Chai Tea Is Not Just About Sipping Something Delicious

Chai Tea Is Not Just About Sipping Something Delicious

How can you explain the deep significance of something so seemingly simple?

For my very last women's studies class of the semester, we had what my professor calls a "Feast of Resistance," where each person brings in a food or drink that is important to their family or to them and represents a struggle or victory over something in some way. The idea is predicated from the quote "Food is the only language we have in common." (With this I'd disagree, because what about music? I won't get into it now because that would be a whole other article.)

But food is something that people can bond over, across cultures. Food is extremely important. Most of the time, for immigrants who have left their home lands behind, left their families behind, who have to find ways to be themselves in a place that is nothing like them at all, food is the one thing they can control.

Food is often the one thing they have that keeps them connected to that past.

This is great and all, and so my two Indian friends and I brought cake rusk, a sweet Indian snack eaten with chai, but when I stood up there and found myself having to explain the significance of this food (which was more about the significance of chai) I found myself at a loss for words.

How do I begin to explain what chai is? What chai means to me and to my family and to my identity as an Indian? Sure, all my desi readers right now are probably like "Okay, its just chai, chill out dude," and my non-desi readers are like, "Chai? I know what that is, that's good stuff, why can't you explain it? It's just tea."

Except it's not just tea. It's not that simple. Chai holds an incredible amount of significance to my life. Chai, for me, is Saturday mornings with my mom, dad, and brother, right before breakfast. Chai is that warm, sweet, milky concoction running down my throat as we call my grandparents in India over FaceTime.

Chai is the catalyst that opens up a conversation between me and distant relatives coming to visit. Chai with guests is a ritual, one I've come to love because of the connections it creates. Chai is that warm mug of relief when my mom comes home from work on Wednesday evenings. Chai is the first Indian food I learned to make. Chai is the same everywhere, yet so, so different.

There's a science behind the perfect ratios of milk to water to tea leaves to sugar. And then when you're advanced enough, you add ginger, ground black pepper, dried basil, cardamom. A perfect blend, and everyone does it differently. Chai at Nani's house is different from chai at Taiji's house is different from chai at my house is different from the chai my brother makes.

But chai anywhere is a connection. A connection to people, a connection to India, to my parents, grandparents. Chai is so much more than a drink I pick up at Starbucks. Chai is the experience, history, and culture that I call my own.

That's the thing about culture. It's not so much the thing itself, as the meaning surrounding it. No, chai itself isn't that special. Anyone can make chai. Anyone can steep loose tea leaves in water and add milk and make chai. But it's the years of meaning behind chai, the memories, the connections I've formed through chai.

It's the same for any aspect of my Indian culture, whether that's eating dal chawal (lentil soup and rice) with my bare hands, feeling my food before I eat it, or getting dressed up in a lengha, or putting on mehendhi (henna). It's the significance behind each of these artifacts and what they mean to each person and each family.

It's like this in any culture. For me, Christmas is not nearly as special or meaningful as it is for my Christian friends, whose families have celebrated those traditions for so long. They have real memories attached to their Christmas traditions, just as I do with my Indian traditions.

Something about traditions just root us so strongly to our families and culture. These little indulgences into my culture with these traditions, I can't explain in words what they mean to me. I can't explain their significance adequately. But they are so important. It connects me to my grandparents, to my mother and father. It recenters me, grounds me, reminds me who I am and where I come from.

How do you begin to explain something so simple yet so significant?

Cover Image Credit: flickr

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22 New Things That I Want To Try Now That I'm 22

A bucket list for my 22nd year.


"I don't know about you but I'm feelin' 22," I have waited 6 long years to sing that and actually be 22! Now 22 doesn't seem like a big deal to people because you can't do anything that you couldn't do before and you're still super young. But I'm determined to make my 22nd year a year filled with new adventures and new experiences. So here's to 22.

1. Go sky diving.

What's crazier than jumping out of a plane? (Although I'll probably try indoor skydiving first.)

2. Go cliff jumping/diving.

I must be the only Rhode Islander who hasn't gone to Jamestown and jumped off a cliff.

3. Ride in a hor air balloon.

Up, up and away.

4. Try out skiing.

Cash me in the next Olympics, how bout dat.

5. Try out snow boarding.

Shawn White, I'm coming for you.

6. Go bungee jumping.

Because at least this time I'll be attached to something.

7. Go to Portugal.

I mean I'm Portuguese so I have to go at some point, right?

8. Go to Cape Verde.

Once again, I'm Cape Verdean so I have to go.

9. Vist one of the seven wonders of the world.

I mean hey, Egypt's on, my bucket list.

10. Try out surfing.

It's only natural that somebody from the Ocean State knows how to surf.

11. Learn a new langauge.

Because my little bit of Portuguese, Spanish and Latin isn't cutting it anymore.

12. Travel to a state that I've never been to before.

Fun fact: I've only been to 17 of the 50 states.

13. Go paddle boarding.

Pretty boring but I've never done it.

14. Go scuba diving.

I'm from the Ocean State so I guess I should see the ocean up close and personal.

15. Learn how to line dance.

There's actually a barn in my state that does line dancing, so this one will definitely get crossed off.

16. Go kayaking.

All this water around me and I haven't done a lot of the water activites.

17. Stay the night in a haunted hotel room.

I bet if I got my friends to come with me, it would be like the Suite Life of Zach and Cody episode, minus the ghost coming out of the wall but you never know.

18. Get my palms read.

Because who doesn't want to know their future.

19. Go to a medium.

Like a medium that can communicate with people that have died.

20. Take a helicopter ride.

Air plane: check Helicopter:....

21. Sleep under the stars.

Because sleeping in a tent is more like glamping than camping

22. Just to try new things in my everyday life.

Whether it's trying a new restaurant, getting something different at my usual restaurants, changing my usual style, going on the scary rides at amusement parks, and bringing things I used to do back into my life now.

Cover Image Credit:

Author's illustration

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Your English-Only Mentality Is Damaging, So Please Stop

I'm #SorryNotSorry that you have to press one for English.


"This is America! Speak English!"

From confrontational rants that go viral to movements to implement actual linguistic policy, a lot of my fellow Americans share this sentiment. Here's some reasons why I think English-only is so damaging.

1. Accessibility to services in different languages is an actual public health and safety concern.

In emergency situations, it's important that everyone knows what's going on. When I was studying abroad in Argentina, I came down with a gastrointestinal bug, which triggered vomiting and diarrhea. My host mom drove me to the local doctor. Now, I'm a Spanish major, and I was comfortable enough in my language skills to answer the doctor's questions. The doctor gave me an injection and she told me it would help stop the diarrhea. My host mom told me she had gotten it before, too, so that was good enough for me.

When I messaged my mom later about the situation, she told me I should've asked what was in that shot. I replied I didn't know how I could do that, or how I would even understand the explanation. Luckily, I got better quickly and didn't have to go to the hospital. What I want you to take from my anecdote is the following: Even though I spoke a decent amount of Spanish, I was not fully equipped to handle a health-related situation on my own. If I had had a more serious condition, or would've had to go to the hospital, I would have definitely needed an interpreter. The fear in these kinds of situations is already present; the fear that you won't even be to communicate important information doesn't need to be added.

2. Language is often a part of someone’s cultural identity.

We Americans who are native English speakers often take it for granted that English is widely spoken, even in other parts of the world. Thus, we don't necessarily "have to" learn another language, even if we travel. However, it is unfair to expect others to conform to our own language and culture for our own personal comfort, even if they are visiting or residing in our country. Yes, I agree that if that if someone wants to live and/or work in another country, it is in their best interest to learn the common language.

However, immigrants to the US already know it is to their social, professional, economic, etc. advantage to become proficient in English. Learning another language takes time, and our native language is still special to us. Language might make us feel closer to our family, our roots, our history, our religion and so on. Why would a person just "stop" using their native language upon learning another one?

3. How we view bilingualism is also tied to how we view race and class.

"Real" bilinguals do not necessarily 1. have equal and perfect knowledge of their languages, 2. speak with "no accent" or 3. have a bicultural identity.

Imagine an upper-middle class white family sending their daughter to France for the summer. The fact that she can utter some pretty-sounding sentence is, like, so cool, right? She's so cultured! Now imagine a working-class brown immigrant. His sometimes hesitant, "broken" English is not viewed in the same light, is it?

4. And finally, you aren’t always a part of the conversation.

U.S. lawyer Aaron Schlossberg yelling at Spanish-speaking employees.

Sure, if you're hanging around people who are all speaking a language that you don't and are basically ignoring you, it makes sense that you might feel excluded or that you're missing out on something. However, if two strangers in front of you are conversing about the weather in Swahili, why do you care? You aren't automatically entitled to know the content of other people's conversations. Even if you know a person and use English with them, they are fully within their right to use a different language with someone else, even if you happen to be nearby.

This is America, where we speak lots of different languages. So please, stop yelling because two people were speaking Spanish at the grocery store.

Cover Image Credit:

Wikimedia Commons

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