08/13/2014 11:37 am ET Updated Oct 13, 2014

The Point of 'Period Parties'

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I sat on the uncomfortable, wooden chair as Indian women happily pinched my cheeks and fed me unrecognizable foods that supposedly held the power to ease my pain.

I smiled through my travail, opened my mouth for more "edible" substances and bent my head to receive blessings from my elders. Each woman handed me a gift like money, chocolate and books.

Cringing in my dress full of starch and strange smells, I clenched my fists to hold back my anger and tears. Sometimes I wished certain aspects of my culture didn't exist.

According to South Indian Hindu custom, the time when a girl begins menstruating calls for grand celebration. I have unofficially dubbed these awkward events as "period parties."

Everyone from direct relatives to mere acquaintances receives an invitation to join the family for the joyous occasion. When my mother informed me of this tradition, I begged her to remain selective with the guest list and to allow me to veto any decision dealing with the party. She kept her promise, but I still dreaded each minute of that day.

Such "rites of passage" mark the beginning of adulthood in a certain culture. While this party will forever remain in my memory as embarrassing, tradition considers it vital to my entrance into womanhood; therefore, I must respect it.

This humiliation I faced represents one example of the cultural disconnect that teenagers like me experience. My parents spent 30 years growing up in India with orthodox Hindu parents, as opposed to me; I have grown up in the suburbs of Iowa.

As I am encouraged to ask questions in school, arguments arise when I question various customs my parents have grown up blindly following. I constantly ask, "Why?"

My parents, who grew up with stringent house rules, consider these inquiries disrespectful, since the cultural norm during their childhood demanded unwavering respect towards elders.

While most teenagers await their first driver's license to signal that they have entered adulthood, I enjoyed the pleasure of the entire Indian community finding out about my internal plumbing problems.

Explaining this event to my friends who do not share the same cultural rituals can become difficult when they too ask me why such parties exist and I am unable to answer. Sometimes I feel as if I live two lives and spend so much time educating natives of Indian culture about American culture and vice versa.

I tire of jumping back and forth between the two, but I realize that I am lucky to experience both ways of life. The "period party" eventually served as a catalyst for me to see that I'm privileged to experience a beautiful, cultural clash.

I may not have appreciated that specific custom, but few people can experience the colorful Holi powders and the bright Diwali lights followed by patriotic fireworks and illuminated Christmas trees.

By: Tanvi Yenna, University of Illinois