Tag Archives: race

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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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

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.