Cultural luggage or empty suitcase?
As the coos of a nearby baby echo through the dome-shaped space, three male clergymen in front of the main prayer area, draped in burnt orange robes, bellow their ritual sermons.
They continue to wave their lighted lamps in front of three golden human-sized god figurines as the attendees seated behind them hum and clap in unison.
This prayer that happens five times a day at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandi is the face of a retained culture.
And when it comes to the newly diverse county of Gwinnett — a county that rapidly transformed from a predominantly white to only half white population — preserving your motherland’s culture is a part of life. But is it the right way to come to this country?
When my mom entered the U.S., the only thing on her mind was nostalgia for India. But when my dad immigrated, he was open to assimilating, even with the risk of stripping some parts of his homeland’s culture.
And there is the dichotomy that boils in the heart of communities like this one; the decision to lunge into a new culture or to skirt around the edges of the western culture in lieu of your previous customs.
Looking at Gwinnett County from the outside, surely one should look highly upon the fact that the clergy and devotees of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandi can conserve their culture while surrounded by a dominant western culture.
After all, the gorgeous temple is nestled next to a Walgreen’s and Judy’s Diner.
But that ability is overshadowed by a cloud of controversy over the construction of the temple and other non-Christian places of worship in the Gwinnett area.
That reverses all surface-level thinking about this diversity. The temple’s ability to retain its own culture is also seen as an incapability, one that stops that segment of Gwinnett community from jumping into the melting pot of America.
After all, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandi sticks out like a sore thumb next to a Walgreen’s and a Judy’s Diner.
So, what is the answer? Should we applaud immigrants like my mother for enriching America with her cultural luggage or immigrants like my father for entering a new country with an empty suitcase?
Should we encourage culture expression like that of the beautiful Gwinnett Mandir? Or should we work to prevent the controversy that it causes?
At the end of the day, like most things, it is not so cut and dry; both sides of Gwinnett’s conflict would probably be better off with a little compromise and my parents would most likely prosper with some moderation.
So perhaps it isn’t a question of which culture you drop and which culture you take. But it is more of a question of how you mix your cultures to create a real American identity.