When Anika Chabra unexpectedly lost her mother two years ago, she realized she not only lost her family matriarch in the physical sense, but also all of her mom’s stories, traditions and recipes.
As a second generation Canadian born to Indian parents, she spent much of her childhood trying to conceal her cultural identity, such as food, clothing and “the seemingly outdated traditions and customs.”
“[When my mom died], I asked myself, ‘Who would I call if I was attempting to make an Indian dish but didn’t know which spice to use? Who would tell me what to wear when a significant day or holiday was coming up? Who would be there to help me guide my children, family-wise and culturally? Who would help me answer the question, who am I?'” she writes.
Chabra then began a journey of rediscovering her culture—from travelling to Eastern and Western India to enrolling in traditional Indian Kathak dance lessons and perfecting the stuffed Punjabi paratha. She realized the importance and value of capturing these traditions, stories and recipes for her own children and the generations to come.
She reached out to her co-worker, Jenn Siripong, who was on a similar journey of wanting to explore her familial traditions and rediscovering her culture as a second -generation, mixed-race and mixed-religion woman (she born to a French and Irish mother and Thai father, raised Catholic, and converted to Judaism after getting married).
The two teamed up to create Root & Seed, a community platform and conversation tool app that helps people share, discover and document their family stories in order to retain their cultural traditions and heritage.
“As we reflected on a) wanting to honour where we came from, the ‘root’ part of things and b) thinking about our children [and] the future, which is our ‘seeds’ that we are planting for the next generation, we [realized] we had a lot in common as it related to wanting to document our family stories,” explains Chabra. “The magic in the two of us coming together was that we were going to be able to do two things: help people get inspired through stories and also give them the tools [to capture the stories].”
The Root & Seed app features a series of question cards under four main categories: recipes, traditions, celebrations and stories (other seasonal holidays are also included, such as Hanukkah and Thanksgiving). Users can choose to view categories and question cards from two different perspectives: an adult asking an adult a question or a child asking an adult a question.
Within each category are series of prompts to spark cultural conversations, such as “Who was the first person in our family to arrive in this country?”, “What about your culture or heritage do you most wish to reclaim?” and “What is our most important family dish or recipe?”. Users can record conversations via audio or text, which is stored in their personal profiles or can be downloaded. Chabra and Siripong envision the audio recording tool being used to record recipes which can be played back while attempting them yourself, or even recording lullabies to pass on from generation to generation.
When it comes to the questions, Chabra and Siripong ensured each was carefully formulated and researched to ensure the ease and comfort of both interviewer and interviewee.
“We talked to hundreds of people and understood that in most cases, talking to your elders is a very difficult and trying experience because there are triggering moments in their lives or there are hardships that they just don’t want to bestow upon you and make you feel bad about,” explains Siripong.
For those feeling intimidated delving into the deeper questions, Siripong and Chabra both suggest starting with some of the more fun and playful Q’s as an icebreaker (the child asking adult questions sets are great for this). Chabra also encourages users to put the focus on just starting conversations, rather than trying to capture an immigrant story in one sitting.
“Go into it with the expectation that you’re going to have a lot of fun and see where the stories take you,” she says.
Both Chabra and Siripong hope Root & Seed will empower minority cultures to be proud of their roots.
“The more I’ve learned about my unique family history, the more I’ve understood who I am, and that’s made me more confident,” says Sirpong. “In a lot of minority cultures, there has been so much assimilation, there’s been so much shame. If we give individuals a tool and a platform that says you should be proud of who you are and take that step to learn who you are, we hope that we can bring more pride, celebration and empowerment to these communities.”
Chabra adds, “I think you really can have a beautiful relationship with your culture. You can celebrate it loudly, strongly and proudly. We want to empower minority communities who usually have been taught to play small and inspire individuals to celebrate their family stories.”
The Root & Seed app is available now at capture.rootandseed.com.