The Arias-Aiyar global khichdi
We think its quite delicious
Hola Global Jigsaw Friends,
I’m just back from London after a whirlwind 4 days. It felt strange being somewhere I could actually understand everything people were saying, given I am an English speaker, but have spent 20+ years living in non-English speaking countries.
One of the reasons our family moved to Spain a year and half ago, was for our kids to become properly bilingual. Here’s a post on how that’s panned out.
Our kids are a delicious, global khichdi. They are half Indian and half Spanish. The older one, Ishaan, was born in China, and Nico, the younger one, in Belgium. They went to kindergarten in Indonesia and primary school in Japan. When people asked them where they were “from,” they were nonplussed. “What does ‘from’ mean,” Nico queried me repeatedly. I wasn’t sure what to tell him. Was it a question about place of birth, or genetic inheritance? Was it about values, identity, or a piece of land?
The Arias-Aiyar foursome. November 2021
In 2020, bang in the middle of the COVID pandemic, we moved to Spain, my husband’s country. The decision was precipitated by the hope that this would help the boys put down geographical roots. That they would finally be able to answer the “from” question with at least partial conviction. They would learn Spanish, make Spanish friends, and finally have some overlap between their family name and identity.
Such are the best laid plans of mice and men. As the months ticked by in our new home in Madrid, the boys decided they ‘hated’ Spanish kids. They resolutely refused to make Spanish friends and only hung out with foreigners in school. They were reluctant to learn the language.
And Nico, our picky eater, detested the food. A nice Spanish auntie would ruffle his hair and fondly ask him how he liked “jamon” – the cold cut that is Spain’s gastronomic pride and joy -only to spasm her hand back as though electrocuted, when our ten-year-old replied, “It’s yuck!”
The boys waxed nostalgic about our time in Tokyo: the sushi, the ramen, the cherry blossoms, the people. But they were children and had forgotten what it had been like four years earlier, when they were new to Japan.
Firsts are hard. First day at school, first time in a new house, first encounter with a new language and first attempts at making friends: none if these are easy. But the easy is rarely transformational. Change, however difficult it may be, is what ultimately expands us.
My children have had to cope with a lot of newness in their lives. But I believe - and they are gradually giving me indications that they agree – that exposure to the world has been a gift for them.
When languages, cultures, and peoples collide, that is, when we explore the world, the categories that label and classify us into separateness begin to soften. We develop multiple perspectives and understand other points of view. An Indian may discover how the Chinese view the 1962 border war in a rather different light. A Chinese national might not be able to help falling in love with a Japan they imagined to be an antagonist upon visiting Kyoto in cherry blossom season.
People everywhere have similar concerns. In India we wait for the rain, in England they wait for the sun. But the celebration of “fine” weather, when it comes, is the same.
My boys have acquired a plurality of lenses through which to inhabit the world, a fancy way of saying that they can put themselves in the shoes of people from other contexts. All the strange new foods and schools they have had to navigate have ultimately been a journey towards learning to empathize. And given today’s ideologically divided world, I cannot think of a skill children need more.
Today, almost two years into our lives in Spain, the boys speak Spanish, have expanded their group of friends and their palettes.
As a family we are increasingly of the view that there is nowhere that is not wonderful. Beijing’s hutongs, Indonesia’s sambals, Brussels’ antique markets, Oxford’s libraries, Spain’s flower-filled balconies, and Tokyo’s dentists (Dr Suzuki- this is for you!) are all joy-giving, affirmations that we feel great pride in. “Look!” we want to tell people, “Come and see these things. Aren’t they glorious?”
We have accreted so many identities, it’s like we’re building a luminescent shell within which to shelter, snail-like. We are a little Chinese and a little Spanish, with a splash of Japanese, a dash of Indonesian and a big dollop of Indian.
Children certainly need a nucleus of stability from where to digest the swirling currents of the world. That’s where family values come in. Ultimately, our boys don’t come ‘from’ a country, but planet Earth. And from a set of values that prioritizes addition over subtraction, embracing difference rather than seeking purity. We like our khichdi, thank you!
I’d love to know more about your families Are they tossed salads? Blended soups? Smorgasbords? Thalis? Let me know below.
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Hasta proxima semana,