Living in a New World While Maintaining Tradition

. April 30, 2016.

When offered a job in Ann Arbor four years ago, Senthil, his wife, Ramya, and daughter, Bhaavna leapt at the opportunity to begin a new life in Michigan. Uprooted from two traditional Indian families and transitioning to a very different culture though was no easy task. Now settled into work, with some firm friendships, and a good school for Bhaavna, Ramya and Senthil love their new life, balancing old traditions with new.

Marriage by arrangement

Senthil and Ramya were born and raised in India, Senthil from Chennai, the capital of the Tamilnadu region and Ramya from Erode further south. The couple are very much in love, but their  marriage was organized in part by their families. “Our families looked to a traditional marriage broker for a match of eligible brides and grooms. They made sure that prospective husbands had a good salary, and they looked for a good match between our ages, and our family cultural values. Kindness in the family is very important” said Ramya.  She explained that the search also analyzes Indian horoscopes based on the main star in the sky at birth. Ramya notes, “We met just twice before the marriage ceremonies.”  Senthil adds, “We got lucky. We found a very good match.”

Senthil and Ramya’s life is rooted in many Indian cultural traditions. They keep faith at the Hindu temple, celebrate Indian festivals, cook authentic Indian foods and raise Bhaavna with the same traditions. Senthil and Ramya stay grounded and it’s helped them find new friends with similar backgrounds and ways of thinking.  

Missing family and friends back home though has been tough, especially for Ramya. “Usually in Tamilnadu, girls will reach their mother’s place when they are in the seventh to ninth month of pregnancy and deliver the baby there” said Ramya. They will stay there for three initial months to learn how to take care of a small baby and their own health.” Without the elders around her, and the aunties (a traditional way of addressing older women) for a long time, Ramya said, “I felt lonely here and had no one to ask about raising Bhaavna.”

Ramya, Senthil, and Bhaavna have an absolute date every weekend with family though. Skype calls are very important, keeping them in touch with back home. They got to see family in person last year when their parents visited. Senthil said, “It was in September and my parents were too cold and didn’t want to go out anywhere. I hope they come back again. It will have to be in summer, but even the summer heat still won’t compare to the heat in Chennai back home.”

Happy Changes

Playing in the Michigan snow is probably one thing their families will never do with them, and they both are a little sad about that, but Ramya in particular is very happy with some cultural changes she has made in Michigan. It is gradually changing in India, but when Ramya was there most women didn’t drive. “The streets were so busy and it was easier to be driven by family members or to use public transport. Being able to drive over here has given me a sense of freedom and independence that I never had before.” She has also joined a women’s organization, International Neighbors, where she volunteers on the newsletter and website teams and enjoys social groups for activities such as cooking. “We don’t have organizations like this in India. It has helped fill the gap of having no family here.”

When asked if they would return to India soon, Senthil replied, “We like it a lot here. Our goldfish produced a family of 20 on New Year’s Day and now we have three goldfish tanks and many more mouths to feed. We are staying here for the foreseeable future!”