American Made

My friend (and fellow Michigan Alum) Sharat Raju will have his short film American Made featured on PBS stations across the nation next week. The film, originally shown beginning in 2003 at various film festivals (including Artwallah while I was serving on the film committee), features a Sikh family on the side of a desert road trying to get their broken down car running again.

American Made began with a trip through the desert by writer/director Sharat Raju. While driving along Highway 14 north of Los Angeles, he noticed a car pulled over on the side of the desert road and began to wonder what would happen if no one stopped to help. What if there was someone who looked suspicious? What if it was a family who looked foreign, not American? What does an “American” look like? This internal debate was the seed for American Made, and Raju easily found real-world examples of the xenophobia that swept through the country in late 2001. His Indian-born parents, although having lived in the United States longer than they lived anywhere else, suddenly felt like outsiders in their own home. Although they were American, being “American” now seemed to mean something different, something less inclusive than it had been. This feeling of alienation was not exclusive to a single race or group. One community in particular felt this change in the social climate perhaps the most — the Sikh religion in America. [Link]

<

p>Kal Penn (credited as Kalpen Modi for this film even though he was already going by Kal Penn) has a supporting role in the film where his character spends most of the time trying to get his cell phone to work. PBS has been good at featuring stories about South Asians on its nationwide networks. This film is being shown starting on May 9th as part of Independent Lens program. In addition, you can find a slew of South Asian related films on the PBS Frontline page. Hell, last month a PBS show even had me in it (yes, that was an absolutely shameless plug :) .

In any case, I hope SM readers get a chance to check out this film next week. Sharat is also the director and co-producer of the movie Divided We Fall which we have covered before.

67 thoughts on “American Made

  1. This looks excellent, thank you so much for posting this Abhi. For all you BABCDs (Bay Area Born Confused Desis), local PBS showtimes can be found here.

    Also, for those with a few thousand too many rupees burning a hole in your kurta, PBS is perpetually in need of donations and would greatly appreciate any financial help. Holla!

  2. Oh, Kal Penn’s last name was Modi! didnt know THAT!!

    Ditto…I always thought he was Kalpen Patel. Does anyone know why he changed his name? My guess is that he either believes in numerology (The same kind that makes a Sunil spell his name as Suneil) or he was trying to anglicize it.

  3. Thanks for the heads up! Looks like an interesting idea. On the idea of Kal Penn changing his name, I believe it would probably be due to a desire to anglicize it and appeal to a wider audience.

  4. For all you BABCDs (Bay Area Born Confused Desis),

    Sigh….. please, we Desis born in America are NOT confused.

  5. Sigh….. please, we Desis born in America are NOT confused.

    Don’t get your lehnga up in a bunch. @=) I know I’m not confused, (and you seem to be pretty level-headed), I was merely beating a dead horse with a new whip.

  6. thanks for posting this. i saw the film and would really recommend it — it was so moving and the topic was handled gracefully (if that’s at all possible)…

  7. Did anybody else notice (a) that the actor who plays the father is named Bernard White and (b) that the character of the father – Anant Singh – looks a lot like an older version of Amardeep?

    Sakina Jaffrey’s in the movie too, as the mom (I can’t believe that they’re casting her as old enough to have Kal Penn as her son!)

  8. In the fall, I visited my friends who lived around a 4-5 hour drive from my place in North Podunksburg. I stayed on major highways the whole time, stopping only at rest stops along the way, I made sure I was in cell phone range the whole time (T-mobile failed me just as I got off the highway near their house).

    I hate the idea of driving alone in middle America for precisely the reasons that form the film’s premise. In and around where I’ve lived in the coasts, I know I’d be OK. But out here? I would rather not chance it.

  9. I hate the idea of driving alone in middle America for precisely the reasons that form the film’s premise. In and around where I’ve lived in the coasts, I know I’d be OK. But out here? I would rather not chance it.

    You know, I actually drive through these area on a very frequent basis. And 99.9% of the people I’ve ran into have been nothing but super kind. Only places where I’d think I was a bit careful was north Florida (or south Georgia as they like to call it). I think this idea that middle America is hostile is a bit out of proportion. I’ve actually ran into more shit in the northern, supposed ‘Blue states’. Ok, TN, MO, AR, WI etc. have all been ok really. Almost everytime I run into kind folks. In some ways, it has help build down some of my own stereotypes. I mean, I’ve caught myself becoming self conscious at times, particularly when I’m the only non white person around for miles. However, (as I’ve been taught in some self defense courses), keeping an assertive, yet non-agressive posture, does a lot to deter would be idiots and it doesn’t intimidate those that may be curious of your presence.

    I don’t have a beard and turban though, so I don’t understand or know how that feels. All I can go from is my experience.

  10. What does an “American” look like?

    Abhi, this is a great post. I am glad that you bring this up.

    I don’t know if the other Mutineers have gone through this, but I get asked almost everyday by random people in public places “where I am from”. I say I’m American and they respond, “But where are you really from?” Without fail, every single time I’m aboard a plane, the passenger next to me has asked, “Where in India were you born?” I reply, “New Jersey”. They compliment me on my English, even though I have the thickest California accent; no one could mistake me as a “foreigner”. Maybe I’m just sensitive, but when people ask me this, I think: would they ever ask a “white” American randomly, “Where are you from”? If not, then I can deduce from this that there is a real “American”, ie normative (white), as opposed to one who is not.

    This problem is further compounded when traveling abroad. In Europe, where I lived for some years, people asked me, “Are you Indian?” I’d say, my parents are, but I was born and raised in America. “Oh, but you are Indian, though”. If gave the opposite response, so as to avoid giving explanations– “I’m Indian” then I’d get the opposite reaction: “But you weren’t raised there”. All in all, Europeans tend to see Americans as white (not their fault, though). In the Arab world, they are a bit more understanding; they say “Oh, you’re American, yes. But your blood is Indian”.

    What a f*c@ing mess.

    Anyway, I agree with Gujudude that this stereotype about Middle America is inaccurate. And, it is true, I have met some of the nicest people out here in the Midwest, more so than in CA. Very polite, too. Quite like the manners when people say, “Pardon me, Miss Cheap Ass Desi” when they obstruct my path, or when someone offers me their seat, and when a stranger proffers a cigarette. Nobody in CA would do this. Actually, I have encountered more racism in California (where I’m from), and that is supposedly a “liberal” state. San Franscisco is probably the least racist city (but the Bay Area has its nutsos) LA is regressing, and Orange County is just plain whack. Chicago is completely white, but no one has ever made me feel out of place as of yet.

  11. Where have you had trouble?

    Let me clarify: Trouble along the line of racist comments from idiots. I didn’t mean any type of physical confrontation. Isolated incidents from idiots. Nothing too serious.

    My home town of Chicago, with some idiots throwing a comment my way, and Ohio where I was filling up some gas off I-80/90 come to mind immediately. Also, my home in the Chicago suburbs (with a very large subcontinental population) had its windows broken in, twice, soon after 9-11. Police said it was probably neighborhood highschool kids. Some cars on the street (also of Indian families) got keyed and egged, too.

  12. Actually, I have encountered more racism in California (where I’m from), and that is supposedly a “liberal” state. San Franscisco is probably the least racist city (but the Bay Area has its nutsos) LA is regressing, and Orange County is just plain whack. Chicago is completely white, but no one has ever made me feel out of place as of yet.

    I was about to call out California. I have relatives in Sacramento that say they sometimes get a bad vibe.

    The Souther Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups in the country.

  13. By the way, Chicago isn’t ‘white’. You must have been in locales that were white, overall the area very diverse.

  14. What usually riles me about middle america is the disinterest in anything outside the familiar. If you walk into a bar, the bar tender will switch to a very formal tone – when just a minute before, he was chatting with the other patrons all regular and all. It is the walking-on-eggshells-beacuse-i-dont-want-to-risk-upseeting-this-stranger demeanor that makes americans appear so insular. For FOBs, it is a big change. Damn – out in Baga and Calangute and Anjuna we used to poke them hippies like they were doughboys, just to see how high they jumped. And don’t even start about the trying to make your FOB accent understood. I have now sucumbed to the idea that my name is made up of 2 syllables, otherwise i invariably end up losing my place in the line at California Pizza Kitchen and Olive Garden to someone called Leen.

    AH – But catch an American in a far off place like the 13th Ar. of Paris……

    Neale

  15. Most of my childhood was in Orange County, and based on my experiences, it was by far one of the worst places. There was a Nazi Headquarter in Huntington (or Newport? I can’t remember) Beach. There had been lots of racial tension and violence between whites and Mexicans, whites and Blacks, whites and South Asians… whites had a problem with anybody who was not white. A very traumatic childhood.

  16. Gujudude– Admittedly, I have only been to certain sections of “uptown” (North) Chicago. I am ashamed to say that my visits have been largely confined to Michigan Ave, Devon Street and Lake Shore. I haven’t scoped out all of Chicago yet.

    True, all of Chicago is not white. Just look at Devon Street. There are more Desis on Devon Street than in India.

  17. For some reason, I used to have this stereotype that cowboys were a bunch of rednecks. But when I moved to the Bay Area, my cousin (who’s very brown and is into horses and “cornfed” cowgirls) brought me to a “Cowboy Bar”. Apparently, there is a sizeable enclave of cowboys/cowgirls in Concord, CA. I met cowboys for the first time who are totally nice, sweet as hell. And I’m definately brown. I’ve met more cowboys out in the Mid West and the South, and they have been nothing but nice. Nicer than surfer boys from Orange County.

  18. In the previous post, where I say that I’ve met cowboys, this has happened by mere chance. I definately don’t go shopping for cowboys. For some reason or other, I’ve been coming across a lot of cowboys/girls, and I have been suprised that these cowpeople have been so nice, given the fact that I am brown. These touching experiences have changed my stereotypes about white people. But my stereotypes had been based on my OC experiences and painful interactions with surfer boys/girls, and so I can’t be faulted too much for that. Slowly but surely, I am overcoming this.

  19. I saw this movie last month- it’s really good, though quite cliche. Kal Penn changed his name for showbiz, he was able to get more auditions with Kal Penn, then with the Modi. I read it in an article, I think on Hyphen. Actually, it’s kinda sad to hear him have that experience in the entertainment industry.

    Just heard tonight that Kal Penn is at UCLA Law school? Is the rumor true? I need confirmation so that I know if I should spend a ridiculous amount of time on that part of campus “studying.”…

  20. taz:

    sorry can’t help you with kal penn stalking info :-( good luck chica!

    however speaking of names, as someone who has the most neo-colonial white one you can get -my first name means ‘birth of christ’ (like the nativity) and my last name is an acronym of:

    L ondon E ngland W ales I reland S cotland

    ive always wished to join the ranks of the Unpronouncables and unleash my self-righteous disgust at cultural ignorance along with the rest.

    do you think mr modi might wanna do a swap for the whitest name in history? mr modi if you read this, the offer’s always open.

    from the other side of the fence as a desi without a desi name some of us wish we had a bit more ‘authenticity’.

    keep it real, kal penn! your new name sounds like an abbreviation of two states.

  21. CHEAP ASS DESI:

    posted this somewhere else but since you seemed to be in all your avatars over here, here is a li’l message for ya. im off to bed now but just wanted to say like readin your comments, even though i know i’ve gotta end my SM addiction. its copied and pasted so might be a bit munted but there ya go. nitenite

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    i know i’m not the atheist you were hoping to see, CHEAP ASS DESI…

    but just wanted to say i heart your comments on here, especially your political views, cos lordy knows us crazy kids have got to stick together in a world full of ‘sensible’ ‘conservatives.’

    i know i’m gonna morph into one of them after i graduate and see how shite-y life really is, but til then model minority conspiracies and crazy rants about human rights are a for awesome accordin to me :-)

    ps

    ‘Regards’…hehe.

  22. Most of my childhood was in Orange County, and based on my experiences, it was by far one of the worst places.

    We had a very interesting experience in the OC when my husband went out there for a job interview at a small, all-white hedge fund. They had absolutely no problem telling him point blank that they weren’t expecting a turban and a beard and that it might scare their white, conservative investors. Oh, the OC.

    We spent the rest of our time in Long Beach =)

  23. The only experience most of us in here in Ingerlaanda have of Orange County is, well, The OC. You mean all the uncle types there aren’t as nice as Sandy Cohen, and all the women aren’t actually as foxy as Julie Cooper ?!

    Damn.

  24. We had a very interesting experience in the OC when my husband went out there for a job interview at a small, all-white hedge fund. They had absolutely no problem telling him point blank that they weren’t expecting a turban and a beard and that it might scare their white, conservative investors. Oh, the OC.

    See, you and J will just have to stay on the East Coast ;)

  25. See, you and J will just have to stay on the East Coast ;)

    Oh, hell no =) There is no better place than the Bay!

  26. We had a very interesting experience in the OC when my husband went out there for a job interview at a small, all-white hedge fund. They had absolutely no problem telling him point blank that they weren’t expecting a turban and a beard and that it might scare their white, conservative investors. Oh, the OC.

    wow! that’s … well.. i dont know. on the one end i am saddened, on the other, that they came out and said it to his face is sort of ok. there have been instances in my past when i’ve walked away from a sales call thinking, “was it… no… not really, … but…what if… should i …”, all those thoughts grow like a tumour… but to be told up front.. Ok! at least one can walk away with the feeling that i was still the best man at the table… in some circumstances i can even accept that appearance has a role to play in appealing to a demographic – especially in sales (as opposed to support).

  27. We had a very interesting experience in the OC when my husband went out there for a job interview at a small, all-white hedge fund. They had absolutely no problem telling him point blank that they weren’t expecting a turban and a beard and that it might scare their white, conservative investors. Oh, the OC.

    The East Coast is a little better – head of Morgan Stanley’s hedge fund has a full turban, beard and all – and swears in Punjabi so the whole trading floor can hear

  28. The East Coast is a little better – head of Morgan Stanley’s hedge fund has a full turban, beard and all – and swears in Punjabi so the whole trading floor can hear

    Haha, yea, he took a job in New York with the same office demographic but no racism issues. In fact, the OC job was the first time he ever encountered issues like that on an interview.

    Dhaavak ~ I felt it was good for them to come out that way because it made it easy for my husband to make a decision about the job – he knew that he wouldn’t take it, regardless of the offer. Of course, hubby was all ready and fired to sue them but I convinced him it would take up too much time =)

  29. I saw this short at the Asian American Film Festival last year. Very well done…

  30. Tashie– Thanks (#31). You see, I have come to believe the way I do due to the great trials and tribulations of life.

    (Psst… I remember you saying that you’re from NZ. If you ever decide to come to the US, let me know ahead of time. Maybe I can sneak you across the border. Just don’t wear a turban. Don’t want to draw unwelcome attention from the Minutemen who are patroling the border!)

  31. I hope this movie will raise the IQ of ABCDs and hopefully they will stop trying to act very hard to be cool. Maybe they will learn to not imitate other races and try to act like themeselves. Acting like blacks or white isn’t going to fool anybody in thinking that you are American. Sooner we realize that we are brown … sooner we will be better off.

  32. Dhaavak ~ I felt it was good for them to come out that way because it made it easy for my husband to make a decision about the job – he knew that he wouldn’t take it, regardless of the offer. Of course, hubby was all ready and fired to sue them but I convinced him it would take up too much time =)

    Sonia – it’s sometimes a tough call knowing the fights that are worth fighting and in your case i think you two made the right decision – your husband has a good sounding board.

  33. Sooner we realize that we are brown … sooner we will be better off.

    The sooner you correct your own glaring ignorance the better off you will be.

  34. I hope this movie will raise the IQ of ABCDs and hopefully they will stop trying to act very hard to be cool. Maybe they will learn to not imitate other races and try to act like themeselves. Acting like blacks or white isn’t going to fool anybody in thinking that you are American

    First of all, we are NOT stupid ABCD’s. What’s with this American Born Confused Desi label? Excuse me, but there are lots of Desis in the Desh who “try to imitate” the West. Are they “Indian Born Confused Desis” then?

    Secondly, how would we be acting “true” to our race? What does that specifically entail?

    Thirdly, your own ignorance comes through when you say that the only Americans are blacks and white. Have a little bit of creativity to imagine that there are other kinds of Americans too, like Indian Americans (and American Indians).

  35. His Indian-born parents, although having lived in the United States longer than they lived anywhere else, suddenly felt like outsiders in their own home. Although they were American, being “American” now seemed to mean something different, something less inclusive than it had been. This feeling of alienation was not exclusive to a single race or group.

    “Cheap Ass American Desi” I don’t know if you had a chance to read the above paragraph in the post. I meant exactly as it was stated in the post. Even though we may think like American and try to impersonate their culture (especially the ABCDs raised here), we need to realize that we are Indian. We might call ourself American cause we got the citizenship, but deep down the people living in American wouldn’t think of you as an American.

    Think about yourself, when you first see an asian person, do you assume that they are American first? No, you assume that they are asian. No matter how much they act like Americans, they will always be asian first to everybody. Similarly, for anyone who looks at us brown or desi folks, we are middler eastern or Indian first and then maybe American somehow. Therefore it is not use to adopt a American identity and brag how much American you are. Are you proud of being an Indian? Are you proud of being born a Hindu? Being proud doesn’t mean being seprated from the American identity, it just means that we are confident of who we are.

  36. Even though we may think like American and try to impersonate their culture (especially the ABCDs raised here), we need to realize that we are Indian. We might call ourself American cause we got the citizenship, but deep down the people living in American wouldn’t think of you as an American.Therefore it is not use to adopt a American identity and brag how much American you are.

    Excuse me?

    First all of, please stop lumping and categorizing all American Born Desis (especially the ABCDs raised here),. Secondly, I’ll grant you that white Americans do see us as something else first- ie Asian,Indian, whatever. But what do you mean by “impersonating” and “thinking” American? Define these concepts, please. What is “thinking” American? What “American” is being impersonated?

    I hate to break it to you, but we were born and raised her. So “American” culture is our culture too. And we don’t need to “adopt” an American identity”– it is already a part of our identity. This doesn’t mean that we don’t “realize that we are Indian too”. I personally am proud of being of Indian ancestry. Like you said, Being proud doesn’t mean being seprated from the American identity, it just means that we are confident of who we are . And who we are is “Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi/etc American”.

    Your comments are extremely insensitive and superficial. We know who we are and I myself am confident of who I am. Maybe you’re the one who’s confused.

  37. S Jain, You are beyond redemption and not worth engaing. CAD, it is best to ignore trolls. They usually retreat underground.

  38. yep, i agree with Abhi (despite my reservations this philosophical self on the big bang post, i thought science people weren’t into kinky sh**…)


    S JAIN:

    not only are you a troll, which makes your behaviour bad…you’re just BAD AT BEING A TROLL!

    you didn’t even:

    -diassociate yourself from cheap ass desi and others who you were criticising by saying ‘you all might think you’re white, but at least i know im a real indian’

    -use disgusting racial slurs against white or other people (and really, even the ones against ‘ABCD’s’ were pretty weak)

    -use personal insults about people’s appearances, their mommas, their typos or their writing ability


    now really, what’s a troll to do when they can’t even be a real bad-ass troll like they wanna be?

    telling people who are on a culturally-themed blog that they are ashamed of said culture is just a li’l bit too lame to cut deep.

    can i suggest to you that there are better ways to to be than deliberately setting out to injure other people’s feelings and then smugly playing devil’s advocate and allowing your martyr complex to run riot for others to see?

    just a little thought, if you’d rather be a hater feel free to indent things i’ve said, italicise them and then deconstruct them with the irrelevant things you forgot about last time (listed above for handy reference)


    CHEAP ASS DESI:

    not only will i wear a turban for my border crossing when i make it to the big u s of a, i’ll also:

    -wear a bright pink salwar with a big chunky grey sweater on top, -carry my luggage on my head, -unpack said luggage in the middle of the airport to throw out my extra 0.5 kgs so I save 20 bucks (and don’t look away people reading this, you know i aint the only one…) -shake my head from side to side at the sight of the airport queues -cut into the queues

    you know, just so the beefed-up airport security and their guards with guns give me a big smile when i walk past them to the arrivals gate :-)

    wouldn’t wanna fit in with the crowd and make the bush government think they were wasting their money interrogating people with masala packets and saris in their bags rather than spending it on healthcare, education and other silly things :-P


    oh but wait, i forgot, i can’t act like that, those are the people i’m ashamed of! i’m so confused! i hate being brown! what i really wanna do is be white! lucky li’l me that there’s people around to tell me that, ‘cos i SO had not heard that lame-ass C-grade troll accusation before.

  39. typo before a troll caught it:

    ‘reservations about his philosophical…’ etc.