Are You Indian or American?

At San Antonio’s Institute of Texan Cultures

The older I get, the more it seems people identify me as an American.

We all grew up calling ourselves Indian. This does not mean we all grew up hating America. (Some people hate the thought of hyphenated identities like German-American or Chinese-American, and think we should all just be American.)

But we called ourselves Indian because we grew up in Indian households eating Indian foods and learning Indian values from our Indian parents. Years later, it’s easy to look back and see how this generation became it’s own category of people who are American in so many ways but love the Indianness instilled by their parents.

We get to be both.

Indian by itself or American by itself wouldn’t do justice to our identities. Even the word Indian barely covers it, as Kerala is a whole other planet in India. Keralite-American then?

Years ago in a grad class, we were asked to split up in groups for a project. Two of the groups were made of whites, while our third group was the “international” group. I guess we just gravitated toward each other (or the other two groups gravitated toward each other as fast as they could). Our group was a Tamil guy, a Venezuelan, a Frenchman, a young Filipino-American and me. The Venezuelan pointed out our ethnic identities.

She looked at me and said, “You’re Indian — oh wait no, you’re really American.”

I was happy to be an American, but a little sad because I wanted to be an Indian, too.

Anyway, the current check marks we make on forms about race — they marginalize everyone and cover up our true stories.

You can look Indian-American but may have more in common with the Black community (or whomever) you grew up with. Our values and personalities are diversifying. We’re escaping the clone jail our forebears were confined to and (I presume) mostly enjoyed. (Am I wrong about them enjoying it? There’s got to be more nuance to the story than what I just said.)

We don’t cook like our mothers or grandmothers used to. Some will, many won’t. The stores sell those cheats now – the biryani mixes, the appam mixes and the frozen porotta. And rice cookers.

We’re a unique people. And this is a phenomenon happening across cultures. The phenomenon of combined identities. You are (mom’s ethnicity) and (dad’s ethnicity), and you grew up in (country new to mom and dad) and love hanging out with your (random ethnicity) friends. You could insert almost any nationality into that last sentence and find it true somewhere.

So this post isn’t about whether you’re Indian or American. It’s about where this world has headed and is already at.

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One response to “Are You Indian or American?

  1. Very refreshing ! I think we’re continually evolving and finding our way in this strange little world. I’m Indian, with a bit of me belonging to different parts of the world and I always remember having had trouble associating myself with a particular label.

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