“A lot of conversation happens in between.”
Circumstance and desire are two compelling reasons for really understanding one’s family traditions, culture and stories. Often, a level of curiosity can compel one to dig deeper, but sometimes the drive is out of need or loss. Both Sara and Kathy share their experience with learning from older generations in their lives. Their awareness of what they want to take forward is done with respect and gratitude for those who’ve come before them, and with a congruence with their values today. Be sure to listen right to the end when Root & Seed announces a special launch and opportunity.
As promised, you can view Kathy’s photo-documentary on her website, or see more of her photos on Instagram at @the_kathylee. If you’d like to tell us your story, or chat about your thoughts on culture, family, and heritage, we always love to chat. Share any comments below or find us on social @rootandseedco and subscribe for our newsletter to never miss a Root & Seed moment.
Hey, my name is Anika Chabra and you are listening to Root & Seed, a podcast about tradition seekers, who are sparked to explore, define, and celebrate their family and cultural identity. This is our fifth episode of Root & Seed. Creating and producing and launching this podcast to the world has been an absolute pleasure.
One of the reasons we started this podcast and platform in the first place was that at this stage, in our lives, and as second generation, we are faced with the reality that our parents' generation are getting older and the torch is being passed onto us. So while the choice on what traditions to adopt and what to forego is ours, the idea of losing traditions altogether is a real and present threat. After speaking to our cross-cultural community, a real theme that emerged was that while our histories are rich and the desire to know them is real, very few of us have actually taken the time to really ask about them.
As someone who has recently lost a parent, my mom, you can take it from me when I say that life is incredibly fragile and memories are even more.
With that in mind, today we wanted to talk about keeping memories alive, starting with the stories of two very strong women who have learned from very strong role models in their lives.
We first spoke to Sara, a corporate executive, wife, and proud mom of three. Due to circumstance, Sara has taken on a leadership role in her family with her Jewish traditions, rituals, and holidays. I relate to Sara's story on so many levels and appreciate how diligently and respectfully she keeps her family traditions alive.
Sara starts off answering the question of when her culture really started to make an impact on her.
Once I got married and I had a more traditional Jewish wedding, it was a Hora, that we would dance. Just being part of a synagogue and having people surrounded around me, I think that was sort of a defining moment.
I think another defining moment was...I had lost my mom. Her being the central matriarch of our family and ensuring that we were always together...that triggered, "okay, well, this is my culture and I want to preserve it." And so, the high holidays were a way from my family to always come together and celebrate those traditions. With the loss of my mom, it felt like it sort of rested on me because...I have three older brothers and I felt like (I am I'm the youngest), so I felt like the responsibility shifted onto me to ensure that we were still meeting those traditions and doing those things that my mom instilled in us.
At first I was like “Okay, well, this is what I want to do to help keep my mom's memory alive.” And even just lucky in the sense that I was able to grab some of those recipes that we would have. So it would be chicken soup with matzo balls, for example. I have that and that's hers, and other recipes as well, like her brisket or whatever the case may be, and making those meals or those food items, and celebrating holidays with my family, like Hanukkah. She had her own latke recipe, for example, and we made those in order to keep her memory alive, and for her to be a part of the celebrations that we would have. So it felt good for me to be the person to kind of carry on from where my mom left off, because it helps in a way to keep her memory alive.
I do still keep those recipes as well as other artifacts that are important in Judaism. So for example, Shabbat candles. I have my grandmother’s Shabbat candles, and I have my mom's Shabbat candles. And I always have, in my mind, that one day and I will pass on each of those Shabbat candles onto my daughters.
And unfortunately my husband's mother passed away a few years ago and we have her Shabbat candles. And so those would go to my son, if he ends up choosing to get married or whatever the case may be, but he will get those. So in that sense, having them with us while we say, we call it a Bracha, which is a prayer over the Shabbat candles. I do now have Shabbat weekly and it has become important to my husband and I to celebrate, whether it's just our immediate family, or if we have it with our extended family.
Ah, the circle of life, and Sara feeling such a positive sense of responsibility for taking over from where her mother left off. So beautiful. Sara then reflected on another powerful woman in her life, who she also admired fondly
My grandmother, my mother's mother, I had this very special relationship with her. And, she lived until 102, which is amazing. So grateful that I had so much time with her. And she came from Poland, to meet her sister, who she had never met actually and had lost her whole family. And the strength that she endured while coming to a country that she didn't even know at the age of 18, is so inspiring to me.
Her story is… she came and she worked in a sewing factory for a number of years where she met my grandfather. What was funny was that she wasn't allowed to use her name Frieda (unfortunately I can’t recall the reason why) and she had to change her name to Norma. Maybe someone was looking for her or something along the lines of that. So everybody knew her as Norma. Her actual birth name is Frieda. Her strength of having to change who she was incredible. From there, she moved and she married my grandfather. They started some restaurants together in the factory district. She never drove. She never had a credit card. She lived a very simple life. She would take the bus all the way downtown at 3:00 in the morning, just so she could open up the restaurant for the factory workers. And she did everything. She managed the money, she was the cook, she pretty much did it all. And coming from an era where women didn't necessarily work... we're talking about the fifties and sixties at the time. I've always found it very inspiring… her motivation and dedication and how she sort of changed the way, and led a path for my mom and myself.
My grandmother would also teach me some of the Jewish ways. I was always fascinated to watch her teach my mom, because my mom taught me. It was interesting how she would teach my mom and my mom would teach me. And it was kind of like, in a way, a bit of a circle between us women.
In our religion, and I personally don't eat this, but there's something called gefilte fish. It's a whole bunch of different fishes and you put it all together and there's a certain way that you can make it. I would always watch my grandmother teach my mom. You know, unfortunately I didn't have much of an interest to learn it from my mom cause I didn't have an appetite for it, but, it was just an example of my grandmother teaching my mom something about our culture and our religion.
My grandmother used to make this thing called a “crust pie.” It was very thick with a little bit of apple in the middle and we always ask “why is there only a little apple?”, and she was always afraid that it would spray in the oven and then she would have to clean it up. Little things like that, which we always would laugh about.
I have some of those recipes and she had like these poppy cookies that were really hard, but I still have the recipe, just like a memory :)
How fortunate Sara is to have kept those recipes and the Shabbat candles. Such a significant, important memory of three beautiful women in her life. What an absolute treasure!
Speaking of treasurers, Kathy is a 30-something, second generation Chinese Canadian. When she was younger in high school, she pushed away from her culture, a very common occurrence for many adolescents. It wasn't until University when she found a deep appreciation for her culture and her roots. Now that she lives in her intergenerational family home, Kathy is influenced on a more intimate, daily level. When she started to notice her family getting older, her appreciation for their sacrifices grew and her desire to document their stories came alive.
As a photographer, I haven't been able to really photograph this past year as much. And the type of photography I do is documentary style, where I want to tell stories. It's not just about snapping the perfect photo. I was a bit bummed out that I wasn't able to do that work, but I realized my family has stories. I have a lot of stories and I just felt that it was important and a great opportunity to share with the world a part of my culture and specifically the way that my family celebrates it because there's some traditions, but it also has been adapted through generations. I just thought it'd be interesting for people to get a glimpse of it. And I believe that oftentimes like in our world, there's so much divide created and it's because we don't understand each other's culture or each other's views. I believe that at the core of it, we're actually all more alike than we are different. So I thought that if I could share my stories, my personal stories with others, whether they're Chinese or from a different culture, that they would see themselves in our family and be connected on a human level.
And so for Lunar New Year. I wanted to document my grandmother and specifically my grandmother because she's getting older. I know that when she passes, a lot of those traditions will go along with her because she's the one that leads all these rituals and traditions.
And so I spent a few days with her and while she did the rituals it gave me a great opportunity to also reflect back on my childhood experiences and not just around Lunar New Year specifically, but those values that are part of the Lunar New Year festival that is experienced through all areas of our life.
So for example, a big thing about celebrating the New Year is our prayers to our ancestors and our Gods. My grandmother has always been huge on praying. She has always prayed throughout the year on a daily basis. And she's always praying for our family's safety and health and prosperity. It just made me realize how it's so ingrained through our whole culture, not just like a one day, a festival kind of thing. And that project really surprised me because it got me quite emotional as I reflected on our culture, specifically on my own family experience and upbringing and realizing, you know, the sacrifices that my parents have made and how they have had to adapt their culture to kind of fit into our Western culture. It reminded me how, when I was younger, I was embarrassed when my grandmother was praying because as part of her culture, she wouldn't need to pray outside, pray to the Gods in the sky, and in the ground and so forth. And I'd be embarrassed because she’d be praying and shaking her head and murmuring her prayers. I was so embarrassed because I was like “what will people think?” But now that's something that's so ingrained in me that I actually pray often and I pray in public and I'm proud of that as being part of our culture.
Kathy also had some important advice for those of us who are interested in learning more about our culture.
I would say to have those conversations. Let me elaborate on that. I have a lot of friends who are Chinese and will celebrate the key festival dates or holidays with their family. But it's like they come over, they have dinner, and they just leave.
But there's a lot of conversations that happen in between that's deeper and more intimate, that I feel is very important too. Embrace and ask the questions of why. For example, one of the things that we do for many of our holidays and celebrations is prayers. And when I was younger, I would just wait my turn for her grandmother to summon me over. She would pass me three incense. She tells me to bow my head three times while she's making those prayers and then we're done, I walk away. I never asked why. I never understood what it was I was doing. But I think that as I got older and I'm learning about the significance of it and why we're doing it and what it means, it just brings so much more value to that experience.
So even with my nieces and nephews right now, when they come over, I’ve taken it upon myself to share with them that knowledge. So those are the conversations I feel like people within my culture should embrace a little bit more.
Ask the why's in the moments, simple and seriously beautiful. If you're interested in viewing Kathy's beautiful docu-photo series of her grandmother, we'll be sure to link them in the show notes.
These stories really hit home for me. I too had the privilege of learning from some incredibly strong women in my life, and that impact lives on strongly even today. And now with a daughter of my own, ready to go to university….I often wonder what impact our familial culture will have on her life. Allowing her to live her own journey and path is super important. However, giving her the tools and knowledge to be able to make informed choices feels like the least I can do.
A heartfelt thank you to Sara and Kathy for sharing a piece of their hearts with us.
What are the sights, sounds, tastes and smells that can trigger memories? What family heirlooms and artifacts conjure up the very presence of a loved one? Holding onto traditions, keeping them alive, and understanding your family traditions is super possible if you're only willing to ask, listen, and share.
It's conversations like this that led us to realize that the world needs a better way to capture, collect, and document the incredible stories and traditions that make us who we are today. Go to our website rootandseed.com to sign up and be the first to learn about the online tool that we're creating to help record and keep precious memories like these alive.
Next episode is our season finale. I honestly can't believe it. It has been so much fun talking to our community and diving deep into relationships that people have with their familial and chosen culture, how that's changed over time, how people connect with traditions when they need it most, and the natural ups and downs that come with such a journey - All in the name of a deeper understanding of their identity and their place in the world.
From our hearts to yours, a big thank you for listening.
Next week we have a real treat for you. We hear from our good friend, Alex, about his journey. It's an honest, real, and no holds barred kind of conversation that you'll want to make sure that you listen to. Root & Seed is hosted by me, Anika Chabra, Executive Produced by Jenn Siripong Mandel and edited by Camille Blais.
If you’d like to view Kathy’s photo-documentary please visit her on Instagram at @the_kathylee.
Hosted by: Anika Chabra
Brought to you by: Root & Seed
Executive Producer: Jennifer Siripong Mandel
Edited by: Camille Blais
Music credit: Something 'bout July (Instrumental) by RYYZN
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