This year there was an historical bill passed in California which states that October will be Hindu American Awareness and Appreciation Month*. This is wonderful news for all Hindu Indian American children living in California because this means that teachers can provide instruction that allows for children to be aware of, and appreciate, what it means to be a Hindu American. This is mostly an education-based initiative with school resources being released throughout October.
I have written in the past about the importance of identifying with a child’s bicultural identity (https://www.indiawest.com/blogs/raising-bi-cultural-children-being-indian-being-american/article_29a0f2be-320e-11e8-860d-db13e4a61312.html) and how that plays an important role in their lives. The research shows that children who are able to identify their bicultural identity—their culture (e.g., being Hindu) and the culture of mainstream society (being American) – experience less confusion, isolation and alienation in school and in life.
Growing up in California, it was not easy for me to talk to my friends about being Hindu. Many believed that I worshipped multiple gods because they would come to my house and see our prayer room filled with statues of Ganesha, Saraswati, Lakhsmi, etc. It was not until recently that I have been able explain to people who are curious about our religion that Hindus are monotheistic and believe in one supreme being that can take on many forms. My friends also believed that Hindus worshipped cows and burned widows (i.e., sati) because of what our textbooks showcased on what it meant to be Hindu.
Hinduphobia existed when I was growing up and unfortunately, it still exists today. The media plays a significant role in this. At the recent Hindu American Foundation Gala 2019, they mentioned several ways Hinduphobia still exists. For example, there was a tweet by a radio producer that stated, “If Indians give up Hinduism, they will also be solving most of their problems what with all the piss drinking and dung worshipping.” Unfortunately, these types of comments and thoughts are permeating to mainstream audiences.
When I read my children’s book, It’s Time for Holi!, at a school in the San Francisco Bay Area and asked the children what they already knew about India or Indians, one Caucasian boy stated, “Indian people drink their own pee because it is healthy for them.” It is unfortunate that what we know about Hindus and Hinduism is wrong because of how the media and textbooks have portrayed and represented it. Because I was born and raised in California, I, myself, have had to un-learn and re-learn what it means to be Hindu.
With the passing of this new bill, I am extremely hopeful that new generations will learn accurate information about Hinduism through Hindu Awareness and Appreciation Month. I recently met with the Hindu American Foundation’s new education director, Shereen Bhalla. We discussed some of the new initiatives the HAF has put together for October.
This year, we will celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth (Oct. 2). To celebrate this, the HAF will be providing a “Using Non-Violence to Fight Oppression: Examining the Influence of Mahatma Gandhi on Social Change Movements” lesson plan for 10-12th graders to be used in their Social Studies and History classes. High school students will learn about Gandhi’s influence of Sarojini Naidu, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ella Baker, Cesar Chavez, and Delores Huerta.
The Diwali Toolkit (Oct. 27) will also be available for 3-6th graders. The toolkit offers teachers a factsheet and a reading primer on the religious significance of Diwali. Lesson plans include Common Core State Math Standards which incorporate Diyas and Sudoku as well as a Rangoli design lesson plan, and a Word Finder. In addition, the HAF will be providing an Educators Guide to Hinduism to provide insight to teachers and district administrators into the religious and cultural customs of Hinduism.
I think we should all do our part in making this a successful initiative. For parents, I have provided many free resources around my book Lights, Camera, Diwali! that can be used in classrooms this October. (https://www.indiawest.com/blogs/for-indian-american-parents-going-beyond-pumpkins-and-turkeys-celebrating/article_f6c2736c-dcae-11e8-960a-43d90c70daab.html). The resources include a book trailer, worksheets (e.g., Cycles of the Moon, Signs of Diwali, Indian Epic Folktale) and coloring sheets to be used for children from Kindergarten to 5th grade.
In addition, let’s make sure that we let all our family, friends, and colleagues know about HAAM. I encourage you to post how your children have celebrated HAAAM in their schools by using the hashtag #HAAAM. Let’s change the narrative in California on what it means to be Hindu American. We know that California is often at the forefront of change. This initiative is likely to be extended to other states in the near future so let’s make sure it is successful from the very beginning!
(*I want to acknowledge the important work of these bill sponsors: Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D), Jim Cooper (D), Cristina Garica (D), Tim Grayson (D), Ash Kalra (D), Bill Quirk (D), Tom Umberg (D), Bob Wieckowski (D).
(Dr. Amita Roy Shah is an author, educator, and entrepreneur. She is passionate about the social, emotional, and cultural well-being of children. She is an adjunct professor at San Jose State University in the Department of Child and Adolescent Development. She is the Founder of Hybrid Parenting.org, an online educational platform for parents, and Social Edge, a brain-based EQ program for kids. She is also the author of It’s Time for Holi! and Lights, Camera, Diwali! She has a doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University and a master’s degree in education from Pepperdine University.)