For the past week I have been absent from this website while on an anthropological excursion for SM (like anyone but my monkey assistants even noticed). Sometimes a blogger just needs to get out of their bunker and talk to the real people. The question I was seeking an answer to was a profound one. Do those states…you know, the ones up there near the Canadian border…do they even have any desis that live there? For my excursion I needed a field assistant. My brother (we will call him P to protect his real identity) has lived in Idaho for the past two years and served as a good travel companion.
From L.A. I flew to Portland, Oregon where I had a layover. While walking from one gate to the other I had my first desi sighting. It was a Sikh man with a long flowing beard and an unusually large turban who I spotted in the TSA security line. Upon closer inspection however, two things became clear. First, the man was white and not desi. Second, he was a TSA screener and not a passenger.
Four hours later (damn airline delays) I landed in Spokane, WA where I collected my possessions at baggage claim. I began to re-arrange some of my gear when a woman walked up to me holding a sign.
Woman: Excuse me but are you Mustafa?
Abhi: Heh. No, sorry.
Woman: I’m sorry but you are the only one that looked like he was…lost.
“Lost” of course was a very clever euphemism for “brown.” I didn’t mind though. The name “Mustafa” reminded me of a powerful figure with a glorious mane. For just a minute I forgot about my military short haircut and hummed a little Hakuna Matata as I waited on the curb for my brother to drive up.
Our first stop was Idaho Falls in southern Idaho. In racially homogeneous states it is difficult to tell if people are really looking at you differently or if it is your expectation that they will look at you differently that simply clouds your perception reality. Before I even walked through the door of the restaurant where we had dinner, I was subconsciously on the defensive. There are many of us who would never consider living in some cities or states based only upon our preconceived notions of what racial attitudes there must be like, regardless of the objective reality. Not at that restaurant nor at any other time during my trip was I made to feel uncomfortable. I was uneasy quite often though, mostly because of my own perceptions (and a seven day long beard that made me look menacing to myself).
The next day we reached the Grand Tetons National Park. This led to another observation. In our U.S. National Parks system, a system that brings in many visitors from every state, there isn’t much racial diversity. The overwhelming majority of visitors are white (a lot of them are retirees). Asian-Americans also represent pretty well, but not as much as one might expect. There are fewer Latino visitors than expected as well but African-American visitors are the rarest of all. National Parks are among the cheapest vacation options available to Americans. Pretty much anyone with gas money and a tent can have a good vacation with their family in one. Class and race should not be an issue and yet it is strikingly so. This is even more apparent on the popular and backcountry trails than near the visitor centers and scenic points. Why don’t more minorities visit our National Parks?
Next we went to Yellowstone National Park. I was keeping a running tab on how many desis we encountered during our trip. In five days I saw maybe fifteen and made a big deal about pointing out each family (to the annoyance of P). I didn’t see a single desi in the states of Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming outside of a National Park. In Butte, Montana I had P drive through the city slowly so that I could search for and take a picture of an Indian restaurant. Surely there must be a “Curry Palace” or something? There was none. I insisted that we stay in a desi owned motel but the odds were not in our favor. Doesn’t the AAHOA know that there is a lot of untapped territory up there?
And so I now wonder. Are there any SM readers that live in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming? Should I have arranged a meet-up in one of those states last week? Would our meet-up have aroused suspicion?
My question remains largely unanswered. Are there any desis up there?
Side note: If anyone is interested in the non-anthropological aspects of my trip last week then I will have more pictures on my blog by late Tuesday.