Tag Archives: identity

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. Continue reading

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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.

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.