Birthdays, social media, and the sweater syndrome

I turned 27 in October. I didn’t handle it well. I don’t usually handle birthdays well. They are for me what the new year is for many – A time to reflect on life. And by

Here's the Mens Wearhouse sweatshirt I wore a bit too long when I turned 26.

Here’s the Mens Wearhouse sweatshirt I wore a bit too long when I turned 26.

that I mean, a time to go on Facebook and lament about all the things I haven’t done yet.

How come when you’re in a slump, everyone else’s life seems so incredible? Suddenly everyone who dreamed of getting married is married and all the people who you thought would have boring lives are publishing books and living in Los Angeles. Social media has really capitalized on my comparing tendencies.  The irrational side of me takes over, telling me that the sliver of life I see on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter is a reflection of someone’s entire life. It feels terrible, but I have trouble looking away.

I don’t know what I thought my life would be like at 27 but it wasn’t this — I get caught up in my own expectations. I thought it would feel different. I thought I’d feel more mature or have more insight on my career or my relationship, or have that tight-knit group of six friends that people base television shows on.

I thought I’d be happier. I thought I’d be less afraid. I thought I’d be more secure. I guess if I was more secure and less afraid, I would be happier.

I’ve processed milestone birthdays in a pretty similar way each time. I find the most comfortable sweater or sweatshirt I can find and then I wear it randomly one day. Then the next day I don’t really want to wear anything but that sweater. And the next day. Then every day. For like a month. To school and work and at home. I hate putting it in the washer because I don’t want to not wear it. I develop a blind spot for how ratty it starts to get. Then one day it just feels ok to take it off, throw it out and get on with my life. Sometimes that day arrives as the result of close friends saying “take that damn thing off.” That’s what friends are for.

I didn’t do that when I turned 27. Maybe I should have. Instead I just cried a lot and thought about who I am and who I’m becoming. My level of twenties angst was at an all time high. It was embarrassing. I kept obsessing over that hopeless question: What kind of person am I? I’m someone who gets overwhelmed by birthdays. I’m afraid to ask for what I need and want from people. I’m even more afraid of being vulnerable and being open with people. But then I look at the up side. I’m pouring more effort into my self-growth than I ever have before. Three years ago I was living with my parents. I was a person too filled with grief to leave my house much or secure a full-time job. Things have changed since then – so that means, I can change. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen.

But if I can change, what’s reasonable? I always associated adulthood with having a better grasp on my limitations. What are the qualities about myself I can actually do something about? And what do I have to just accept?

And then once I identify my limitations, then what? We have to accept them, right? That’s what people tell me. It isn’t enough to just recognize them. We have to make peace with them being a part of who we are.

I’m not so great with that.

I really, really wish I was different in some ways. I wish I was more social and extroverted – it seems easier. I wish I was more comfortable asking for what I want or need. I wish I trusted people more. I wish I was a morning person. I wish I was better at managing  my time. I wish I was more “into” wine.

But I’m none of these things (right now). And I may never be some of these things ever. For now, I’ll try to focus on the accepting part instead of becoming frantic over fixing everything at once. That method of coping has worked most of the time. And when it doesn’t (as I suspect will be the case this October), I’ll keep a sweater close by.


Voting: I don’t love it, but I’ll always do it.

Artwork by Faviana Rodriguez

originally posted at the Strong Families blog.

I’m not the kind of person who gets excited about voting. I’ve heard stories from friends of going with their families to the polls as children, of preserving their “I voted” stickers on laptops. I was never like that. My parents always voted, but it wasn’t an event. More of a responsibility – as immigrants, they had to earn their vote, and I suspect they never wanted to take it for granted.

The states where I grew up didn’t help my enthusiasm. I spent my childhood in Texas and have been in California ever since.  In my states, there’s always a clear winner and loser when it comes to Presidents – we know where those electoral votes are going even before the campaigns start. That’s how it’s always been, how it will always be. My votes have hardly felt special or significant, like they probably would have if I lived in New Hampshire.

Voting in local elections made things feel more significant but still not particularly thrilling. There was always so much rhetoric to weed through, so many arguments back and forth that were never targeted to me because I’ve never been a swing voter or an undecided. People don’t want me in focus groups to determine what language resonates with me. I’m not courted by the Gallup pollers.

Voting feels like an inconvenience more than anything. An important inconvenience. But I do vote, even though my individual vote doesn’t feel really important. Despite the limitations of our country’s bipartisan setup, and the electoral college, and even voter laws, I think voting is a privilege. It’s something that, under different circumstances, I may not have had. It doesn’t make me feel like my voice is being heard, but it reminds me that I have a voice and that I’m able to use it in a number of ways. It helps me acknowledge the thousands who fought for their right to be counted. I don’t think voting needs to feel idealistic and warm and fuzzy. It can feel complicated and a bit nauseating and maybe even hopeless, especially when we don’t agree with 100% of a person or policy. But I will still vote.

We want voting to feel like a way to create all the changes to the systems that impact us. The reality is, voting is just one of the ways we speak up. We organize. We write. We tell our stories. We advocate for new policies and laws. We canvass our neighborhoods and make asks of our decision makers when there are no cameras watching. We challenge and criticize the people we elect to hold them accountable for the promises they made. Combined, it’s a great big picture of what it means to make our communities and country better.

So vote. Do all the things you do, and also vote. If you can’t vote, tell people to vote. If you don’t know what to vote for, find ways to help you make a decision. It may feel too insignificant to matter, but it’s also too important to ignore.

Nina is the Development Manager at Forward Together. She loves the internet and a good cup of tea. You can follow her on twitter @msninaricha

A history founded on goodbyes

Note: This is an excerpt actually, from a speech I gave at an API Student Commencement Dinner at graduation – I had always had fantasies of speaking during graduation weekend so it was a real thrill – the content is important to me so I thought it was worth putting here.

Second Note: This prequel-my-post-with-a-note thing is not going to become a habit.


I think one of the hardest things about graduating is saying goodbye to the people we have grown to care about over the last few years. Being at a college like this has not been the easiest experience. It’s been difficult for some of us to get through four years of college. Being here has sometimes meant feeling lonely or disappointed or angry or scared or unsafe. But being here has also meant meeting some of the brightest and most competent and loving people ever…

Community need not be completely unified – it need not be made up of people who have the same shared experiences. It is made of voices that must learn to speak and listen to one another, and negotiate with one another. Participating in and working in and being in a community is a process – and it’s ok that our community here in this room has sometimes felt fragmented and disunified. It’s really ok – we all learned from each other and we found support with individuals here. I feel very lucky to have found the people here in this room when I did because these people helped me feel less scared, and less alone and less angry and less disappointed. These people helped me find a voice to speak clearly and articulately in spaces where I was afraid to speak. These people asked me to think about how best to serve my community, how best to live a liveable life, how best to take care of myself while also taking care of others. The people in this room are leaders. They helped make a difference here. They will continue to make a difference wherever they go. I’m so proud of the people here, of the students here. Given all of this, I will reiterate – saying goodbye is difficult.

But this is what I realized in the last few weeks – I’m ashamed to admit how late in my college years I truly came to understand this. I come from a history built on goodbyes – goodbyes that were much much more difficult than the ones I will have to say in the next two days. Let me expand on this a little.

In 1947, my grandmother, her siblings and her mother said goodbye to their home in what is now Pakistan. Her father would remain there to tie up loose ends while his family went on to start a new life in India. They did not know how he was doing for three years. It is called partition for a reason – it tore communities away from their homes and separated families from one another, sometimes for years and sometimes forever. I can still see the trauma in my grandmother’s eyes when she discusses this time in her life. I cannot imagine what it must have been for her to say goodbye to the people she loved, to the home she grew up in. I cannot imagine what it was like for her to say goodbye to her parents and move with her new husband to a new city, when she was only 21. How does one recover from these kinds of goodbyes?

My parents immigrated to the United States in 1982. My father and mother said goodbye to their families and arrived in a new place halfway around the world, with what they had. They did it, I think, for a life that would be better than the one they had left behind. They did it so they could live a life that wasn’t their parents’ lives. To do this meant saying goodbye to family and friends – it meant being separated from an entire history, it meant giving up a homeland, one that would never seem the same once they had left. What was it like to feel this kind of isolation? To feel so overwhelmed by homesickness at a time where one could not simply email or call regularly.

The point of my recollecting familial history is this: for most of us, myself included, we come from immigrant histories that our founded on goodbyes. We, or our parents or a parent or grandparents or great grandparents or great-great-grandparents left homes and families –risked heartbreak and homesickness so that we could eventually be here. That’s really astounding. That’s really something we need to consider when we leave college because it is a testament to the kind of love that exists amidst fear and anger and pain. I really believe that we have to stay committed to remembering and writing our own histories, of uncovering our own pasts, because there are many many people in the world that have tried to take this opportunity away from us. It’s important to realize that it isn’t just about making a difference through our work and our decisions on a political level, it isn’t just about looking towards the future, it is about remembering the people we’ve said goodbye to in order to create new opportunities for other people’s lives. The goodbyes we say today will give way to a better life for ourselves, and hopefully for our families, present and future.

In a name

I was born in San Francisco. My mother unintentionally induced labor when she ate spicy shrimp curry (which, interestingly enough, is one of my favorite foods) 72 hours after the expected due date.

My mother’s mother was supposed to name me. She grew up in Lahore, and was forced out of the newly created Pakistan in ’47, spending much of her life in Delhi. She identifies as Panjabi – that and ‘mother’ are the only two labels I think she really identifies with. Maybe ‘wife’. I’m not quite sure.

It was important for my grandmother to pick an auspicious name – a name that somehow tied to astrology or my birthdate or my parents. It takes some time to pick a name and oftentimes babies don’t have names for a year or two, until the perfect name is chosen.

My grandparents were in India when I was born, and my mother and I had to be discharged from the hospital – meaning I needed a first name on my birth certificate.

My mother’s nurses were Latina. My parents had no name for me so the nurses wrote “la niña” for “First name”. Baby girl. Eventually my parents decided that Nina was a good name. An Indian name. A name that means “lovely eyes” in North India. They took off the ~ and I was named.

My grandmother chose another name and this became my second name, or middle name. I’m still not sure if this name is on my birth certificate, but I doubt it is. It is, however, on every other form I’ve ever filled out.

I used to be very ashamed of my middle name – I used to think it sounded too Indian. Too hard to pronounce correctly and too easy to mock (I am not putting it in this post for privacy reasons – I assure you, it is a lovely name). It is a name of Sanskrit origin that roughly translated, refers to the line of a stanza of poetry. I only found out how I was named a few years ago – my mother was telling the story to someone else on the phone. I used to be so offended that I never knew this earlier but now I realize it came at the best time – at a time where I could really appreciate it.

My godmother is the only person that calls me by both names. I love her for it. It isn’t that I wish everyone would, but I’m glad she does.

My mother’s aunt once gave me a keychain when I was…maybe 10 years old. It was this prism keychain – this clear prism that was probably made of plastic. It had my first and middle name on it in red script. It got really scratched up because I took it everywhere but never wanted to show it to anyone. The red lettering is gone – I think the keychain is sitting in a drawer in my parents house.

I tell myself that if I ever publish something, after graduate school, I will sign it with my full name. And I will it dedicate it to the women in my family. To my mother and my grandmother and s.k. and our children and children’s children.

Two Weeks Notice

Has anyone ever seen that movie?
I’ve always been a really big fan of romantic comedies. That formula for traditional privileged romance has always been something I wanted to live vicariously through.

Then yesterday I saw that Sandra Bullock Hugh Grant movie, Two Weeks Notice. Lucy, played by Sandra Bullock is made to be a protesting/activist/good hearted lawyer who ends up wanting to quit working for H.G because he’s an ass, frankly. Fast forward to the end of the movie – they fall in love after he suggests that the reason she can’t stay in relationships is because she’s “too intimidating” and should “get in touch with her feminine side a bit more”. At the end, when she chases after him, she apologizes for being so stubborn and for having such strong opinions.
It was a good movie when I watched it. But 10 min. after that feeling sets in. You know the one — the one that says
wait…what just happened?
Along the same lines of being comfortable in one’s own skin, I want to add that I don’t know where to find being comfortable with my own voice. I feel like every romantic comedy that I revisit (and I do revisit them. I’m getting better at turning the feminist woman of color voice off)
is suggesting that with a bit of self silencing, I too can be chased down the city by the love of my life.
Do I know that it’s a movie? Yes. Do I understand that it’s not meant to be realistic for anybody? Yes.
But I also understand the implications of My Best Friend’s Wedding – one of my favorite movies – a movie where the strong, self sustaining, emotionally closed off woman, “loses” to a young, blonde, ‘follow my man’, amiable and loved by all wealthy female.

Where are my examples?

They are there, of course. Perhaps not in mainstream media – they are friends and family members and a few articles and a lot of feminist text.

I’m reading Listen Up – voices from the next feminist generation (I should be reading those books for my paper but whatever). All of the writings are great, though I obviously relate to some more than others. Or certain passages will stand out. But I mean, all writing is that, really. So few can really speak to me entirely.

Strong girls, remember that sensitive liberal boys are our secret enemies. They disguise themselves with the androgyny of…quiet thoughts, but underneath they are just as much BOY as the young republicans of your choice. Be careful, beautiful girl, be strong — just because he holds your hand and looks you in the eye when you talk to him doesn’t mean he respects your body or your mind. –“Bloodlove” Christina Doza

That was one of those quotes that I wanted to write off as angry and bitter but ended up tearing up over because I realized that I have fallen into this trap. I don’t cry about the fact that those things happened either. I cry because I’m so relieved that I’m not the only one.

What I want are words to define myself without the connotations of absence. –“You’re not the type” Laurel Gilbert

You know the other day on the phone my mom was relaying to an old family friend from Texas (a haughty Indian family friend, just for the record) that I was a women’s studies and English major. The friend told my mom it was good I chose a “trendy major” – as if that’s why I chose it. Then she laughed and asked if I had become “a feminist”.
My mom said no. It was really interesting – I wasn’t mad about it at all because I usually run from the term like the plague. And I think it’s because I still associate the term with a specific kind of feminist. Upper middle class, straight, white, Western feminism.
Which reminds me that this is another word I must reclaim for myself. “You lack this if you are this. You can’t have this if this. You can’t get a man if you’re a feminist. You must hate them. You want to burn your bra. You are oppressed. You are exotic.” etc. etc. I want the word feminist without the connotation. I want activist and liberal and woman of color, and South Asian American without the connotations of absence.
Where is the formula for that?