Are there like any desis up there?

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?

The blogger and his brother in pursuit of a story for SM while searching for “brown” bears near the Grand Tetons.

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.

170 thoughts on “Are there like any desis up there?

  1. Ok, so as many people have pointed out already, brown people do in fact go camping/hiking etc. As for that elusive desi owned hotel in Idaho… about two years I was driving down from Seattle to Tucson via Portland, Idaho, Utah, Arizona and Vegas (yeah, I know, a little circumspect, but some white friends and I were doing the whole National Parks thing… and ended it with Vegas shudder ). The first night in Idaho was spent in this tiny little town called Mountain Home that was little more than a truckstop and a motel close by. The motel was covered with american flags, so I automatically assumed (given that we were in podunkville, ID) that one of my white friends should go in to book the room (I mean, I didn’t want to take any chances as a bearded sikh, and all that). Of course, it turned out that the place was run by a friendly old uncle who I met the next morning.

    um, so yeah… Mountain Home, Idaho… about 100 miles NW of Twin Falls, on I-84 has a little motel run by an Uncle. (I think it was called Thunderbird Inn, I could be mistaken) Mountain Home also happens to be about 2.5hrs from Craters of the Moon National Park… pretty cool place.

  2. The motel was covered with american flags, so I automatically assumed (given that we were in podunkville, ID) that one of my white friends should go in to book the room (I mean, I didn’t want to take any chances as a bearded sikh, and all that). Of course, it turned out that the place was run by a friendly old uncle who I met the next morning.

    The irony is that the flags were for the uncle’s protection. After 9/11, many desi businesses put flags up around their stores to show white America that they are “American” too, so they wouldn’t be lynched or have their windows broken.

  3. The irony is that the flags were for the uncle’s protection. After 9/11, many desi businesses put flags up around their stores to show white America that they are “American” too, so they wouldn’t be lynched or have their windows broken.

    come on man. you’re point is fair, but the poster was showing how even in the middle of nowhereville the “Other” still represents. in the days of lynching you wouldn’t have had black americans owning motels in nowhereville. yes, the glass is half empty, but let’s not forgot the other half too….

  4. Oops… I forgot I went to Moab in May. Here’s pics from that trip.

    great shots Osman… put it all up on flickr yaar.

    and i do have some work stuff going on in boulder. after swinging by renu’s place for some latke-jhatke i’m coming over to meet Marley you.

  5. Have you ever been to Yosemite National Park? All you will ever see is desis of various types, shapes, attires, languages and physical ability. Occasionally, you may catch a white american there. No kidding!

    I hear you girl. One a trail there I was once startled to see a white family approaching. Turned out they were punjabis!

  6. (Sigh) Everyone wants to meet Marley. He’s a lovable pooch, one of the reasons I tow him around on his chariot.

    I don’t know what latke-jhatke is, but if you’re in area come on by.

  7. oh thanks Osman!!! And let me know should you be in the neighborhood. We’ll do the bruce trail or one of the provincial parks – miles into nowhere – not many scorpions, but loads of peace

    p.s. my favorite shot of marley, was this

    p.p.s. that latke-jhatke was a reference to the famous desidancer who’s been known to trawl these waters.

  8. hmm… the link to the pic doesn’t work. But I’m game for a hike.

    Sounds like you’re down in Denver. Maybe sometime next week? Drop me an email and lets set it up! Dancer is invited too, of course.

  9. hmm… the link to the pic doesn’t work. But I’m game for a hike.

    It’s the one of Marley with eyes squeezed shut. :-)

    Sounds like you’re down in Denver. Maybe sometime next week? Drop me an email and lets set it up! Dancer is invited too, of course.

    oh… i’m in toronto, Canada Osman but I travel around the US a fair bit. Colorado is a distinct possibility and i’m always looking for opportunities when i can stretch my friday trip to catch a little local scenery. I’ll send you my particulars offline and we should hook up when i stop by the neighborhood. needless to say, anytime yo’re up here – giveme a buzz.

  10. my final proof… the piece de resistance… bollywood. all the glorious vistas painted on the silver screen … the grand canyons, flowers of every hew sprinkled through the green meadows, the fog rolling through the valleys

    Brilliant hairy_D! That definitively PROVES that desis are the most outdoorsy race of all!

  11. That definitively PROVES that desis are the most outdoorsy race of all!

    They are so outdoorsy that, when the romantic couple is magically transported to Switzerland for a Bollywood song sequence, the heroine is able to freely dance around in the snow and arctic conditions while wearing just a sleeveless blouse and a light-as-a-feather chiffon sari. Who says desis can’t stand the cold ?

  12. Abhi:

    National Geographic’s Adventure magazine had a nice article on Boise, Idaho in this month’s issue. I’m sure you’ve already scoured it, but just in case you haven’t, it was an interesting piece on the shifting demographics (folks moving from Cali and other metros) of Boise and how it isn’t all that bad of a place to live.

  13. Yep, I subscribe to Nationl Geographic Adventure. My bro lived in Moscow, Idaho for the last two years but moved back to the east coast the day after our trip.

  14. Have you ever been to Yosemite National Park? All you will ever see is desis…

    Seriously, what is it with the San Jose to Yosemite, multiple family desi road trip? Where all the kids want to hike down sheer cliff walls and float down rivers in inner tubes while all the adults sit around drinking chai…

  15. So if anyone is still reading this post (since its two years old) i’ll be greatly surprised, but i must respond. first let me say that i am white and a boise native (that is boise id) and while your definitely right about the racial hamogeny here, there are more than just white people here! infact we have a growing population of indians in the area…i work for the downtown ymca and am familiar with several families and have met quite a few indians around here! i cant speak for all of idaho, nor for the north west, but boise is diversifying…that being said, i have lived in other parts of the country and when i came home the last time i was upset about the “white wash” of idaho and i hope that more people can overcome preconceptions both in idaho and outside of idaho so that we can continue to diversify!