with Vinita on TikTok (@omgvinita) and Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/omgvinita/.