We are the World, We are South Asian

Dear () :

First, allow me to congratulate you on your excessively clever handle. Normally, I’d be jumping out of my chair like the little cartoon man who signifies “stellar!” for the San Francisco Chronicle’s arts reviews, out of appreciation of your FANTASTIC taste in music, but I am almost 99.9% certain that you weren’t paying tribute to a three-year old release from Sigur Ros with the whole empty parentheses schtick.

Second, allow me to even more sarcastically congratulate you on your attempt at incisive commentary, issued in support of the link you wanted to tip us to…ouch, I think it gave me an owie:

Islamic terrorists attack IISc in Bangalore and shoot a professor dead. Such beautiful gift from our loving South Asian brothers deserve a mention on this blog….or perhaps you’d choose to bury your head in the sand and pretend that this doesn’t/didn’t/won’t happen.

Not.

This trifling game is getting so old, I can pay a premium for it (still in the original box! mint!) on eBay. This Mutiny is brown. We like the term “South Asian“. We write about stuff that happens in the countries that surround India. We care. If you don’t, then that’s unfortunate. Getting snide in an ANONYMOUS tip isn’t going to change our minds, surely you had to be aware of that. If not, let this “musing” of mine clue you in: inclusiveness is how we roll, even though every one of our parents once had an Indian passport and exactly eight dollars in their pocket, upon landing at JFK. Speaking of that now legendary phrase–”eight dollars (in my hand)”– which my much-loved Father shouted on an every-other-day basis as a counterpoint to my spendthrift proclivities, my Daddy is the reason why I am a hard-core South Asian. Oh, and if you’re not sure what I’m referring to with my magic eight bawl, apparently my father (and several other Uncles etc) weren’t allowed to just stroll in the country with benjamins in their money clips. For whatever reason, my exhausted, anxious father had just that odd and small sum on him when he landed in New York, walked to a coffee shop in the airport, paid $0.50 for a single cup of kappi and then nearly fainted as one-sixteenth of his net worth left his hands in exchange for a tiny caffeine rush.

Two-and-a-half decades later, when he heard that I spent $2.50 on a cappuccino at Stanford, during a JSA one-day conference where I debated something foreign policy-y, he yelled at me for close to an hour about my extravagance, converting the sum to rupees and that most hallowed currency of all, the original eight dollars which created my family on American soil. “$2.50? $2.50! When I came to this country, I paid a fifth of that princely sum for a cup of coffee and my hands shook! Brazen girl! Are you the Maharani of Travancore? Have you no shame? Almost three dollars– for COFFEE! ende devam-ay, this one and money, it just falls through her hands…” ;) I got a phenomenal Braun espresso machine for Christmas that year (1990), as my father grumbled that I would never get robbed for caffeine again.

Where were we? Ah yes, why my father made me a South Asian. When I was a wee thing, I got a globe for my sixth birthday from a very close Uncle. Fascinated, I noticed that there were “tropics” for both my and my father’s astrological signs, but not my mother or sister’s. I realised, for the first time, that America was a very big place. And I saw that India was very far away from San Francisco. My father found me peering at the “kite” and smiled with amusement. “What are you looking for?”, he asked. “Thiruvilla!” I exclaimed. Carefully, Daddy drew a tiny dot with a permanent marker, near the south-western coast of the kite. “There.” I kept studying, until I finally decided that India was a very big place, too. Daddy got a hazy look on his face and sighed. “It used to be even bigger.” Then he pulled me on his lap and told me about how maps were arbitrary and the lines which defined them weren’t drawn with the sort of marker he still held in his hand.

I asked him about my Montessori preschool teacher, who looked just like one of my Aunts. “She’s from Ceylon. She’s just like us. Remember when she came for tea? How it sounded like she was speaking Malayalam? She was speaking Tamil, which is one of the languages Malayalam is based on…Tamil is what your cousins in Madras speak, remember?” I wasn’t following. “So she’s Indian like us?” He replied negatively, but hesitated. “Not really. Not officially. Ceylon is a different country. But that doesn’t matter. She taught you the same way I was taught at Syrian Christian Seminary. She was tough and she understood that we appreciated that.” I glowered at him. When people at Montessori weren’t looking, she had pinched my ear once or twice, with my parents’ adoring blessing. “The thing is, edi…we are more similar than different. In this country, no one cares if you were rich back home, or if you were a Brahmin, or if you came from one side or the other of Punjab, because part is here in India and the other is there in Pakistan…you’re just a foreigner. Maybe your children won’t be considered such, but by then, who knows how many countries this will be,” he concluded, fingers lightly tracing the subcontinent. “Be proud to be Indian, but don’t think that makes you better or different from your teacher or your Uncle Nasir. They aren’t Indian exactly, but in this country, that doesn’t matter and it never will.”

:+:

Dear Santa, Gosh it’s good to be Orthodox. I get your full attention now that you’re done with that OTHER Christmas. :)

I haven’t published a “list” this year, but I think I know what I want: I want tolerance, respect and compassion. Musing all this blogginess has convinced me that THOSE are things I really could use. Sometimes, I feel like the random, mildly offensive Amreekans who compliment me on my flawless English are kinder than other brown people are, as evidenced by the SM tip above. I know it’s not kosher to assume things, because when you do, it makes a kundi out of you and me, but I have this suspicion that the person in the parentheses didn’t grow up here.

They didn’t know what it was like to be the only Indian, hell, the only Asian, fcuk it, the only non-white kid in school. They didn’t have classmates circle them and make “oooh-wah-wah-wah” noises by quickly touching their lips with their fingers, over and over again, in some horribly insulting mimicry of a misnamed kind of Indian. They didn’t walk a mile in my moccasins. So they don’t know where I’m coming from, just like I can’t even commence imagining what it’s like to walk a few kilometers in their chappals. I just think if you give me what’s on my Christmas list, this blog (ahem, and this world) would be an even awesomer place.

Also, if you could reclassify “sarcasm” so that it’s no longer naughty? That would be soooooo helpful, for both of us (less making a list for you, less items on it from me).

Oatmeal raisin and one-percent okay this year? I’m no Brimful, but I’ll bake them vs buy them, promise. Also? The fireplace isn’t real (there’s no chimney!) so just use the front door, yo.

Lowe,

A N N A

226 thoughts on “We are the World, We are South Asian

  1. Okay, last comment on this thread because I’ve said my piece and plenty already: have most of you been told that your English is good? I keep reading these experiences and I’ve never been told that.

    You need to work on your English speaking skills ;)

  2. okay, I lied about the last comment part. Al Mujahid – that made me laugh! I really am ridiculous, huh? I’m just pissed off because every time I speak try to speak Hindi people just laugh. And when I speak English, the same thing. Sigh.

  3. Al Mujahid, that was priceless. :)

    MD-di, yeah, I clenched my jaw when she started asking, b/c I was worried it would bounce off the floor if I didn’t. I remember being incredulous, especially since the woman who asked me was ARMENIAN.

    Siddhartha is almost always right. ;) I’d type that without the qualifier, but I don’t have time to search through all his comments to find the one which may exist, which may get thrown in my face. Oy, it’s like writing for a bunch of lawyers here. :D But yes, it’s fluid. Sometimes I’m just an American. Sometimes, I’m Malayalee. Sometimes, (especially after my very desi drink of JW Black) I’m just an ass.

  4. i’m an american who doesn’t look it.

    In a way Anna I don’t agree. If in your experience that’s how you feel or have felt, I understand. but indian/south asian/ect people, i think we do look american. maybe a generation ago or something people had doubts, but nowdays i don’t feel i look not amer, but nican, particularly in urban areas

    i’ve also never personally been told my english is good. i’ve been asked where i am from, but never from peers who were white. older people maybe. and recent immigrants. recent immigrants i understand and its cool when they ask

  5. What the hell is wrong with you retards who take a compliment as an insult? If you don’t want to be COMPLIMENTED (omg, what an insult cry cry cry), then speak shitty english or something.

  6. In a way Anna I don’t agree. If in your experience that’s how you feel or have felt, I understand. but indian/south asian/ect people, i think we do look american. maybe a generation ago or something people had doubts, but nowdays i don’t feel i look not amer, but nican, particularly in urban areas

    when i say that i don’t “look” american, i’m referring to my status as a born citizen of this country. i have NEVER met someone who wasn’t surprised when they learn that i was born here. when people stop assuming that i’m ineligible to run for president, i’ll stop feeling that way. i mean, what’s really going on in that sitch? it’s basically, “you don’t look like you’re from here.” and i’m not relating that b/c i’m some hyper-sensitive “retard” (way to miss the point, vipin), i’m just amazed that in this age when bowl games are sandwiched between ads carefully showcasing the plethora of ethnicities on college campus X, we’re still “foreign” enough that people don’t picture us popping out in LA hospitals.

    i’ve also never personally been told my english is good. i’ve been asked where i am from, but never from peers who were white. older people maybe. and recent immigrants. recent immigrants i understand and its cool when they ask

    that’s wonderful that you haven’t been given the back-handed compliment. well, either that or Al Mujahid is right and you should brush up on your skills. ;)

    everyone asks where i’m “from” (and i hear you on the recent immigrants thing). i have a lot more respect for people who do it in a straightforward, accurate, non-herb-like fashion…they don’t get my stock, “i’m from california, born and raised.” that answer frustrates all involved, since that’s NOT what they want to hear and it’s probably all i’m going to say, unless i’m in an excessively patient mood.

  7. oh noes, the strange man on the internet insulted me!

    really, you guys have a twisted view on the world to be like this. ever heard of manners?

  8. You know what Anna, you should just get used to it. Face it, people won’t just assume that you were born in America until South Asians get to London-like proportions. I don’t see it as anything to get worked up over.

    About ads…people don’t usually relate ads to real life, so don’t expect ads to be a precursor/predictor to how people would/ought to behave.

  9. You know what Anna, you should just get used to it.

    uh, i AM used to it.

    Face it, people won’t just assume that you were born in America until South Asians get to London-like proportions. I don’t see it as anything to get worked up over.

    again, unclear. what i got worked up over (and what inspired this entire post) was a jackass who used our tipline as a way to cravenly lob insults at us, for no good reason. now, have you anything besides this approximation of snark to contribute to the debate? one hopes. when you have a point (london-like proportions), it’s a decent one.

  10. hmm… vipin, check out this link , and scroll to the right for Shilpa Suthankar’s “Bio of an american hostess” . I suppose the experience can be pungent. Tread carefully.

  11. And that is so realistic? Real people (atleast those I know) just don’t act like that.

    While I felt very uncomfortable while watching the short (I wouldn’t want to be in the vicinity when that draama happened), I don’t really draw parallels between that and real life. Am I supposed to go into detail about the short now…

  12. And that is so realistic? Real people (atleast those I know) just don’t act like that.

    funny. if i have the unmitigated audacity to go somewhere besides my car or the event i’m dressed for while wearing a sari, that’s EXACTLY the bullshit i am likely to run in to. nothing happened/no one said anything asinine the day i took the picture i just linked to, but that’s unfortunately the exception. i now take a perverse pleasure in being excessively chatty while in line at the store, waiting to pay for a bottle of wine or a wedding card. the discomfort from cognitive dissonance some experience is ridiculously amusing.

  13. What’s the record for most Sepia comments?

    My guess is that this post is in the running…It has been pretty well, eventful.

    Anna,

    Talk about a small world…and don’t ask how this came about. I was partying at ‘Cloud’ in Dupont Circle on Friday when my husband started talking to some girl about SM. Turns out, she knows you. Her name is Sophia and I think she said that she was from Atlanta. Rings any bells?

  14. Wow. Aside from the below-the-belts on both sides : “addle-brained, bigoted, myopic, megalomaniacal,” this has been a very informative thread. There is passion on both sides here. In fact, this has the makings of an emerging intra-brown culture war. As sidharta said, this isssue is far from settled.

    Suresh (#108), thanks for the reference, I’ll check it out.

  15. ditto, eddie. this type of discussion is why i went to sasa…except all i got there was a hangover. mad props to sepia mutiny for giving us so much to think of. i don’t know what side i’m on but the next time someone asks me what i am…i’ll have to think about it. sepiamutiny- all the knowledge, none of the drama\antibiotics (of sasa)

  16. Razib makes a good point in post 189. It is just that we need not choose from between a South Asian or an Indian identity. There are times when one emerges more strongly than the other and that depends on the context. For instance, at a Pakistani or Srilankan restaurant, or at my Bangladeshi grocer who is the only person in town that stocks fresh-water fish, I feel a deeper richer subcontinental connection with all the brown people around me. The fact that they are Pakistani or Indian or Bangladesi seems immaterial. We share the same values, music, culture and food. And being in America, anything that even remotely approximates Indian culture seems so refreshingly nice. At times, I have even spotted cognates of Hindi words in Farsi and Arab songs that some of my labmates play.

    But, I guess being a first genner, my national identity is something I cling to as dearly as my passport. I guess it sort of comes out when someone disses India or Indians — I don’t think I would react as viscerally if someone were to similarly diss any other subcontinental nation. Yes, I would be offended, but I would take offense intellectually. I would claim discrimination — and shout foul-play. But I would be led by my principles and my intellect. Or for instance in a cricket match when I would definitely cheer India over any other country — even though cricket is not my favourite sport.

    I think the texture that other commentators have spoken of can be best understood when I cheer for India along with all these other people sitting on one side of the Pakistani restaurant while the SriLankans/Pakistanis/Bangladeshi’s cheer for the opposing team from the other side of the aisle. Yeah, and they make a terribly spicy (don’t knock me on this one guys) Rogan Josh too!

  17. I’m sorry, in the context of your post Anna, me disagreeing with your feeling on not looking american (to others) is not something I can actually disagree with, as its your feelings

    but just that its related, but i don’t feel that people assume i was not born in the us. ok, old fogeys yes, but people my age saw me and my sou/indi/brown pals grow up with them so they aren’t like that for the most part

    anyway, tomatoh tomatoh (i dont really know the other ways its pronounced)

  18. antibiotics? yeah. sasa…was off the chain and true story- one of myfriends came back with a souvenir. but i don’t think anyone learned that much.

    on a different tip, anna, i’m real sorry to hear about your loss. keep ya head up, lady.