The power of a single question can not be emphasized enough. Sometimes it’s the carefully crafted combination of words. Sometimes it's the genuine inquisitiveness of the question-asker. And sometimes its specialness lies in the way that the question answerer receives the question that triggers depth of pause and thought.  Regardless of the circumstances, it's the question “What does Asian Heritage Month mean to you” that led Root & Seed co-founder Anika Chabra to really assess her relationship and commitment to her culture. In this article Anika thoughtfully recounts her reaction to the question, what questions it brought up as a result, and how she will move forward as the month approaches. 


Questions fascinate me. I’m often told “you ask a lot of questions!” As a podcast host, empath, and co-founder of a platform that includes rich story-worthy prompts, this may not surprise you. 

I also appreciate a good question directed to me.  

And as business owners who frequently fill in applications for support, funding, and awards we have gotten used to answering a lot of questions. 

On a recent application, most of the questions felt familiar - tell us about you and your business, short term and long term goals, what an opportunity like this would mean to you etc. But there was one question we’d never had to answer formally so we hadn’t spent a lot of time pondering. When we started to put pen to paper, it caused us some pause. We know that part of the magic of answering is really understanding what they are looking for in the question. So mulling over the question first felt right.

What does Asian Heritage Month mean to you?” 

On the surface this is a very straightforward question and one that was asked in the context of an opportunity for only Asian-run companies in the month of May (Asian Heritage month), so totally fair.

What DOES Asian Heritage Month mean to us?? For a moment I felt slightly like… this should be an easy one to answer, right?  No, not so much.

Everyone Has Their Process

Everyone has their process, and within my process came a spark to answer a handful of other questions first.

I started with “What is my relationship to these types of “months” to begin with?” In the past I've had mixed feelings about Days and Months that honor and spotlight causes/themes that otherwise go unnoticed or underrepresented. But now I’ve resolved that as a business owner of a platform that encourages people to understand and own their “stories” - family, extended, their own - it is important for us to use our voice to amplify the textures of people’s identities as much as possible and when appropriate. And we do in our way, proudly aiming to leave platitudes and cliches to the side.

Owning The Textures Of Being Asian

So because being Asian is a part of my “textures” - next I asked myself “what IS my relationship to my cultural background?” If I was to physically map it (and I have for giggles :) it would look like a rollercoaster with the Y-axis as my relationship and the X-axis as life stages/milestones. There were times when my relationship to being South Asian has been fascinatingly intimate and times when it felt inconsequential, if you will.

Grief as a Catalyst

Enter mid-life, grief, and my experience with losing a parent. I heard comments like “It’s the natural order of things to lose a parent” and “You should be thankful that you had your mom for the number of years you did.” Being the only daughter of South Asian immigrants, a culture that is largely collectivist in nature, meant that things felt particularly more complex than that to me. Plus when you've always had something in your life, you don’t notice the absence of it until it’s truly gone.

If you’ve read or listened to anything about my story you’ll know that when my mom died, the ultimate source of my culture vanished. Functionally this felt like not being able to have what I thought was the encyclopedia of Indian culture on speed dial.

Emotionally things went a tad deeper. While I was truly trying to make sense of her sudden loss I decided to “zoom out” to really start to re-evaluate the many parts of my life. Being thrust into grief so suddenly was jarring and suddenly this imbalance became an opportunity to truly understand what type of life I wanted to live from that point onwards. The fragility of life and experiencing mortality (even of others) tends to do that.  

The Power Of Culture

As I reflect back, I’ve now come to appreciate that rerooting in my culture was in a sense a metaphor to truly taking ownership of my life, my stories, my ancestors, my lineage and stepping up when there was a void to fill. We’ve heard from the other kinkeepers in the Root & Seed community that sometimes the role of kinkeeper is de facto - because no one else does it. Without my mom it was time for me to step up. So making “my background my foreground” became my mantra particularly early in grief. The richness of the experience of South Asians, particularly the South Asian immigrants to North American experience consumed me and I found solace in unpacking, experimenting and basking in it.

That experimenting led me to choose which parts of my culture resonated and which others I felt agency to leave behind. With true immersion and ownership, I suddenly had the opportunity to make it my own.

Answering The Question

So if given the chance to answer “What does Asian Heritage Month mean to you?” again, I’d say:

Asian Heritage month is an opportunity, my opportunity, to celebrate the richness, diversity and textures of what it means to be Asian. To truly give thanks to the Asian trailblazers, Asians on screens, Asians in the public realm... and maybe more importantly those Asians in our own home and communities. To celebrate ritual and routine that binds us together, roots us in something bigger than ourselves. To remember that others before me and others ahead of me will experience moments of deep uncertainty and deep crossroads, but that it’s our given right to rely on our community and our greatness when we need it. To learn from and remember the strengths and attributes of our collective past, celebrate our individuality and uniqueness in the present, and leave our community more healed and resourced in the future.  

Afterall, isn’t that what Root & Seed is all about :)?

And for those who are not Asian but are curious on how they too can support the month... be intentional and bear witness to the varied and unique humanity in Asian heritage. Know that part of that humanity comes from the care, pride and resilience of our ancestors. Pay respect and give thanks to how much in our daily North American lives has roots in and influence from Asian culture.

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