If you had the flu and could barely get out of bed, what would you do? Would you go see a doctor? Probably. If you were feeling depressed and could barely get out of bed, what would you do? Would you see a doctor? Maybe.
When you grow up as a Korean-American millennial in a traditional immigrant household, you quickly realize that little instances of cultural clashes make for the best stories.
Take, for example, the time that I convinced my Korean mother that Lunchables were standard, healthy, American school lunch fare, and all my other third-grader friends dined on the delectably fine products of Oscar Meyer. Or take the time that my mother asked if we were supposed to eat the Jack-o-Lantern that I had carved earlier that day in school.
“Shh! Shush!” Are these the first expressions that come to mind, when you think of periods? You are not alone.
I was shushed so often that I thought boys or even grown men would never have heard of menstruation. “How would they know, if no one is going to tell them. Right?” I thought. It sounds childish now, but it made perfect sense to my tween mind.
I grew up in Bangalore, India in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period of rapid growth and development in the country. As the “Silicon Valley of India”, Bangalore’s booming IT industry attracted foreign investment and brought about intense economic and social change. As a child, I was always told I was lucky to witness these changes. Our world was getting better and India was going to be a superpower soon! To my young mind, these were promising ideas but I could never imagine them into reality. If our world was getting better, why was the slum right in front of my school expanding every day?
When I was working with kids at a school in a Noida-based slum, I noticed that girls would miss school more often than boys. I wanted to know why, and casually I asked a group of girls. They just giggled and walked away. “What’s so funny?” I asked, but got no response. I tried checking with another group of girls, but got nothing more than giggles and embarrassed looks.
When I was in Chattishgarh last year, I conducted a session with 40 young women, mostly married and asked them why we get periods. After a few minutes of silence and blank stares, one of them raised her hand and said “Well, that’s how it is, ma’am. This is something that happens every month to us. It’s natural”.