By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar
For many of us moms living outside of South Asia, finding an inner South Asian culture of friends that are like-minded with similar attitudes toward the culture can be a challenge, especially in Brooklyn. That challenge gets even bigger when your spouse is not South Asian. How do you decide how to expose your children to both cultures in a way that is meaningful? For Asha Cryan, that was one thing she was grappling with as a mother in a mixed marriage. Her husband immigrated fromIreland when he was 25 and she immigrated from India when she was just four.
“He is clearly very Irish, while I was what you call us “ABCD (American Bred Confused Desi),” said Cryan. “I noticed my two kids then 4 and 7 were extremely fond of their Irish culture and had a more somber and serious attitude with Indian culture, given my own personal family circumstances. I wanted them to be exposed to Indian culture in a fun, jovial and cultural manner. I also had a limited Indian friends circle because honestly I never felt comfortable with most Indian-Americans of my own generation.”
Living with the Park Slope community in Brooklyn she said she at the encouragement of her husband, she put up a posting for others in similar situations to meet up as a group. Much to her surprise, 20 women responded and they held a potluck in her home. That was back in April 2006. Today the group called Brooklyn Mixed Masala Club has grown to nearly140 families, majority with mixed marriages and families with a common interest of wanting to connect their culture for their families. Cryan, who is now moving to the UK is passing along her brainchild to a group of equally committed and enthused ladies –Chitra Aiyar, Amrita Barth, Simmi Degnemark, Lyn Rajguru, Sudha Reddy, Courtney Vishwadia, and many more who rally to help when called upon.
What’s the mission of Mixed Masala today?
We are a Brooklyn-based group for families with connections to South Asia. Some of us have one South Asian partner (“Mixed”), some have two South Asian partners (“Masala”), and others are connected to the South Asian community through their children.
While we are all very different, we have a lot in common. This group is about exploring and promoting our South Asian culture and traditions within the community, to help our children understand and appreciate many aspects of our rich culture. We host cultural activities, organize playgroups and classes, and have a monthly Girls Night Out. We engage in activities which help to foster a sense of community amongst our members (men, women and children) by celebrating our major and regional festivals, cultural events, classes (dance, music, language) sports and of course GNO and Adult Nights Out.
Who is able to join?
The group is web-based social community via a NING platform. Anyone is able to join as long as they show an affinity towards South Asian culture. Our group represents South Asian immigrants (somewhat lesser degree), 2nd generation South Asians of which MANY are in mixed marriages (one partner is South Asian), and also several Americans who have adopted Indian children. These Americans are probably are strongest advocates because while we bring South Asian culture to our group, given our own upbringing in the USA, it is with an American twist, which I think they find very comfortable to blend into. I find it very intriguing that South Asian immigrant couples actually like our group given we water things down and are not probably the purest in celebrating things. So, there is no exclusion and it is a family group versus a “moms” group.
How many members are there?
It seems to grow by the week, but currently there are about 140 families spread across Brooklyn and Manhattan. The group is quite diverse. I am probably one of the older members of the group and definitely my kids who are now 9 and 12 are one of the older kids. The ladies I listed above are very active in the group and typically for events or planning these ladies are then able to rally a group of supporting characters. Like any group, we have personality clashes or differences of opinion on how to approach this group, but we always strive to put the group ahead of any clashes. I have probably, unknowingly, insulted some of my closest friends in this group as I often say the “I’ll miss Mixed Masala more than any individual person in this group”.
Give us an example of what activities the group takes part in? What kind of activities do you do?
We have three “official” activities – our annual Diwali party, a belated Spring Holi festival we celebrate around mid-May and a family picnic in the autumn. We have a standing Girls Night Out on the 2nd Thursday of each month. There are smaller groups that get together to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi (Marathi/South Indian), book readings, and other ad-hoc get togethers. The Ning site facilitates events and communication very well, and we’re really trying to encourage other members to sponsor/host smaller events. About 20 families also participate in Hindi classes. The beauty is this is all happening in Brooklyn and no one has to schlep to Manhattan, NJ or Queens for this.
How does Mixed Masala help moms?
For me, it has helped me expose my kids to Indian culture in a fun and educational way, and with that backdrop I’ve made some very close friends and my husband has found his own niche too. I think for men married to South Asian spouses and vice-versa, this is a great safe group to also find similar peers. Courtney, who is one of our very heavy lifters and Ning platform administrator, is the Sonia Gandhi of our group! I’m in shock and awe of the commitment she has towards this group. For many newcomers, I think they take the group for granted, and just how special it is. The unique-ness, I believe, is it is a 2nd generation family group and all of us have come together not because of our parents’ direction, but more because it fills some void in our lives.
What tips can you offer other moms looking to maybe start a group like Mixed Masala in their area?
Don’t be shy. If it’s something you feel strongly about, most likely other people are probably feeling the same way. If there’s an energy in the group that’s the best. You need another larger community based forum to be able to put the “word-out” on this idea, as we have with Park Slope Parents in Brooklyn. Also, do learn to work together because it takes a lot of energy. It’s not about number of members, but our mission is really about bringing this group to as many interested people as possible within the greater Brooklyn area. You should also understand that a pan South Asian group means a host of traditions, beliefs, and practices. Food, celebrations and religions have to be considered because South Asia is so diverse. Members will need to work together to create something uniquely American and practices unique to their own group.
If you’re interested in learning more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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