Reflections on: Reproductive Justice, Parenting, and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Jaspreet Chowdhary, RJ Fellow Alum

Reproductive justice (RJ) is the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy and to have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. Since becoming a parent, I have been thinking about how to apply the third tenet of RJ to my life in the context of my lived experience as a South Asian American woman, who is the daughter of immigrants, and in an inter-religious marriage.

I grew up in a South Asian and American home; my family was very involved in the local Sikh community. Every aspect of my life has been some form of building a bridge between two cultures and finding ways to create a niche. When I was younger, I wanted to fit into what I perceived as the typical American landscape while still being part of the Sikh community. The food I ate at home was yummy, but hard to explain to my peers. A friendly childcare provider would ask all the kids on the way to elementary school what we had for dinner last night. I felt immense relief on days when my answer was something simple like pizza, macaroni and cheese, or tacos instead of something that I would have to explain like chole, daal, or dosa. After a few white lies about what I ate and then getting questioned about why I was lying, I learned to simply say, “Indian food,” when the answer felt too complex. Packing parts of my identity into small, easy to explain pieces became a skill I used frequently.

When we went on vacations, I felt annoyed and left out that my name was never hanging on those personalized key chains. I knew that people would have a hard time pronouncing my name; I would brace myself for the inevitable questions about how to say my name and if I had a nickname. Like many kids in a similar situation, I created my own hints and ways of remembering how to say my name. I told my parents that I wish that they had spelled my name differently, so that people would have an easier time pronouncing it. Years later when I was thinking about naming my children, my spouse and I gave potential names the “playground” test. We would think of all the ways the names could be mocked and used that as a way to determine name contenders. In spite of all this preparation, some people still struggle with saying my kids’ names correctly, and I missed out on naming one of them after my grandfather because his name rhymes with “poop.”

My kids’ world is different in many ways: they benefit from having parents who navigated the American school system and society in ways that their immigrant grandparents did not. We have a certain cultural literacy that will help them avoid certain stressful encounters. We know about how grading in the schools work, are comfortable having play dates with kids from different cultural backgrounds, know what would go over relatively well at lunch tables, and can dress them (and us) into appropriate “American” attire for different situations. After becoming an adult, I have more confidence in sharing the ways I am connected to my South Asian heritage. I can say with pride that both of my kids enjoy homemade Indian food almost every night for dinner. We go to the Gurdwara and the Temple. My daughter takes classes to learn Punjabi. Both kids enjoy listening to Sikh hymns.

However, I also feel worried, especially in this current political climate, about how we are perceived. Balancing pride in our cultural identities with a very real concern for safety shapes my parenting. Each night before he sleeps, I sing my son a Sikh hymn. My parents sang me the same song; it has been sung at every milestone in my life, including my wedding ceremony, birthing my kids, and the first few days after they were born. The main thing I remember when I hear it is that I am loved and cared for.

I want those same things for my kids (and all kids). Namely, that the values with which they are raised include an appreciation for their heritage, a healthy self-image, and desire to make the world a better place. My work as a reproductive justice advocate is a very big part of what I bring to the parenting experience, and RJ values continue to inform how I raise my children.