This post is part our #MamasDay blog series, and is written by Kalpana Krishnamurthy, Policy Director of Forward Together.
I am the daughter of two immigrants to the United States. While both of my parents are totally fluent in English, like many immigrants they often forget articles and punctuation and miss or don’t understand American expressions – in college I learned the fancy term for this is an idiom. Like many second-generation kids, I have plenty of stories of misunderstandings, notes written without the proper “a” or “the,” and loudly whispered explanations of dialogue in movies.
When I got to high school, we had intensive units on grammar in my freshman year English class. Learning the difference between when to use who and whom; understanding the appropriate use of a semi-colon; and possessive vs. singular was absolutely terrifying. Not only had I somehow managed to not pick up what an adverb was in my prior years of school, I really couldn’t understand punctuation. And my parents—who for years had been able to help me with homework—were of no help either. I was given intensive grammar extra credit and barely made it through the unit.
So when Forward Together announced that there was no apostrophe in Mamas Day in 2014, I kind of lost my mind. I kept thinking – this is grammatically incorrect! It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard every time I see it written out! What are we doing??
But it turns out—Mamas Day is not just grammatically correct, it’s also a total embodiment of our hopes and goals for this campaign. Mamas Day shifts the frame from a singular and possessive celebration of a mother’s day to a collective celebration of a day about Mamas. In a year when everyone is talking about “leaning in,” Mamas Day helps us celebrate and lift up how many mamas lean on networks of support.
While my own Mom may not have embraced the rules of American English, she did embrace one of the core concepts of this year’s Mamas Day: mothering in community. When my parents immigrated, they left every member of their family in India and no one else followed. My Mom consciously chose to build a sense of family with other South Asian immigrants. Every Saturday night we were in a wood paneled basement, watching MTV, eating rice and dhal, and making up crazy games. These Aunties and Uncles were the people my parents chose to lean on, helping provide me and my brother a sense of family and a cultural heritage that we still feel today.
The word in Kannada for mother is Amma. Growing up, we spoke English in our house so it’s not the word I used, I just called her Mom. When I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I wanted to be called Mama. My Mom very quickly announced that she wanted to be Amma to her grandkids instead of Ajii, the word that means grandmother. Instead of feeling irritated by that (technically my kids are calling both of us Mom, what?), I’ve realized how much power the word has and how much culture and heritage it carries for her. Now my two sons bounce joyfully between Amma’s house and ours, secure that whatever they call us, they are cherished and loved.
At Strong Families we use the word mama to create a space that acknowledges caregivers that have traditionally been left out of our images, culture, and consciousness. Mamas Day challenges the notion that mothers are perfect and instead uplifts the universal, very real picture: that all mamas – that don’t fit the Hallmark stereotype – are doing their very best. No matter what we call the people who have nurtured or mothered us, we want to celebrate them all.
So in 2014 – in addition to beautiful new e-cards from fabulous artists – we are embracing Mamas and kicking out the apostrophe. Won’t you join us?
Kalpana Krishnamurthy is the Policy Director at Forward Together. She is the mother of two fabulous kids, Sachin and Kavi.