Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Melted Pot

Indians are a GREAT target for laughs. We eat particularly pungent foods, watch the cheesiest movies, and have the thickest accents. Indian men have a weird talent to grow ear hair, and Indian women can hold grudges and gossip beyond a normal life span.

And yes, the kids, namely my generation, are just as hilarious. A third of us think we're White, a third think we're Black, and a third win the spelling bee. We all want to be doctors and lawyers -- at the same time.

My non-Indian friends sometimes tell me, "Indian racism is bullshit, you guys get all the good stereotypes." We get called smart, rich and tan. Not exactly fodder for the Anti-racist Alliance.

But something is rotten in the state of New Jersey and Indians are pissed off.

Not because Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley converted to Christianity, or because yoga was secularized. Not because Sikh turbans are compromised at airports or because the only TV show we have is about outsourcing.

Indians across America are mad because one article by one semi-funny columnist has somehow catapulted minds back to the 1960s, when many of them first crossed into the West and found a new home despite a culture of segregation and intolerance.

Joel Stein, a regular humorist for Time magazine, published a clearly racist, insensitive and largely pathetic piece last week called "My Own Private India".

I came across the piece because someone was citing my own article in India Currents as "burn cream", an oasis after the fire that Stein created. When I clicked on the Time link I was hoping it would just be a case of oversensitivity. Funny guys often get cheap laughs by derailing other people. And honestly, I hardly get offended.

Basically, Stein is whining because his hometown of Edison has become "Little India". Once a slightly rundown spot where he could get away with stealing shit and lying and saying racial slurs, now Edison is a bustling baby-Delhi.

If you've been to Edison, you will know that this is true. My family goes there to work (dental and medical practices, go figure), wax nostalgic about eating bhel puri, and buy the lentils and spices that you don't get at A&P.

But this article was not just a lame joke. In one fell swoop, Stein managed to offend me on political, social, cultural, religious and academic grounds. He was anti-Hindu, anti-immigration and anti-intelligent all on one page. Not one line of his screed applied to me, but it was clear that these were the rantings of someone who couldn't handle change -- not to his hometown, his country, or his obvious flair for wanting to be a badass.

The only redeeming moment in the entire piece was quoting the mayor of Edison, NJ, who said flat out that Indians had brought prosperity to an otherwise dwindling economy.

C'mon Stein. I chuckled along plenty of times as if you were that obnoxious guy in the back of the classroom. But this was ridiculous. Would you say this about Black people? Or White people? Or Jewish people?

We shouldn't have to prove ourselves to America, because we are Americans. We shouldn't have to be smarter or richer than others just to claim that we have the right to be here. We shouldn't have to tout the beautiful things from our culture so that people understand why we're an asset to this country.

Regardless, at some point we did prove all of these things. At some point people got right off the airplane and went to work so that I could feel comfortable in my own skin, with my own background, in this country.

Guess what Joel Stein, you belong here, or in Edison, only as much as I do. Not more, not less.

Well, maybe a little less because you're a pain in the ass.


Shakila said...

Wow! Anki, you couldn't have put it more succinctly! Such a precise, unbiased point of view!

flask said...

it's a beautiful thing you wrote here, which i kind of expect from you anyway, not that i'm an expert on you, but hey, i read this blog.


i suddenly want to tell you about my hometown.

let's say that i grew up in burlington, VT. i didn't, but it's close enough. i grew up in an adjacent town but if you're from here you know that burlington is pretty enmeshed with its neighbors and although i make a point now to say i'm from somewhere else (farther OUT of town), i'm still from away. i'm an immigrant to this area.

i was born in new jersey. we moved here when i was young.

but here's the thing: burlington used to be the biggest city in the whitest state in the union.

it's a little disorienting for me to go into burlington and see real live africans (from africa!) and hear the mix of languages (bosnian! portuguese! languages i can't even identify!) and it just about makes me swoon to know that the grocery store carries asian eggplant near the vietnamese neighborhoods.

but it's really hard for me not to sound stupid and racist when i notice these very deep changes, even though i am very deeply happy and very deeply grateful that all these people have come to my hometown and enriched it so greatly.

i haven't read the gentleman's article and i probably won't because i probably wouldn't like it any more than you do, so i don't mean for a second to defend racist claptrap.

but yes, sometimes i feel a little goofy standing downtown and wondering: how did this happen? where did all the time go? does anyone remember when this corner was all-white, run-down, and sloppy drunk? does anyone remember the broken glass? the tumbledown buildings?

does anyone still remember the old days?

it's better the way it is now, but it's different. i don't think i could write a comic piece on it without sounding seriously like a jerk.

it's late. i'm going to bed.

Linda said...

OMG Anki, I could not have in a zillion years put it better!!! You go girl!!!! Namaste, LexusLinda :-)

Nikhil dochania said...

Anki, excellent piece of work. I am sure a lot of Indians all over the world fight smaller or larger battles to prove their patriotism to their adapted land.

I Love the way how 1/3rd of young Indians in US are winning the spelling bee. lol. I am not sure as humans we will ever be able to get over cultural and physical disparities completely however accepting everyone with an open mind would go a long way. I am sure other communities feel the same at times.
Great work, two thumbs up for one world!!

malavika said...

Take em on Anki, excellent comeback! Hope you sent the response to Time mag editor.

Anj said...

anki this is amazing... i hope that ass sees it!

anj said...

anki this was amazing.. i hope that ass sees it!

Anonymous said...

Ankita, fabulous rebuttal!

The best part of your piece is that you did not link back to the original Time column and get them any more views for that garbage.

Rock on!

Alfredo Garcia said...

HAHAHA. Well said!

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Anonymous said...

Well Joel Stein can get some cheese to go with his whine, and while he is at it, he might want to consider enrolling in a history refresher about the kaleidoscope of the American immigrant landscape. Get used to us Joel Stein we are here to stay and if you can't deal with change hop on over to your local CVS and yet another brown pharmacist can give you a complimentary band aid to get you through your crisis.

AparnaKothary said...

well said future wife of mine.

Anonymous said...

Well said! I too was suprised at how anti-Indian, anti-immigrant, and anti-intelligent Joel Stein could be, all on one page. And even more incensed that the Times published such crap. To top it all off-- the jokes weren't even funny. Sad.

Kal Penn's commentary on the article is also fitting!

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