Category Archives: Marriage

A year ago today I was getting married, Nepali style…

This year went by so quickly. It’s hard to really believe it’s already been one year.

I’ve been playing that game where I think… last year at this time I was…

Last year at this time I was… driving to Boston to pick up P’s brother and getting a flat tire with his parents in the backseat…

Last year at this time I was… sneaking out of the house to get my feet secretly hennaed during a torrential downpour, and I was certain it would rain through our entire wedding…

Last year at this time I was… at our rehearsal dinner, with our close friends and family…

(As I type this) Last year at this time… I was helping S-di, M-dai and P set up chairs in the Hindu temple, then going to the hair dresser with R and AS to have my hair pinned up, then going to S-di’s house to be folded and pinned nicely into my wedding sari along with the other sari wearing ladies.

By 3:30 we were both at the temple, and a little after 4pm the ceremony began.

It was exciting, and fun, and crazy. I had an amazing experience with all our friends and family, and I was so happy to be marrying my best friend and life partner.

A year crept up on us fast. But I look forward to many many more. You truly are the best match for me.

Here is one of my favorite pictures from this time last year… post-wedding #1:

Name Changer

First of all I apologize for how this post probably rambles on. I’ve wanted to write about my name for a while, and I’m probably trying to cram in too many thoughts at once, please bear with me. Also I don’t mean to offend anyone, or pass judgments on anyone’s particular choices. Everything in here is my own opinion and highlights choices made specifically for me and my situation. My intention is not to preach to anyone, just explain the thinking behind how I got to where I am with my own name.

Also, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but just to clarify: Both my first and last names start with C. P is in the same boat, with a first and last name that start with the same letter. So I started out at “C C” and now I am “C C-P,” and P is “P P.”

I recently received our first Christmas card of the season and the envelope was addressed to “C and P” without any last name. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit. I’m sure we will get all sorts of name variations on our holiday mail this year, because when we got married I decided to hyphenate my last name. I believe I’m the first person in my family to have done this, so I can imagine that many will be confused at what the protocol is for addressing an envelope when the wife decides to buck the trend, even though I’ve been putting “C-P” as our return address for the past two years.

From a very young age I felt strongly about my last name. Perhaps it’s because my dad has three daughters and no sons who could traditionally “carry on the family name,” and I think he always imagined that his branch of the “C’s” would end with him. Or maybe I’ve always been stubborn with an acute sense of how I perceive my identity; but anyway, I never understood why a man intrinsically got to keep his name while a woman spent part of her life as one name and the rest as another. Something about it just irked me to the core.

However, ironically, I also admit that I was equally annoyed as a child when movie stars who I knew were married didn’t somehow share a semblance of a name to publicly show their familial tie. I always felt that without some sort of name connection the family lacked a sense of unity, or wasn’t as committed to each other.

I didn’t know how to rectify this in my mind. Growing up in a fairly conservative place, I didn’t really have classmates with different naming conventions. I didn’t know what options were available to me, or that options even existed! As I said before, my family always followed the pattern of a new wife taking her husband’s name upon marriage.

Then in high school my parents began their long messy divorce. I remember feeling strange for my mom… that she was now saddled with her married “C” last name which she elected to keep as a visible sign of her connection to her kids, even though she didn’t want to be connected to my dad anymore. I’m not sure if she ever thought about it, but I certainly did… that her last name could act as a constant reminder of the husband she no longer had. By no means am I saying that I’d want to keep my name in case I’m ever divorced (heaven forbid!) so that I can retain my maiden name without much difficulty, but it was something to think about when I was at a formative age.

It also struck me that I didn’t have the same relationship with my mother’s maiden name—“M”—that I had with my own last name. Of course I always thought of the M’s as my family too, but I was never an “M” in the same sense as I was a “C” (not meaning I was closer to one family or the other, it’s just I felt more like the name “C” represented me as an individual more than the name “M” did). It saddened me to think that if I had children and didn’t pass along my name in some form, then my potential future children might have that same noncommittal feeling about my name as I have about my mother’s.

Then one of my mother’s younger sisters got married when I was a freshman in high school. She was a corporate lawyer, a high powered go-getter, someone with a strong personality who married in her thirties so she had a long life as a “M” before marriage. I was totally shocked when she took her husband’s name without batting an eye. Of anyone in my family I thought for sure she would be different, times had changed. I was almost offended, why was this strong woman deciding to change how she is identified to the world simply because she married a man?

A few years later, I was sitting next to my aunt’s daughter, a blunt eight year old, who asked me what P’s last name was. “So you will be Mrs. P after you get married?” she asked me. “No.” I told her. I could see by the expression on her face that my answer completely caught her off guard. “Why not? What else could your name be?” she asked. “Ms. C-P” I explained. It seemed to be a completely new concept for her.

A Colombian student of mine put it nicely one day… most people from Spanish speaking cultures have two last names because one is from the mother and one from the father: so for example a person named Carlos Sanchez Rodriguez had a father whose last name was “Sanchez ______” and mother whose last name was “Rodriguez ______”.

Anyway, this student of mine didn’t really understand what “maiden name” meant on immigration forms so he would put “Rodriquez” as his maiden name and “Sanchez” as his last. I told him that people in the US would interpret this to mean that he was a) a woman and b) married if he filled out forms in that way. This launched us into a long discussion of last names in the US. Even though he had been living here for several years he hadn’t realized that most Americans only have one last name, from their father’s side, he just assumed they went by one of their two names for simplicity in a class room situation. At one point he declared “But, with only one name that’s like they are an orphan on their mother’s side!” I kind of liked that line of thinking.

As a college student I decided that if I were to marry someday I would want to hyphenate because it seemed to be the best of both worlds—my name and my husband’s name—my identity, and his, with family continuity on both sides. I remember having quite a few heated debates with people about my plan. People told me that hyphenated names were “pretentious,” or too long, or confusing. That a kid would never be able to spell such a name in kindergarten. I think it was the hyphen in particular that annoyed people, but I thought that without the hyphen it would be all too easy to drop the “C” or for people to assume that “C” was a middle name and not a last name, that it would be easier to mess things  up. I thought for alphabetizing purposes a hyphen made it easier because the names were connected, so something would have to be filed under the first “C.” It made more sense to me.

“But what about your kids?” someone asked once, “If you give them the same double/hyphen name as yours, what happens if your kid’s future spouse also wants to hyphenate? Will you have grandkids with four last names? How ridiculous is that? Where does the madness end?” To that I can only answer that I made the decision for myself, and any potential future kids can ultimately make their own decisions about their own naming conventions.

As it became more apparent that my marriage partner would eventually be P, I was adamant about my choice, and the fact that any potential kids will also have the C-P last name (or P-C, at one point I said if he decided to take my name he could decide on the order). P was always fine with me keeping my C, that was never an issue. However I pressed for P to take on the C-P last name as well so that the entire family would share the same name, a stronger, more visible identifier of a family unit. At first he seemed cool with the idea, but after starting his phd program and having some publications under “P P,” and as our actual marriage got closer, he wanted to stick with just “P” for his last name.

He worried that if he changed his name people back in Nepal might find it “weird,” or that it might mess up his immigration documents, or his Nepali citizenship papers. He didn’t know the legal hoops he would have to jump through. I still encouraged the name change, but eventually figured he wasn’t going to budge. I had to be fair, I wouldn’t have been happy if he had continually pressed me to drop my C (which he never did), so I couldn’t keep pressing him to do something he didn’t want to do. When we applied for our marriage license he lingered for a few moments over the “name after marriage” question and I held my breath to see if he would change his mind, but eventually he filled it in “P” and looked up at me apologetically. Ah well.

Right before we got married I had briefly struggled with the idea of just keeping “C” instead of adding “P.” Many of the female international people I knew had kept their maiden names after marriage. This was due, at least in part, to having married in the US and not wanting to deal with changing over all their immigration documents to a new name. Many of my international students at work had kept their maiden names for the same reason—and all the Chinese students kept their names, since it was not a Chinese custom for a married woman to change her name after marriage. I had an American friend in my book club who had kept her name, and when she had a baby the baby’s last name was a hyphenated version of her’s and her husband’s name. I almost felt that by hyphenating I didn’t feel “progressive enough,” but then I would think back to the Hollywood actors that annoyed me as a kid, and realized that it was important to me to have both the names.

In particular I thought it was important to have P’s name as well as mine to denote the influence of South Asian culture in my life. Not everyone will recognize P’s name as South Asian, but those who do have a little bit more knowledge about me when I introduce myself. It kind of “breaks the ice” so to speak or gives me some South Asian street cred.

For example, a professor came to my office recently. I had sold something over the university email listserv and he was coming to collect the item. He noticed during our back and forth emails that part of my last name is “P” and he recognized it as different than the Irish sounding parts of the rest of my name. He was curious because even though he is just as “white bread” as I am, his wife is Filipino and he had known some Filipinos who had similar last names. He wanted to see if I also had a Filipino connection, and started by asking, “I don’t mean to pry, but I was interested in your name, what is its background?” It started a pretty interesting conversation.

Anyway, I digress.

I think the post-wedding transition has felt smoother for me since the “C” is still in my name. On occasion I forget to add the “P” when introducing myself (I’m getting better at it), but it’s easier to say, “I’m C C…… -P” instead of the more awkward sounding, “I’m C C—er—nope, I mean C P.” Sometimes I hear myself saying, “I’m C C-P” and I think, “maybe it does sound long and pretentious?” but ultimately I think I would have deeply mourned the complete loss of the “C” had I decided to change my name. I’m really happy with my decision. Now I just need to gently coax people to use my name correctly.

For my birthday this past August my mother sent me a card that was addressed to “Mrs. P P.” I decided to nip that trend in the bud from the get go. Perhaps it makes me sound like a psychotic control freak, but I called her up and said, “Hey mom, thanks for the card, I just wanted to ask you to please send me mail under the name ‘C C-P.’ I’m not ‘Mrs.P,’ and certainly not ‘Mrs. P P,’ I have my own name.” She brushed it off by saying, “Well, I was in a rush and it was faster to write that.” But I pointed out that in eight years of dating P and many years of living together it was never faster to write his name on my card before. She probably doesn’t really see what the big deal is, but I’m hoping the next time she sends something she will hopefully remember our conversation.

An article in the Huffington Post summed up my feelings about it (although the married couple in the example decided to change their name to a new name combining the two original last names, her sentiment on receiving the card is what I thought echoed my own):

Emily Zeugner, 32, who works in media in New York, and her husband, Amos Kenigsberg, made a similar decision — they changed their last name to Zeeberg.

Ms. Zeeberg explained that changing her name would have sent a message she wasn’t comfortable with, one that that effectively said, “I’m shedding my identity, I’m joining your family.”

“As a feminist, it really bugged me,” she said. “I’m glad that we created our new identity.”

After the two married, they received a wedding invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Amos Kenigsberg.

“I just saw the envelope, and I felt such annoyance, and on a small scale, kind of outraged,” she said. “He gets full billing and his full name, and the only thing I get is Mrs. It just really pissed me off.”

Similarly, friends of ours (the Bulgarian-American couple who got married a few weeks after us) in their newlywed excitement like to call up and say to me, “hey Mrs. P!” and I usually gently correct them, “it’s Ms C-P, how are you?”

Last night we received another Christmas card in the mail from an aunt in Pennsylvania. She made out the card to “C C-P and P P,” and I appreciated her efforts in keeping us all included. I guess the best short hand would be “C-P Family/Household” I guess we will see what people ultimately do. As long as I’m not the dreaded “Mrs P P” on an envelope I’ll probably be happy.

So that’s the story of how I became C C-P. What about other married (or soon-to-be married) couples? Did you change your name or keep it, or part of it? Did you follow a tradition, or make up your own? Is there a story as to why you decided to do what you did?

Wearing Pote as a Newly Married Woman

Nepali Jiwan had an interesting post recently about “The Married Look” and what expectations people in Nepal have for the look of a married women including a few social cues such as tikka, churaa bangles, pote necklaces, nose piercings (for some ethnic groups), and wearing make-up like kajol. I basically left a blog post sized comment on her post, but I wanted to take a few moments to discuss at least one aspect of my new Nepali “married look.”

I’ve written about potes necklaces before, but I want to revisit the topic.

As I noted in the previous post, I occasionally wore potes (pronounced like po-thay) before I got married. P’s aunt, J Phupu, gifted me a necklace in 2008, and 2009, and sent a few more a little after that. The necklaces were generally short, colorful and multi-strand. I would sometimes match them with a saree if I was going to a South Asian party or dressing up for a cultural event at my work. On even rarer occasions I would wear one to the office to dress up an outfit (this makes me sound particularly fashionable, which I’m definitely not). S-di’s daughters would tease me sometimes saying, “Did you get married?” when I wore them because of their use as a marriage symbol in Nepal. They didn’t really have any special meaning for me at the time, other than a gift from P’s aunt, so I didn’t think it was a big deal to wear them before marriage.

Pre-marriage pote wearing examples over the years...

The week after we got married I informally wore red clothes (P’s mom didn’t tell me to do this, but I remembered my friend R being encouraged to wear red for a certain number of days after her wedding as a “naya buhari”, and as I was excited to be married I decided to wear red as well). I dressed up my red outfits with the short red, green and gold colored pote necklace that P’s mom brought for me to wear. It’s a nice necklace, but the Nepali wedding colors of red, green and gold remind me so much of Christmas, especially certain combinations and designs with these colors, that wearing red, green and gold jewelry in July seemed kind of “off-season.” (I’m definitely not a “Christmas all year round!” kind of gal).

Examples of green, red and gold potes hanging in a pote shop near Thamel. To the left are examples of "thin" potes, and to the right and above are examples of "thick" multi-strand potes.

During our second week of marriage I started transitioning into other outfit colors, and picking other potes, but as someone who rarely wore necklaces before, wearing the thick multi-strand short necklaces felt clunky, like I was wearing a tight collar every day. S-di had gifted me a single strand purple and silver pote during Teej 2010, and I started wearing this simpler, single-strand, longer pote on a daily basis, because I could hide it discretely under my shirt if I wanted to, but I still felt that connection of wearing a pote as a married woman.

I didn’t expect to wear pote every day. During those first two weeks I did it because I was excited to be married, and thought it was a nice nod to P’s mother’s traditions. I thought eventually I would probably stop. Then Mamu started talking about how my two very close Nepali friends—AS and R—both married to Nepali men, didn’t seem to wear “any signs of marriage.” AS wears a wedding ring every day, which to me is a sign of marriage, and R occasionally wears bangles, but neither wore pote or tikka daily, two signs that Mamu seemed really surprised about.

After hearing her talk about this a few times, I figured I would wear pote while she was staying with us, so that she would feel more satisfied that I was showing signs of being married in a Nepali fashion, but I didn’t like wearing the thick short necklaces all the time, and continued wearing the thin purple/silver necklace, even when it didn’t match anything.

The next time I visited R I asked her if she had any simple pote, very plain necklaces that I could wear inconspicuously. She said that the last time her mother visited she was also concerned that R wasn’t wearing pote as a sign of marriage, and had brought several simple ones for her to wear. She hadn’t made it a habit of wearing them, and said if I wanted to take one or two I could. I picked up two of the plainest necklaces: one that had pale pink and pale clear-yellow beads that basically blended in with my natural skin tone and another that had alternating tiny red and yellow beads that could blend with almost any outfit.

Sporting my single-strand red and yellow pote while out and about with P's cousin in KTM. In the US I usually tuck the thin pote under my shirt collar to be more inconspicuous, but in Nepal I felt more compelled to pull it out in the open to show I "belonged" more.

With my new simple pote, and the few fancier pote I already had, it was easier to find something to wear every day and it became more of a habit. By the time P’s mom was packing her bags to return home, I was putting the necklaces on without even thinking about it before I headed to work each morning, or slipping one over my head on weekends.

While I am in the US I don’t always want to show off the fact that I have on a pote. Most of the people I see don’t know the significance of it, so I wear it more for the significance it holds for me. However when I was in Nepal I found myself wanting to be very overt and intentional in displaying the pote I was wearing. Instead of tucking it under my shirt collar, I was pulling it out and wearing it publically and proudly. It made me feel like I belonged more—that I wasn’t just a tourist walking in Thamel, but someone married to a local person, someone more deeply involved in the culture. It felt like wearing pote was a statement—yeah, I’m a gori wife, “Mero shriman Nepali ho.” [My husband is Nepali].

Individual strands of pote hang waiting to be twisted and tied into proper pote necklaces in a pote shop in KTM

Completed multi-strand pote hanging in a pote shop. To the right are shorter styles, to the left are longer styles.

Actually, when I departed KTM for home, I was still dressed up for Dashain tikka—in the red and dark blue cotton block print salwaar kameez I bought in Delhi while studying there a few years back, the longer multi-strand shiny red pote bought for the bhoj party, the small red tikka sticker between my eyebrows I wore occasionally on my visit, as well as the giant red tikka and jamara grass from Dashain. I have to admit, I kind of liked the looks and surprised expressions I received at the airport—there are lots of tourists that leave Nepal with a simple red tikka, a kata scarf or a marigold garland draped around their neck, you might even see a tourist dressed in local clothing, but I figured you didn’t normally find a foreigner wearing pote, Dashain tikka and jamara grass unless she was part of a real Nepali family.

Mamu and P drop me off at Tribhuvan International Airport in KTM. In this picture you can't really see my thicker red pote well since it blends in with the red of my salwaar kameez, but the longer multi-strand necklace is hiding in between the draped sides of my dupatta scarf

Now that I’m back, I’ve been wearing a few of the thicker, multi-strand, but longer potes that I brought back from Nepal this time, as well as my good old simple single strand ones. I didn’t think I’d like wearing pote all the time, but it’s become kind of my “thing.”

Wearing the same shiny red pote as the previous picture, but it's more visible here. P's two cousins, J Phupu and I sit together after our first round of Dashain family tikka

I just kind of wish I didn’t wear them before marriage so that it would have been a little bit more special.

Let’s Teej Again, Like We Did Last Summer…

Other Teej Posts: Teej (2009), It’s Time Again for Teej (2010), Panchami and the Bhutanese Refugees (2010)

Today is my first married Teej and my first Teej with my mother-in-law.

I first learned about the holiday when P and I moved from New York to Massachusetts in 2007. I’ve taken part in the festival every year since, generally by wearing red and fasting for 24 hours, and usually by dressing up in a sari and going to the local temple with several female friends (AS, S-di) at some point during the day.

This year Mamu is with us, so I am letting her dictate how we should celebrate the occasion. Last night she explained that I should wake up early, take a shower so that I am “pure,” then I should dress in red clothing and wear my bangles and green and gold wedding tilhari, then we would worship Shiva and Parvati.

“And fast all day?” I asked.

“Eh, fasting too difficult.” Mamu said. “You have to work, not so strict. Eat pure foods. Milk, potato, sweets, fruits. No salt, no rice.”

“But Mamu that seems like too easy of a fast.” I told her. “No salt and no rice is easy if I get to eat sweets and fruits all day.”

“In Nepal it used to be harder.” Daddy explained, “No food, no water. But now the rules are not so strict. No need to fast all day. Sweets and fruits are fine.”

“But potatoes? Eating boiled potatoes hardly feels like a fast.” I insisted.

“It’s okay.” They said, “Eat, eat.”

If one thing is true above all else, I’ll never starve as a member of the P family.

So this morning I set my alarm for 6am… and snoozed it until about 6:40. By the time I was conscious enough to roll out of bed and stumble into the shower Mamu had already beaten me there. So I laid down for a few more minutes and listened to the water, waiting for her to finish.

Then I showered, and dressed up in a red kurta top that Mamu and Daddy picked out yesterday. I selected ten of my red and gold glass wedding bangles, putting five on each arm, and slipped my green wedding pote with golden tilhari over my head. When I went out to the living room Mamu and Daddy were already sitting on the couch waiting.

“Come, come,” Mamu said, “Wash hands to purify, then we go to worship Shiva.” At the sink she asked me, “Where’s your tikka? No tikka?”

“Should I put?” I asked.

“Tikka put on. Small tikka. Very pretty.” She insisted. So I went to my bedroom and fished out a packet of small sparkly tikkas from my jewelry box and stuck it between my eyebrows. While I was at it I asked P to put a small dot of orange sindoor at the part in my hair.

“Good,” Mamu said, and we walked to her bedroom where she had a small altar set up on the dresser. She had folded the Nepali calendar she brought with her from Kathmandu so that a picture of Shiva and Parvati was facing upward. In front of the picture she had a cucumber, a banana and an apple on a plate. She lit two incense and said, “Today we pray for the long lives of our husbands,” and motioned for me to pick up the plate of fruit/veg. I circled it in front of the gods’ picture and then she gave me the incense she had been holding. She folded her hands in Namaste and whispered a quick prayer. After I circled the incense she took them back and stuck them in the cucumber in front of Shiva to finish burning. She then motioned for me to touch both the heads of Shiva and Parvati, and then touch my own forehead with my right hand, then motioned for me to touch the two images of Ganesh and again touch my forehead.

“Okay, finished.” She said, “You want boiled potato?”

She took me to the kitchen where she had two small boiled potatoes on a plate ready for me. I felt like I was cheating. I kind of like fasting. I don’t have many opportunities to do it and I like having a reason to abstain from food—it’s like a personal challenge, and it makes you think about what it is like for the people in the world who have to go without. It teaches you discipline, and gives you some clarity. I have great respect for people who fast for Ramadan. One day of fasting hardly seems like a sacrifice.

I guiltily took one of the small potatoes and took a small bite.

“How many?” Mamu asked, “Two? Three?”

“One is okay.” I told her. “Potatoes are heavy.”

“But I have many!” She said, lifting the lid off the pressure cooker to reveal another four or five floating in the water.

I compromised, “I’ll eat one now, and take two small potatoes for lunch.”

“And sweets?” she asked. At the Indian grocery store last night she had picked up two boxes of sweets—barfi and jelabi, and a canister of rosgolla. She thrusted three barfi into my hands.

“I’ll eat one now and take one for dessert.” I said.

“No… two. You want another? Three?”

“Okay, I’ll take two.” I packed a small lunch box with two small boiled potatoes, two milk barfi, and an apple. So much for “fasting.”

“No salt today.” Mamu instructed. “Only pure foods—ghee, milk, fruit, sweets, and potato.”

So now I am sitting in my office with tikka, sindoor, tilhari, red kurta, and glass bangles. In my own office it doesn’t matter so much… I’ve dressed “international” before, and it is more accepted by our student population (being that they too are international), but I have to meet with a domestic student today that the university administration asked me to take off campus for a serious issue tomorrow morning, so I am a little shy about meeting her all “Nepali-fied” and having her think I’m “weird.” I also have to host the campus religious diversity center open house—which I guess dressed in Hindu festival attire I won’t be too out of place, but I prefer my bubble of cultural diversity when dressed in this way.

The plan for the rest of the day is that once I get home from work I’ll dress up in a new maroon silk sari that Mamu brought me from Nepal specifically for Teej and go to the temple where P and I got married with Mamu and S-di.

So happy long life to my family, and happy Teej to anyone else celebrating today. Hopefully your MILs and/or significant others are helping you cheat with sweets as well today ;)

Filing for a Green Card

Gori Wife Life wrote a post today about her ordeal with her husband’s Green Card application. The poor American/Pakistani family suffered through the process for about four years before her husband’s card came in the mail. Today he was naturalized as a US Citizen (congrats to the GWL family!)

It’s so challenging because some people get through the process quickly with no problems (I’ve heard the “oh, it only took me four months” stories), and some people seem to hit every road block known to man (like GWL).

As an international student advisor I’m used to working with USCIS on a daily basis. In particular I interface with USCIS’s SEVIS system almost every day, and I help students file their OPT and CPT paperwork along with visa and travel advising, etc. I am not an immigration attorney, so I am not versed in every immigration status, but I feel pretty comfortable with the student statuses and paperwork I am generally responsible for. Yet even for someone who considers themselves a “student immigration specialist,” compiling a green card application can seem daunting, heck, let’s me honest, downright scary. Heaven forbid if you make one small mistake on the form, it could hold you up for ages in red tape.

I spent the first two weeks after our wedding organizing P’s Green Card paperwork. I compiled a cover letter listing all the documents needed for the application and it was literally two pages long. I contacted my mother for an “affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides” of our marriage, and her response was, “What? What in the world is that?” I sent her my cover letter detailing all the paperwork and she couldn’t believe it… “This is to become a citizen?” she asked. “No—just a permanent resident!” I responded.

In fact, I think it is hard for us “American by birth” people to realize how complicated the “Getting to America by other means” paths can be. I was talking once to an uncle about what P and I have to do after marriage. He thought that simply marrying an American was enough, that your marriage certificate pretty much guaranteed your new American citizenship. Whaaa? Maybe back in 1850. Or my Grandmother, who used to tell me that she wouldn’t marry my Irish born Grandfather until he became an American citizen. That was back in the early 1950s. A very different,  and  a few layers of red tape earlier, time in the US immigration world.

I was nervous when compiling P’s info because I was afraid I would leave something out. Luckily I occasionally work with an immigration attorney through programming at my university, and over a dinner earlier in the year he offered to quickly check my cover letter and offer suggestions if he saw any gaps in my documentation. I was relieved to have a second set of eyes double checking my work. So I thought it might be helpful to others in a similar situation if I put my laundry list of documents here.

I have to add the caveat that USCIS forms can change, so depending on when you are reading this fees or requirements might have changed. It is always important to carefully read through the instructions for each form before you start filling out paperwork. Also, USCIS is very picky about whether the version of the form you are submitting has expired—so double check that the forms you submit are current (dates are usually in the top or bottom right hand corner– trust me, I had a student’s I-765 returned because the form expired a month before even though not a single line of information on the form had changed). Lastly this Permanent Resident Application is based on an F-1 Student to PR Change of Status, not an H1B –>PR, so your significant other’s situation might also require additional/different paperwork as well if he/she is in a different status than my significant other.

So—what applications did I need to file?

The main three are the I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), the I-130 (Petition for an Alien Relative), and the I-864 (Affidavit of Support–did you know if you sponsor your spouse you are pledging to take care of them financially for ten years, even if you divorce!).

I also included an I-131 (Application for a Travel Document) and an I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) because the forms are free if you include them with your I-485 and $360 and $380, respectively, if you file them separately, plus we would ideally like to travel later in the year.

The I-485 also requires an I-693 (Civil Surgeon Medical Examination and Vaccination Record Report). This must be filled out by an approved civil surgeon and the documentation must be given to you in a sealed and initialed envelope or it will not be accepted by USCIS. You can search for a civil surgeon near you HERE.

The I-130 and the I-864 are essentially the American spouse’s paperwork, while the I-485 is the foreign born spouse’s paperwork.

The Cover letter:
(I like sending cover letters with immigration documents to keep everything organized:)

July 25, 2011
RE: P’s I-485 Application for Permanent Residence
To Whom It May Concern:

Within this packet are all the documents for P (A # ___-___-___)’s I-485 Application for Permanent Residence based on C’s I-130 Petition for Alien Relative through marriage.

Included here in:

I-130

  • 1 passport sized photo for C
  • 1 passport sized photo for P
  • $420 Filing Fee
  • Form G-325A (Biographic information) for C
  • Form G-325A for P
  • Form G-1145 (E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance)
  • Copy of C’s US birth certificate
  • Copy of C’s US passport [optional]
  • Copy of C and P’s US marriage certificate
  • Copy of our joint lease agreement [optional- although they like proof that you live together or have shared financials]
  • An affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides of C and P’s marriage from C’s mother Mrs ________[optional]
  • An affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides of C and P’s marriage from P’s father Mr. ________[optional]
  • Picture samples from C and P’s July 10, 2011 wedding[optional]

I-485

  • 2 passport sized photos of P
  • Biometrics fee $85
  • Filing fee $985
  • Sealed I-693 Medical Examination Form
  • P’s Form G-325A
  • Form G-1145
  • Copy of P’s Nepali birth certificate and a certified translation
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of C and P’s marriage certificate
  • Copy of P’s I-94 card
  • Copy of P’s most recent Form I-20 [not asked for, but recommended by the immigration attorney]
  • Copy of P’s unofficial phd transcript [not asked for, but recommended by the immigration attorney]
  • Form I-864 Affidavit of Support (see below)

I-864

  • Recent promotion letter with updated salary information from C’s employer [optional]
  • Six months of C’s work pay stubs
  • Copy of C’s Federal Tax Form 1040 and W-2 (2010)[REQUIRED]
  • Copy of C’s 1040 (2009)[optional, but the immigration attorney said that if you don’t submit the previous three years tax forms initially, but just the required first year, they generally ask for the two previous years anyway, so better to just send from the beginning to have less delay in the processing time]
  • Copy of C’s 1040 (2008)[optional—see above]
  • Copy of C’s most recent bank statement [optional]

I-131

  • No fee—filing with I-485
  • Form G-1145
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of P’s most recent I-20
  • Letter from P explaining the nature of his travel [phd research data collection]
  • 2 passport sized photos of P

I-765

  • No fee—filing with I-485
  • Copy of P’s I-94
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of P’s previously issued EAD
  • 2 passport sized photos of P

If you require any additional information please contact P at (___-___-___) or____@____.edu or C at (___-___-___) or ______@_____.com.

Sincerely,

C & P

—–

So the forms have been officially sent. Wish us luck in the process!

Marriage Politics

Nepal, like many parts of South Asia, still has a lot of “arranged marriages,” even in the cities– although it seems to me that arranged marriages are more like a “matchmaking” service these days, rather than a situation where the bride and groom didn’t know each other much or at all prior to the wedding like in generations past.

Today parents will introduce their adult children to each other and arrange a few meetings (or perhaps the couple will start dating) and after sometime the children can decide whether or not they want to marry. Sometimes there are professional “matchmakers” involved who come to your house with a folder of headshots and resumes to start the process, and now, of course, there are actual matchmaking websites like South Asian versions of eHarmoney.com. Parents even sometimes find potential matches for their children through ads online or in newspapers, etc. If P and I hadn’t gotten together, it is entirely possible he could have gone down this path. Who knows? Maybe his brother will.

The flip side of arranged marriages are what are referred to as “love marriages,” or marriages that are more like the marriages you find in the US… people meet each other on their own, form a relationship, and eventually decide to get married. Love marriages are becoming more and more frequent throughout South Asia, although they are not a new thing entirely. There were love marriages in previous generations, but they were much more rare (“Frank Uncle”).

The danger of love marriage is that, gasp, it is possible to fall in love with someone from outside your community! In the South Asian context (Nepal specifically) your “community” could mean several things including your religion, your “caste,” your ethnic group, even your economic peers. The one that I find really fascinating is caste.

For readers unfamiliar with caste (although I am sure most of you know more that I), Wikipedia defines it as: “a combined social system of occupation, endogamy, culture, social class, and political power. Caste should not be confused with class, in that members of a caste are deemed to be alike in function or culture, whereas not all members of a defined class may be so alike.” It’s a complicated concept, so I’m going to leave the definition there.

But anyway, there are several “castes” in Nepal as well as ethnic groups that are kind of slotted into the caste system. For example there are the Brahmins and Chetris (castes that are also in India), but also Newars, Gurungs, Rais, Sherpas, etc (Nepali ethnic groups) that are (in my somewhat limited understanding) somehow slotted into the overall hierarchy of caste or are sometimes treated as a caste (someone feel free to jump in and correct me if I have this wrong). Even within a specific caste or ethnic group there are hierarchies and different cultural traditions, etc.

One place where this comes into play is marriage. In an arranged marriage, one often limits one’s choices to people specifically within your caste/ethnic group and even your specific designation within this grouping. Some ethnic groups, because of the type of relations between them, are able to intermarry without too much trouble… for instance Sunwars and Rais who traditionally inhabit the same rural hilly region of Nepal, while some groups are very strict, like different types of Brahmin groups, who have fairly limited traditional marriage options (population wise).

Anyway, it still amazes me when I hear of Nepali families… in the year 2010, who are upset when their children fall in love with other Nepalis who come from different castes, or, better yet, they are from the same caste but different designation within that caste. At this point I want to shake their parents and say, “at least your child is still with a Nepali!” especially if their child has been living abroad for many years. One friend’s father didn’t talk to her for about a year when he found out she wanted to marry a Nepali man from another caste. She is Chetri and he is Brahmin. Things are slowly getting better for them now, but for a while it was pretty dicey in terms of family cohesiveness.

So now you can see why I feel pretty lucky when I say that P’s family was relatively “cool” with the intercultural relationship thing, because not only do I not really fit into the caste system, I’m from an entirely different religion, ethnic group, culture, language, etc, but I’m still accepted by the immediate family (the extended family doesn’t really know who I am yet, but more about that another time). It is really very awesome, even if I do run into misunderstandings from time to time (Please… No More Rice!) ;)

I’ve mentioned before that P’s dad is very liberal and forward thinking… well, one reason that he was probably so easily able to adjust to the idea of an intercultural relationship was probably because he had, gasp, an intercaste love marriage himself! (cue dramatic music… dut dut daaaa!)

Teej

Two Sundays ago (Aug 23rd) our household celebrated Teej, a Nepali festival where women traditionally fast for twenty-four hours for the long life of their husbands, wear red, usually gather with other women and female relatives, and worship Shiva. I didn’t know much about Teej until I moved, two years ago, to a place with a larger Nepali community, and one with significantly more Nepali women.

Women celebrate Teej in Kathmandu with red saris and green/yellow pote (Photo credit)

Women celebrate Teej in Kathmandu with red saris and red/green/yellow pote

Teej (in a nutshell) is a three day festival. It is not celebrated by all ethnic and caste groups in Nepal, but by some, including the Chhetri caste which P belongs to. The first day is the feast called Daar, when women come together to dance, sing and eat, sometimes staying up well past midnight when the fast begins. The second day constitutes the fast, although people interpret “fast” in different ways- some will not eat or drink anything for the full 24 hours, while some will take tea, fruits and yogurt. If celebrating in Kathmandu women will dress in one of their nicest red saris and go to the Pushupatinath Temple, devoted to Shiva as one of the holiest Hindu shrines in Nepal.  Women break their fast after midnight on the second night, and on the third day engage in various pujas and rituals to purify their souls.

That first year after moving, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the festival, although I was excited to learn about this new piece of Nepali culture I knew nothing about. I was also intrigued by the feminine solidarity of the event. It reminded me of my time in Kenya, where division of labor in the rural farming community I lived in left women in the evening sitting around the dimly lit cooking house, singing and joking and making food for the entire extended family. I remember liking the community feel and the safe “women’s only” space, but it brought up lingering feelings of conflict between wanting to connect with something traditional and almost ancestral  which seemed to clash with my (western) feminist views.

Women at Pushpatinath

Women at Pushupatinath

So I talked to P about it. I thought it would be interesting to participate in the festival, however I thought it was reasonable that if I was fasting for his long life, that he should fast for mine. I think that the idea was relatively radical. Teej was a woman’s festival not a man’s, why would a man fast for Teej? It didn’t make any sense. I explained that I thought fasting- devoid of its religious significance- was in general a good process of centering yourself. You purge the body for a day, you learn self-restraint and self-control, and it forces you to reflect on your desires and needs, and think about excess. In addition, fasting for each other could also be an act of solidarity for our family unit. We would be supporting each other, and hoping for the long, healthy and happy life of each other and our partnership. P agreed that it sounded fair, and decided to also participate, even if some of the Nepali men in our community thought it was absolutely ridiculous.

Teej ladies ready to go to the temple near my home...

Teej ladies ready to go to the temple near my home...

That first year, several of our female neighbors came over to eat, and relax. On the following day we fasted and dressed (in some variation of red) to go to the local temple, where we could immediately pick out the other Nepali women who were dressed in bright red sari—many with shiny green, red or yellow wedding pote necklaces. Afterwards we returned home, relaxed and lamented our hunger before breaking our fast. From that point forward I decided that we would make it an annual event- fasting for Teej.

However Teej seems to be a very “charged” even political festival. Many westerns look at it as an oppressive holiday which forces women to worship men (for more information you could check out this posting). When on Facebook I wished everyone a “Happy Teej” I got a sarcastic reply from one person that I must be such a “good little Nepali buhari” (daughter-in-law) to subject myself to that, while another person said they wouldn’t celebrate the festival because they were a “a modern, revolution-loving biatch.” Perhaps I would feel very different if I grew up in Nepali culture, but I think that the approach P and I have taken on the festival is one generated by a lot of thought. I truly appreciate P’s willingness to support my participation, and to participate himself, and I feel very loved that he is willing to take the fast for me and our partnership.

This year was the first American Teej for a very political male Nepali friend of ours. His partner fasted with me in previous years (even though he was in Nepal and she was in the US), and when I asked him if he was going to fast with her this year he said no… that the festival was oppressive and silly, and he didn’t want any part. His partner said she would not fast for him unless he fasted for her, to which he replied “fine, no one will fast.” Then she said it was important to her to keep cultural traditions alive while living outside of Nepal, but that she wanted to fast in support of each other. We had a group discussion about it which eventually led to the couple fasting two Sundays ago.

I know that we are taking the festival out of its original context, but I am still happy we participate, and I look forward to many more Teej’s in the future

Other links about Teej