Musings on Mistaken Identity

kalyan.penn.jpg Actor Adhir Kalyan was on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and shared a story of being mistaken for Kal Penn when he was visiting a beach in California. I don’t feel there’s too much similarity in their looks, and they sound completely different because Kalyan has a British accent. But hey, I know being mistaken for another desi happens from time to time, even to us non-celebrities who aren’t getting screen time during prime time or in theaters across America.

Example #1: At one summer job, I was one of four interns in a small office with less than ten staff members. Occasionally, throughout the summer the Executive Director and one or two other staff members would call me Ritu, the name of another intern. She was desi, had straight hair (of a different length) and wore glasses like me, but that’s where the similarities ended.

I don’t mean to make this experience sound horrible–to me it was something awkward that made me think a little bit about personal identity. I corrected the people who called me by the wrong name each time, but I also remember wondering if in their minds my comments at staff meetings, actions at work, etc., were being attributed to me or the other intern.

Were my achievements my own? Were her errors or mishaps mine as well, if only in their minds? (Perhaps that last question was on her mind as well!)

Example #2: At school I was one of two desis in a particular class. This time the setting was larger with a classroom of about twenty students, mostly women, and the other desi, Ana, was about as opposite of me in terms of features like height, size, hair, as you could get.

When we raised our hands to ask a question or comment the professor would call on us, and after I got called Ana a couple of times I started thinking of how the professor perceived me. Was I a desi/brown person first and foremost in her mind? Is that why I was being called by the other student’s name? And, perhaps more pressing at the time :) , was this going to affect my class participation grade, if she ended up remembering me as Ana chiming in during class discussions?

Neither of these examples involved desi professors or bosses–I can’t recall other desis confusing my name that way besides my parents, and having them call me by my sister’s name has never prompted any existential musings!

Have you had a similar experience? How did you handle it, and how did you feel about it?

If you’re interested in how Kalyan handled the situation when someone thought he was Kal Penn, you can watch the part of the interview that’s about 2 minutes 20 seconds in. Clearly he didn’t let it faze him, or if it did he at least parlayed it into a nice joke for late night anyway. The actor currently stars in a sitcom called Rules of Engagement with David Spade, playing Timmy, a variation on a role that Spade made memorable in Just Shoot Me–an overly put-upon personal assistant who trades witty, caustic barbs with his boss.

67 thoughts on “Musings on Mistaken Identity

  1. <

    blockquote>I’m just saying that the sense of “Americans are oh-so-bad” that so many liberal bloggers have is somewhat silly in my experience around the world. Yeah, it’s really tiring to hear stupid things repeated, but the fact of the matter is that stupid people are everywhere, and even smart people can occasionally have moments of supreme stupidity.

    I think there are a couple reasons Americans get more flack than other cultures: - Americans are richer than most people in the world, so naturally we’re expected to be more cosmopolitan than people in poorer cultures who have an excuse for ignorance - People are exposed to American culture more, our media is globally very influential – therefore foreigners know more about America than we get to learn about their countries - Hollywood encourages the “stupid American” stereotype and pushes into various films, all of which are viewed by millions around the world and taken seriously, haha - America has 300 million people, we’re a huge country! Therefore we simply have more morons by default. Sometimes our morons travel and are exposed to non-morons, who extrapolate and assume we’re all morons. - Most Americans are monolingual simply because English is the dominant language across our massive country (and up in Canada). Europeans are generally multilingual because their countries are small and surrounded by other countries with a different language; they end up assuming we’re monolingual because we’re xenophobic and ignorant, when it’s simply out of convenience.

    It’s best to laugh it off and focus on more important things anyway. If I had a nickel for every time someone said something idiotic about my rather convoluted ethnic background, well… I’d be able to buy a bottle of Coke. Maybe. You seen the price of a Coke these days? Insane!

  2. Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to quote that whole thing! Meant to only quote the part Ari-Schwartz wrote obviously

    • Why did you just quote it? Seems a little pointless. Normally, you would quote and then add something?

  3. I was guilty of this the other day. I was presenting some stuff to several classes at a high school. One class had two desi kids in it. One’s name was Deepak, but for some reason I called him Nikil; I think Nikil must have been a desi kid from one of the other classes.

    That was a little embarassing, but then to make matters worse, I then called the OTHER desi kid in the class Deepak. I dunno what his name actually was, but it wasn’t that.

    In my job, I deal with heaps of different kids, and while I’m talking to a class I might remember the names of about a third of them. To remember names, it helps to associate each kid with certain characteristics, and noting their ethnicity is one thing that helps the names to stick in my mind. But it backfired on me that day.