As a first-generation American, Aastha Patel has the unofficial responsibility of continuing her family’s culture and traditions. She couldn’t be better suited for the job. Aastha’s enthusiasm for her culture was tangible as I sat down to interview her, and her excitement and willingness to share quickly engulfed me as well.
Aastha, born in Holland, Michigan, quickly picked up English as her second language. “I actually learned to speak Gujarati first,” Aastha says. “I just picked [it] up from my parents and grandparents at home. No one speaks English in the house.” Gujarati is the official language of Gujarat, India: the state Aastha’s parents are from.
Hindi is another common language spoken in India. “I can understand both Gujarati and Hindi very well,” Aastha tells me, “I can translate an English word to both languages.” “Because I can understand Hindi, I can also understand Urdu, which is spoken in Pakistan,” Aastha explains, “It’s pretty similar to Hindi.”
The yearly festivals and traditions Aastha looks forward to match her personality: vibrant and full of energy. “[They’re] both custom and religion,” she explains, and they make up a major part of her life. Hinduism is the religion Aastha practices with her family, and the holidays she celebrates are important landmarks in her year.
Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is a magnanimous celebration at the Patel household.
Aastha describes just some of the celebrations of Diwali: “There’s lots of food, dancing, dressing up… lighting your house with oil lamps at night.” On a trip to Gujarat, Aastha experienced the excitement of Diwali in its birthplace. “In India, people do fireworks- they go all out, like [the] Fourth of July.”
Compared to India, Grand Rapids has a significantly lower Hindu population. But for Aastha, this doesn’t diminish her celebrations in the least. “It’s not that big of a deal” Aastha explains, “[since] all of us [Hindus in Grand Rapids] celebrate.” Because of the tight-knit Indian community in Grand Rapids, Aastha feels very connected to her culture and religion. “If I was the only Indian [family] in the Grand Rapids area, it would be harder to feel connected.” Though Aastha’s extended family is spread all across the midwest, she sees them often. “We all know each other. We see each other at temples, weddings, [and festivals].” Thanks to Aastha’s large extended family, she knows she’ll always have a supportive community behind her as she continues the traditions of her heritage.