Topic started by Karthik (@ guardian.aig.com) on Thu Aug 2 13:50:37 .
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American Born Confused Desi. Where do they go with their indian looks and their american thought
- From: Sugrutha (@ 220.127.116.11)
on: Thu Aug 2 19:46:26
Is one an ABCD just because one has Indian looks. What is the right profile fore an ABD, so he one can avoid the C in between ? Also cannot one be just an A, irrespective of whether one is born here or not, bred here or not, desi origins or not ?
- From: Hemant (@ caltiger-2mb-isp.bng.vsnl.net.in)
on: Thu Aug 9 07:44:57
I, generally , am avoiding writing on anything other than food .But you have raised a fine topic.
I have a score of ABCD S as relatives and I also have EBCD S .E stands for England here.
There is a saying in Gujarati, which means, A Dhobi's Dog belongs neither to the house of its master nor does it belong to the washing Ghat at the river where it stays throughout the day all thro' its life.
Thus they are neither here nor there people.
I am yet to see an exception .
- From: Sugrutha (@ host-204-124-247-1.pub-ip.digitran.com)
on: Thu Aug 9 12:57:25
Under two flags: The existential pleasures of the expatriate
I have never read the French novel, Under Two Flags. I have no idea what it is all about, but it has always struck me as an apt metaphor for the expatriate Indian. For some unfathomable reason, overseas Indians seem more ambivalent about their mixed-up loyalties -- to India and to their country of residence -- than people of most other nations.
I wonder what it is about our culture and our history and our land that exerts such a strong pull. Furthermore, we are under increasing pressure to define and defend our identity -- Indian or other?
And it is a matter of continual debate amongst us as to which is preferable or even morally superior -- complete acceptance of our new home or a rather aloof and tentative stance. In the US, the similes of 'melting pot' and 'salad bowl' are often used to describe these attitudes.
The 'melting-potters' consider 'salad-bowlers' unprincipled leeches who take advantage of a generous American immigration policy while contributing nothing to America; while the reverse accusation is that the assimilated have somehow betrayed their origins, their nation, even their race in the unquestioned acceptance of things American. This debate goes on with increasing passion as the immigrant comes under closer scrutiny as a scapegoat in America.
Because I am most familiar with the expatriate Indian community in the US, I shall confine my focus to them. The Diaspora Indian in the US has been privileged for the past thirty-odd years, partly because America has generally welcomed immigrants since the 1960s. Besides, the majority of Indians here have become reasonably well-off.
But this happy state of affairs may be changing. On the one hand, America is fresh out of enemies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, American demagogues have lacked an 'evil empire' to rail against; briefly, the role was played by Iraq, but it is clearly a bit of a minnow.
Cleverly, politicians such as Pat Buchanan, a far right-wing political commentator, and Governor Pete Wilson of California discovered a convenient scapegoat; immigrants. A recent series of legislative actions have withdrawn a number of benefits from illegal immigrants, such as the right to schooling for their children. Now even legal immigrants are under pressure -- they may be denied things like access to educational loans.
In fact, the day may not be far off when even naturalised US citizens of foreign origin are deemed somehow undesirable. The fear is deep-rooted: Large numbers of the eligible (those who have been legal immigrants for at least five years) are now accepting citizenship in droves.
The perils of anti-immigrant sentiment are especially great for us 'visible minorities' -- those who are non-whites. 'Asian-bashing' or 'Paki-bashing' has been thought a fun thing to do in various parts of the UK; similarly, Chinese and Japanese have experienced racially motivated attacks in the US.
Indians, being relatively few in number -- there are perhaps one million of us in the US -- have been, by and large, spread this, but there have been stray incidents of 'dot-busting' -- beating up Indians -- in the area around New York city.
So Indian Americans are at a point of crisis --do they wholeheartedly accept their adopted land? Do they become fully assimilated Americans? Bharati Mukherjee, author and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is one who advocates such a stance. In a recent essay, she celebrated her acceptance, indeed her embrace, of her American persona; she describes this metaphorically as a rebirth, and in several of her books, she has talked about the murdering of an old self and the construction of a new identity.
Mukherjee contrasts herself favourably with her sister Mira who has preferred to retain her Indian citizenship and her Indian identity while residing in America: she implies that Mira is cheating, somehow. But Mukherjee, despite her loudly professed American-ness ('I am an American writer, not an Asian-American writer'), still finds it convenient to ride the current wave of popularity for Asian-American writing, which makes her somewhat exotic characters more palatable to the mainstream public.
So is there a right answer? Should one zealously plunge oneself into American-ness? Or should one remain a gastarbeiter -- a guest worker, who is temporarily resident in a rich country, but who has every intention of returning to India?
Unfortunately, I think there is no free lunch. We are, try as we might, never going to be full-fledged Americans, because we bring with us the weight of our childhood--of family, of a distant land, or shrines and forests and gorgeous tropical sunsets. And of culture -- of diffidence, of respect for age, of self-deprecation, of self-criticism.
These make us uncertain and unhappy Americans. America demands the dissolution of your past identity when you choose US citizenship: the very oath you take is symbolic, and difficult -- you foreswear allegiance to all 'foreign prices' and nations. Furthermore, average Americans themselves will find it hard to accept you as Americans -- obviously you are a foreigner.
On the other hand, it is difficult for us to remain rootless guest workers, although many try to. They live in little cocoons of India-ness, and for all practical purpose have never left the small towns in India they grew up in, even though they physically inhabit a slice of America. They dream of moving back one day to India, as the superior 'foreign-returned' person. Is this feasible or is it a pipe-dream?
The improving economic conditions in India are attracting many of us back, but can we fit into India? One of my good friends returned to India recently after spending many years in the US. He had the best of intentions; however, he was back after just one month. He found he had become a misfit in India. He could not deal with the heat and dust, and the sheer physical inconvenience of India.
And that is the challenge for all of us who are in the Trisanku state of suspended animation: how do we reconcile these two opposing and powerful tugs on our emotions and not to mention our economic selves? India tugs at our heartstrings, but the Lotus-eater seductiveness of American culture is equally strong.
We do have a couple of models: one is the Jewish diaspora, and the other is the Chinese diapora. The Jews have steadfastly maintained their identity in the face of severe oppression; and despite everything else, they, until their recent success and general assimilation in America, maintained their passports as flags of convenience. They were prepared to move on at any time, and always, they toasted each other, 'Next year in Jerusalem!'.
On the other hand, the Chinese went everywhere, and there they stayed. They became part of the national culture, even under duress, and often prospered. They have never desired to return to China; even today, the overseas Chinese would rather invest in China than return.
What is the correct model for the Indian? A strong sense of national, cultural and racial identification with their South Asian peers? Or submergence into the American mainstream? American social scientist Joel Kotkin, author of Tribes, would suggest that it is the very sense of separateness, of a unique identity, that has enabled Jews, Anglo-Americans, Chinese, Japanese, and Indians to prosper in an increasingly homogenised world. He claims that the networks of shared values and trust built up, for example by the Gujarati community of East Africa, are valuable business tools.
In sum, the question of identity, and how we deal with our Indian-ness in a rapidly shrinking world, are no longer of academic interest. It is a pressing matter for the Indian diaspora.
As for myself, I know the answer: It is the Kerala that I wish to be, under the palm trees, sitting on a beach, watching the sun go down into the Arabian sea.
Rajeev Srinivasan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the marketing director for a multinational computer company.
- From: emi (@ 18.104.22.168)
on: Thu Aug 9 17:52:26
This was a great read Sugrutha. Hemant, at first I thought that I would be disagreeing with you but for some reason I am not. I feel as though I am "neither here nor there". Having been American born does not necessarily make you American to many here. Many times I am questioned with "Where are you from?" - I am not trying say that I am offended with that question because I am proud to be an Indian but that is the truth - you cannot shed your heritage or culture though how hard you try. I am Indian but when visiting India, many seem to look at me as though I am not. Thus I am neither here nor there. However I know a great deal of young people who might look Indian but their actions might make you have a second opinion.
- From: Sugrutha (@ host-204-124-247-1.pub-ip.digitran.com)
on: Thu Aug 9 19:07:56
Since time immemorial man has travelled, migrated, conquered, been conquered, assimilated, changed etc, but never at the current rate. These past two centuries is a particularly important time in the evolutionary process of man, first with the dramatic explosion in travel and then communications. New people, new cultures, new ideas - I feel previliged to be born in this era.
It is very difficult to determine where we came from, everywhere is changing. Older people in the US are finding it daunting to cope with the new values and ideas. The same goes for India too.
Even living in India, one can have the feeling of neither here nor there, for example, if we are caught between the old spiritual-oriented values and the new materialistic values, between traditions and bohemianism, between conservatism and neo-liberalism.
Wherever we are, if we fully understand and be reconciled with why we are there and what we want to be, one should be at peace. We all would like to belong. Belong to a society, a society of people. As long as we know what kind of people we would like to belong to, we can find them.
- From: kurankaatti (@ spxychi1.bankofamerica.com)
on: Thu Aug 9 20:28:57
Let ABD live like our Anglo Indians in India
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