At BHAV, we believe in empowering women to find unique ways to embrace their cultural heritage. We started 'The Culture Connection' to explore the impact (both good and bad) of heritage on a variety of incredible women, and understand how it continues to play an influential role in their lives. We invite you to join us on this journey, with the hope that you find value in these conversations.
MONIQUE SHAH KULKARNI
Monique is a licensed psychologist with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Texas-Austin. In addition to her work overseeing outpatient therapy, Monique is a busy mom of 2 who loves traveling, spending time with friends, and cozying up with a good book (when she's not catching up on some much-needed sleep!). Read on to learn about the instrumental role her South Asian heritage plays in her life.
On Her South Asian Heritage:
What's your background?
For much of my early life, I identified as Indian American, but as I've gotten older, I identify more broadly as South Asian American.
How has, or currently does your heritage play a role in your life?
My cultural identity as a South Asian woman is a core part of who I am and informs every aspect of my life, from my career and professional development to personal relationships and parenting choices. Having a strong connection to and finding solace in Jain and Hindu cultural traditions even drove me to do my dissertation on how people use religion to cope with stress.
My relationship with this aspect of my identity has definitely evolved over the course of my life so far, and took on a new level of importance for me when I started my own family. As I've gotten older, I also find myself looking to reconnect with my roots in a more spiritual way when looking to incorporate more balance during such a chaotic phase of life (i.e., two career-driven people who work full-time while parenting two young children).
What experiences helped you overcome any obstacles you had with embracing your heritage/background?
I was (and still am) so lucky to have a tight knit circle of South Asian, mostly Indian, friends throughout adolescence and college. Despite life having taken me a thousand miles away from home, where many of them still live, I still count these people as my closest friends, 20+ years later. Growing up surrounded by people navigating the same bicultural experience as me helped me embrace my culture rather than feel ashamed of it or want to distance myself from it. Those relationships have helped shape my confidence and desire to share my culture now that I'm living in a much less diverse part of the country (West Lafayette, Indiana).
It's also so great that most of my closest friends have made the transition to parenthood at the same time as me - between all of us, we have (almost) 14 kids ranging in age from about to be born to age 6. Going through early motherhood at the same time as them has been so helpful as I navigate how to give my kids the same opportunities I had to learn about and appreciate their culture.
What do you love most about South Asian fashion? Any favorite outfits growing up?
I love the bright colors and creative color combinations you get with Indian clothes. I've never met an Indian outfit that with the right accessories didn't make me feel like a million bucks.
What's your favorite thing in your closet right now, or the piece that gives you the most confidence (can be heritage-based or western)?
I'm not gonna lie, my current favorite is definitely my sweats! But if we're talking about favorites to wear in public, my cobalt blue stilettos (see above photo) definitely give me the most confidence, and the one staple I come back to year after year is a three-quarter sleeve white linen blazer. Much like what I love about Indian clothes, I am consistently drawn to bright, vibrant colors, even with my western clothes.
What's your go-to cocktail, spirit or drink?
Mojito or Michelada depending on the setting.
What are you currently watching?
Greys Anatomy... yes, it's still on, and it's one of my guilty pleasures :-)
Name of the best book you've read in a while?
I just finished reading the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, and it was such a fun escape from the daily grind!
Morning person or night owl?
Converted night owl due to my 4 year old and 2 year old.
What's 1 small thing you couldn't give up (daily ritual, accessory/personal item, etc.)?
Morning chai for sure!