Category Archives: Shifting Identity

The 90s: Gangstas and Douchebags

In our first year of college, my roommate and I were walking on campus and a row of four Malayalee guys walked past us. In a straight row and with an air of cockiness and self-diagnosed badass-ery so thick that even my white roommate — who hadn’t been previously informed about the douchebaggery some of these guys could emit — dryly commented: Here come the cool guys.

I don’t think a lot of us young people kept it real in the 90s or early 2000’s. We were steeped in trying to straddle at minimum two worlds. With our identities bouncing left and right. We didn’t know who to be.

Our parents did their best to create one life for us at home and church. But there was a totally different life waiting for us at school, work and everywhere else.

Our parents knew only their way. They didn’t have the context of youth life in America, and no one can blame them. So as much as they coddled us, we experienced our share of fending for ourselves and learning things the hard way.

I think trying to adapt and be cool outside of the home culture, that’s what bred the too-cool-for-school facades. Everyone did it at one time or another, just some did it way more than others. And it made the rest of us chant slogans like “Can I just get away from Indian people?”

It was hard to be unconditionally accepted in the home culture, and equally as hard everywhere else.

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Race is a Human Construct

I honestly think some of my cousins in India think I am a complete numskull.

Pluralism/diversity causes misunderstandings. An inability to understand the world, thoughts, worldview of someone from somewhere else. It causes conflict in the states. But I enjoy this diversity. I enjoy growing up with so many people and knowing their heart and their mind. When you know someone, you don’t think about their skin color or worry too much about “where they’re from.” You just appreciate them as a person, as someone like you.

Race is a human construct. Latino is not a race or even a color. Neither is the state of being black. News anchor Soledad O’Brien is culturally black, even though she is not deeply pigmented as such.

“Don’t let them tell you you’re not black,” her mother tells her. “Don’t let them tell you you’re not Hispanic or not Cuban.”

I don’t like checking my “race” on surveys. It waters down, mocks and misrepresents who I am.

I want to tell you who I am. Part of who I am. My roots. Raices.

I admire culture and the sense of community and resourceful engendered by many cultures. This is potentially my ignorance speaking, but I see most countries as very similar. Most countries outside of the United States and Europe. I see a sense of understanding of community. This exists in small towns in the states, too. I enjoy talking to people who grew up on a farm. It whispers parallels with my forebears in India with their chickens and goats and crops all around.

My India is not your India. It’s like the parable of the elephant and the four blind folks. One feels the trunk, the other feels the feet; one feels the tail, the other feels the belly.

Everything is different in Kerala, isn’t it?

 

I stood on a hill in Kozhencherry with my cousin Tijo. As we overlooked the city, I told him, “Do you realize you live in the most beautiful place in the world?”

I never wanted to be anything but what I am. Of Indian descent. Though I did want to be black for sometime. I think you end up wanting to be the people you’re around. I loved dark skin. Keralites were known for their dark skin. Mine wasn’t dark, though I wished it to be. It wasn’t until later I realized that some people are taught to look down on dark skin, which to this day I do not understand. It wasn’t taught in my household.

I remember the first time I learned about skin color.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andreanna/2779781360/

My First Lesson On Skin Color (Or the Day I Learned I’m Black)

Kindergarten is fun. You play games and learn stuff. Our teacher taught us a song in sign language, then told us what it meant.

It was about all the cultures of the world, and how they thrived in their different regions. But these cultures started traveling to different places, leaving their homeland and starting anew elsewhere. The song was about how nice and peaceful the world would be if everyone just stayed in their homeland.

I went to kindergarten at a mostly black school with a white teacher.

One day some kids at recess wondered if it was OK for the black and white kids to play together, since they’d heard something about how those groups weren’t supposed to get along. Continue reading

A tree is falling in the forest.

If your identity is taken away, are you left with nothing?

If a people’s history is not written down, it’s as if it never happened. They are redefined to suit someone else’s whims.

I’ve always described India as a different planet. Every corner might as well be it’s own nation, with the mishmash of customs and dialects. You can’t look at someone of Indian descent and know their story.

India is snow-capped mountains, steamy nights, tropical paradise, scarcely bearable oppression, freedom of the highest kind, democracy, caste, religious oppression, religious amity.

India is diaspora.

Everyone is looking to go somewhere else. Or they have no idea a world exists outside their few kilometres.

They’ll Never Accept You As An American

Quote from a Sepia Mutiny commenter (who I presume is not Malayalee):

There are low caste succesful entreprenuers and businessmen in India too. In fact it may be argued that the bania or the trader caste is the richest people in India, yet they are considered somewhere in the middle of caste hierarchy. The Irish were looked down upon , but they are WASPy looking so they could move up. I am in middle management in middle of blue collar red-neck america, and some of the workers have made comments that ‘I will never be considered an american’ and have been openly hostile to the idea that they have to report to a brown man. Admittedly the situation is much better on the coasts. I do not have a defeatist attitude. I am a realist and work within the system and make it work for me.

An uncle told me when I was 15 that I needed to make sure I embraced the Malayalee culture. Because “you’ll never be accepted as an American.” I politely told him I was just as Malayalee as his kids, even if I didn’t speak the language or demonstrate outward Malayalee-ness (whatever that means) as well as his kids did.

And I dismissed his comment about never being accepted. Why base my life decisions on this self-defeating sentiment? Our parents had it rough. They clearly weren’t wholeheartedly accepted. But it’s a new era. You can’t connect with anyone if you’ve already convinced yourself they’re against you.