By Chitra Jagannathan
I compare myself to my mother in a lot of ways. Since I was a child, people have always said that we look exactly alike. The way we speak, laugh, and joke around share striking resemblances. The one trait I take seriously though, is my mother’s uncanny ability to stand up for what she believes in. I honestly would describe her as radicalized. From the time I was in high school, my mother set the tone for the type of person I would become. She would have lively discussions with the NPR broadcasts about current events and write letters to directors, editors, and producers if she felt that their content was discriminatory. She would email senators and government officials about bills that she felt did not support the needs and views of the community. She would argue with my brown friends’ parents about politics in a way that would have them stop and consider what she was saying. She even left me at home many times while I was finishing homework to participate in the Ferguson protests and those against the Trump administration. Looking back, I always thought speaking up was her second nature.
I think that’s probably why I didn’t feel scared to come out to my mother last year. Well actually, she came out for me. I was on a very traumatizing spring break trip which ended in me trying to escape an abusive situation. In a panic, and very much as a last resort, I called my mom while sitting on the train to the airport, sobbing so hard I could barely get any words out. She asked what was wrong and I gave her some bullshit response about how I was scared about studying abroad for the entirety of the next year. She paused for a moment, confused.
“But you’ve never had any trouble making friends. What’s really going on?”
I hung up the call, unable to come up with a lie convincing enough to lay her worries to rest. The next day, when I was back in Boston, she called back and said:
“Are you and your girlfriend having relationship problems?”
I was stunned. My mom and I have never had that kind of super close relationship where I could just dial her and tell her my problems. I kept most of my personal life separated from my parents. She took my silence as a confirmation and said,
“Do you want me to come out to Boston?”
I whispered yes and within the hour she sent me a confirmation code with her ticket in tow. No further questions asked. That trip to Boston was the first time that I’d ever deeply bonded with my mom. She was open to hearing about my bisexuality and would ask questions that were never accusatory, just curious. She gave me advice on how to move on and process my emotions and opened up by telling me how glad she was that I had reached out to her that last day in Miami. She said something about her just knew.
From that moment, I was convinced that my mom and I were the same type of person.
The next year was filled with a lot of growth. I took a year to study abroad, first back home in Los Angeles then in Sydney. Something about having gone through a traumatic experience made me more aware of injustices and made me a lot more vocal about issues that I felt needed voicing. Having grown up seeing my mom do the same thing, I felt like I was beginning to fill some pretty big shoes.
Then COVID sent everyone home early and my year of exploration was halted. George Floyd’s death sent the country into a tailspin and within 24 hours, the world had exploded. I attended more protests than was probably deemed safe by COVID standards, made posts, called out people on social media, and made my anger heard, all while channeling my mom’s energy. However, when I went to go visit her this time, I was met with a harsh realization.
We disagreed about everything.
I mean, not the big stuff. She still actively supports BLM, LGBTQ+ issues, and voting Trump out of office. However, I feel like I’m now too outspoken for her. My mother was always bold but not necessarily visible. Social media has made me bold without abandon. Our parents’ generation has been taught not to doubt a system that has always supported them, especially for those who were given the opportunity to immigrate to the United States. So for her to hear my socialist statements about completely abolishing the police system, trying to explain that both India and Pakistan have used colonialist tactics in Kashmir, and navigating the blurry line between Muslims and Indian controversies, with a bluntness and decisiveness that she had never really experienced before, must have been odd. It’s been strange for myself, considering I’ve always felt like I had a strong moral base from my mom in terms of speaking out, only to find that I’ve out-radicalized her.
This issue is something that a lot of my peers have noticed recently. Frustration over having to speak to parents who just don’t understand can be a difficult thing to grapple with, especially when the concepts are related to such deeply socialized issues relating to ethnic groups that are so different from our parents. I’ve found that even by having small conversations with my mom just based on the words that she chooses to use when talking about specific issues has gotten her to understand a lot more about these pressing social issues.
I’ve realized that my mom is not the poster child for speaking out against injustices as much as I may have wanted her to be. I forget sometimes that she didn’t grow up in the same kind of environment as I did, with a multitude of different experiences, perspectives, and opinions. Using the insurgence of social media, my generation has begun to break down ideas of nationalism and patriotism to realize that there are faults in every part of this world. And while my mom may be open-minded and outspoken, I don’t think my mom is quite at my level yet.
But she’s almost there.
Chitra is from the Bay Area and is currently in her senior year at Boston University pursuing a BFA in Theater Arts and a minor in Advertising/Marketing. She is also a dancer (credits Simmi Singh, Mickey Singh, Aliya Janell) and is super passionate about public speaking especially in regards to politics/current events. She is trying to pursue a career in film & TV.