Gabby Alex, TWU
Hey, my name is Gabby Alex. I go to TWU and this is my first year as corefa. I come from an Indian family that holds very closely to its origin. I specifically identify my race as a Malayalee.
I was the first in my generation to be born in America, my parents came to America after their marriage in 1993. Growing up in Florida I had lived in two different worlds, one side where I had a strong extended Catholic family, known as Knanaya Catholics, who are very strong in their Catholic faith. They have their own traditions and are only allowed to marry within the Knanaya Catholics. Then I had my immediate family where I went to a Pentecostal church with my parents who had this strong faith for God and the Holy Spirit.
That part of my story starts with my mom when she went to college in Bangalore, India. She found a church where she started her relationship with Christ. She accepted Jesus into her life, got baptized and would hold worship in her small dorm room. For months no one would attend but slowly some girls began to show interest and they eventually got baptized. When word got around that my mom got baptized her family, a strong wealthy Knanaya Catholic family, where in India economic class means so much, threatened the pastors of the church. Her brother took her to the roof of the dorm building and told her to jump because of the shame she brought to the family by getting baptized. They took her back home, locked her in a room and physically abused her because she refused to attend the Knanaya Catholic church. They arranged a Knanaya Catholic marriage and convinced her she would never find a Pentecostal man. The man she married is my dad.
As they moved to Florida from India, my dad remained Catholic while my mom kept privately pursuing her faith. My mom got work as a nurse. Five years into their marriage my mom was working at the hospital with an AIDS patient. As she was working blood from the AIDS patient, the blood got into my mom’s eye. The hospital told her she had a 99% chance of getting AIDS if she didn’t take medication in the next 24 hours. My mom went home and asked my dad if he could pray with her. She said she believed in a God that could heal, a God that has great plans for them. So together they made the decision not to take any medication. In every blood test that my mom took, there was never a single sign of AIDS. At this, my dad decided to give his life to Jesus. He was stirred to get baptized so he took to the Yellow Pages to find a church. They called a non-denominational church and asked the pastor to baptize my dad. Since then they walked faithfully with God as a family.
I was four years old when my dad was baptized. Since the beginning I’ve been surrounded by my Indian culture and values 24/7 unless I was in school. With my parents I was expected to be loyal to my faith, God and family; everything else didn’t matter as much. With my Knanaya Catholic cousins there was a lot of animosity and I would at many times be teased about going to a different church from them, making me feel like I was praying to a different God. Then at school I was literally the only Indian kid and everyone assumed I was Hindu. Naturally, I questioned my faith and struggled with my identity a lot. From both sides of my family I was constantly pressured to obey and listen. I was, and still am, pressured to pass on my Indian traditions and to not let these traditions die with me.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had the wandering questions of who am I? Who do I please? I wrestled with these questions in isolation, with no one to talk to or seek advice from. I was brought up with this idea that emotions and struggles were to be kept inside. Emotions were between me and God, and only He could help me get through it. To express myself, by emotion or choice, wasn’t an option. At one point I didn’t feel like I was living a life for myself and more of a life for others.
These questions I struggled with were slowly getting answered without me even knowing once I started college at Texas Woman’s University. My old middle school friend Mystica, had told me about a ministry called FOCUS that she saw on a poster. She asked me to go with her one day. I was super hesitant and very skeptical because I just had a bad view of church and community from my childhood experience. I remember going into one of the meetings and automatically thinking, “wow there’s like no Indians and it’s all practically white people”. Instantly my first judgment was that these people would never understand me because they would only want to know about the “American Gabby”, meaning the parts of me that white people naturally understand and relate to. They would never want to know or deal with the “Indian Gabby”. Let’s just say things started to change once I started to do FOJ with Andrea. When being asked to do this study I was expecting her to just teach me more about God and the Bible, I never thought she would actually want to get to know me and hear about the Indian values I grew up with. I began to open up to her and break down and explain those values I was brought up with. I told Andrea that I’ve only ever known a life where sharing emotions and struggles seems to make things worse. Over time, God changed my heart. My relationship with Andrea was a reminder that God and His people do care. They care about who I am now and who I was.
As I began to learn and grow through this process I also had to think through some of the Indian values I was brought up with. For instance, my parents never saw me leaving the house until I was married, and to clarify I mean an arranged marriage. So for me to walk out on my parents last semester after commuting for two years was a big deal for them. They feared I was embracing the American culture of being independent. Me leaving made them feel like I was abandoning them and all the values they have taught me, including potentially my faith in Jesus. I’m sure when you hear arranged marriage you think, “OH GOSH, seriously that still exists?” , and my answer is yes it still does but it looks completely different from what it was before. An arranged marriage now has more of a choice, and it’s choosing a spouse that comes from the same culture and family background. It also just comes down to respecting my parents and trusting that God will also be part of the decision that will be made.
So this is a part of my story and experience that I got to share with you tonight, I can say now that my relationship with my cousins is way better than before. Now they ask me to pray for them. When they hear me and my parents and siblings talking about our God, they’re jealous! Personally, I can confidently say I have now found my identity in Christ. I’m not saying I have it all down, I’m still figuring out the independent life and making sure I am respecting both God and my parents through this process.
I know some can relate to this story and some not so much but I hope this gives you a better understanding of how strict the Indian culture and values can be and why we probably stay around our own crowd. I encourage you to just ask, even if you have more questions for me I would love to tell you more. Asking questions and getting to know each other is how we show love to each other. Not to just my own race but to all the races around us. Lastly, although there might be some differences I think what we have to remind ourselves is that we all serve a God like no other. A God who loves all of us unconditionally and has a relationship with us no matter the color of our skin so shouldn’t we do the same?