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Desi folk -- can't have your cake and eat it too - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Desi folk -- can't have your cake and eat it too [Mar. 24th, 2006|11:19 am]
Arvind Narayanan
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I have something to say to my fellow Indian Americans. I don't have anyone particular in mind when I say this, just a general remark about the community. Please don't take this the wrong way.

If you make no effort at integration, don't bitch when you are treated like an outsider. You are not the victim of racism. You are the victim of self-segregation. It is a choice you made.

On the other hand, ravi -- I completely understand what you're complaining about. Allow me to remark, not to be a snob or anything, but purely in defense of Jesusland, that whatever faults we may have, if someone put in half a tenth as much effort trying to fit in over here as you did, they would find themselves more than welcome.

The US is not the only country where Indian immigrants seem to practice self-segregation. Nor is the issue peculiar to Indians -- the majority of female African American given names today are uniquely African American, and percentages for males follow close behind. This phenomenon started in the 60s (the end of legalized segregation), before which African Amerian given names were identically distributed with White American given names. Nothing wrong with ethnic names, of course, but I would argue that this is merely one manifestation of the pervasive African American need to self-segregate. The logical conclusion of this argument is obvious, and I will leave it unsaid.

Anyway, I'm done now.
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[User Picture]From: annamaryse
2006-03-24 12:33 pm (UTC)

Sorry this is long...

I only agree with you to a point.

I am mixed Anglo-Indian. As a child I was raised around a massive wonderful extended family of my mother's Anglo-Indian relatives... most all of them born before the 1940s... in the old days.

The Anglo-Indian hybrid culture was a meld of British, Indian, and Portuguese traditions, but the pervasive theme is and was Indian. There may have been British influences, and they may have often been in the fore, but these were citizens of India, born and bred there for generations, and therefore the family bonding and politics, superstitions, and personalities were absolutely Indian.

My grandmother left India with her daughters after partition, like many Anglo-Indians. My mother met my father in England. They married and he brought her to Canada, and the relatives followed.

My mother set about to raise me as a North American. I was born here, my friends and all my influences were North American. Kids would come over and maybe not realize my heritage until opening the kitchen cupboards, as kids do - and seeing so many strange foods. I remember a school friend asking once, blunt as kids always are: "Why is there always curry in your fridge? Do you guys eat anything else?"

Fast forward to my late teens, early 20ish... and you know I really didn't see myself as different from my friends... but I started to notice.. a couple of guys I dated said things like "Don't get too serious about me, you're not the kind of girl a guy can bring home to meet Mom.." Before breaking it off I'd press for clarification and hear stuff like "Well you know, you're a little exotic..." and stuff like that.

At the office, in every serious job (this was never an issue in service industry part time student jobs) I never felt like I could join into the reindeer games. I observed over time, that since I don't have an Indian sounding name, unless I advised people of my heritage, they can't tell (people guess my ethnicity is just about anything) but I was never made to feel welcome...

In FACT: it is only since a few years ago when I started to wear salwar kameez (they're great for office wear) now and then, that the offices I've worked in have been able to 'peg' me... and by setting myself apart they were able to pigeonhole me somewhere that was comfortable, and while I'm still not invited to all the cool parties I've found it easier.

The main thing I worked out for myself, is that I wasn't discriminated against for being Indian, but was discriminated against because at a gut level people sometimes knew I was somehow different. And once I decided to play up that difference (it never occured to me to play it up earlier, I had just ignored grandmothers trying to dress me in Salwar in the way past) I found, interestingly, less opposition and more of a fit.

I have some Desi friends who have totally different experiences than I, the closest being my friend Susan who is US born of Indian parents, who shares the closest friendship and kinship with me... and she breaks the mold in a thousand other ways.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-03-24 03:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Sorry this is long...

Wow, that's a very interesting experience. Thanks for sharing.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-05-10 05:54 am (UTC)
What you say about Afr.A. names is interesting, do you have sources for it?

I am Harald Korneliussen, btw. (No time for ID)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-05-10 06:13 am (UTC)
Fryer, Roland G., Jr. and Levitt, Steven D. The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2004, 119(3), pp. 767-805.
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