chosen family

as a queer panjabi first generation woman, i would be nowhere without my chosen family.

i have come a very long way in understanding myself, my relationship with my parents and the rest of the family, and what it means to both receive and give love & nurture.

i love my ma and dad. i truly do. i look at my father’s worn face, deep stress lines, gray hair, slight limp with such a heavy heart. he commutes about 2 hours to and from a computer data storage company that abuses its’ workers, does not allow them to unionize, and forces people of color to stare longingly through a glass ceiling that has yet to be shattered. he has weekly migraines. i yearn, every day, to help him heal.

my sister, brother, and i are my ma’s world. she knows (and desires to know) nothing else. she works at a semiconductor operating factory as a fab operator. meaning, she stands all day covered head-to-toe in a bunny suit, goggles covering her eyes, amidst dangerous chemicals. she is paid next to nothing. she comes home from twelve hour workdays to make dinner and clean, her hands and feet tired and worn.

they immigrated to the united states at an incredibly young age. my father was 25, maybe he was a bit self-aware. my mother was only 20. i can’t imagine that she knew herself at all. she was pulled away from all family and friends, to live with my father’s family, in a foreign country, new baby in tow. i have tried asking my ma what that felt like, “how did you feel? what do you remember about california in the 1980s?” she says something vague and changes the subject. my heart breaks. i yearn, every day, to help my mother heal.

growing up, i was beat. a lot. family members now tell stories of how impatient my mother was with me, how much i cried. they laugh, it’s normal. i was, and still am, afraid of my parents. my parents even often told me that a child should be afraid of their parents. they did not know that they were holding in their arms such a sensitive, empathetic child. a child that needed nothing more than space to be creative and to express her deep well of emotions. through middle and high school, my self-esteem did not exist.

growing up, i recall 0 positive affirmations. no reassurance. no “i’m proud of you” or even “you’re beautiful”. growing up, it was all i wanted.

i remember when i came home with the most exciting award of my young life: “best writer of the class”. 2nd grade. i was so excited, all smiles, jumping off the walls. as my parents walked through the doors in the evening, i ran to them. they said “okay, that’s nice”. later, they would tell me that writing is just a hobby and push me to do my math homework (i was never good at math).

this would continue to be a theme. even until my first salaried job offer at the age of 23.

i was ecstatic, it was my number 1 choice. i ran a victory lap around my home. my parents said,”it’s okay but keep applying for jobs that pay better.” it was at a nonprofit but actually paid better than most nonprofits. again, just like every other moment of achievement in my life, i could not help but feel sad and like i wasn’t enough.

i know it is not their fault, i know that they have struggled, sacrificed, seen and felt things i cannot even fathom. i can only imagine what it felt to travel to a new place, to speak with broken english in a strange country, with traditions and customs so vastly different from the ones at home. that’s scary. that’s fucking hard. harder than anything i have ever done. it’s an incredible, inspiring feat. it does not change the fact, though, that at this moment in my life i find it very hard to share my life with my family.

when i struggle so hard to build myself up, reaffirm myself, praise myself for my growth & good work — it’s terrifying to go to my parents’ house to have all of my hard work destroyed, made to feel small again.

the biggest kicker? my parents have no idea about my queer identity. in fact, no one in my family has ever even come out. i already can imagine my parents’ reaction. they will wonder what they did wrong, they will blame themselves, they will cry, they will want to hide this news from the extended family, they will ask me why i continue to dishonor them… as if i have always been a burden, something they want to hide away.

my whole life has been a constant internal battle with myself: am i really this bad of a child? why is everything i do wrong? why am i such an awful person? why can’t i make my parents and myself happy?

unbeknownst to myself till this past year or so: there is nothing wrong with either myself or my parents. we are all doing the best we can, with what life has thrown our way.

it is for all these reasons and many more, though, that chosen family is so key to my life. when something goes wrong and i know my parents will only kick me down further rather than providing nonjudgemental support — i call my chosen family. when something occurs in my love life and i need advice — i call my chosen family. when emotionally hurt, i call my chosen family, as my family has never provided me emotional support.

as a queer first generation panjabi woman, i am also afraid of losing family upon coming out. then, too, i will call upon my chosen family.

i have not always been the most loving or caring friend or family member but in these past couple years, it has become one of my most important goals. to become more loving, more caring, more compassionate – especially towards my loved ones that show me true unconditional love and support, leaving all judgement, biases, & attachment behind. i think it is for this reason, too, that i become so afraid & a little bit maniacal at any moment that it seems like someone in my chosen circle is angry with me or distancing themselves from me. i am loyal, protective, and a little bit too attached with my chosen family… but i can’t help it, it comes from a fear that maybe one day… if i choose to come out to my parents… that i will no longer have “family”.

one day, i hope my relationship with my parents will be a little bit more open, a little bit better. it will never be perfect, and i will never give my parents exactly what they dreamed of. all i want for them is to be able to find happiness from within themselves, not through their children. i hope that we can come to an understanding and at least, choose to be happy together. i hope, one day, that they will treat me as the autonomous, strong individual that i am.



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