Sunday, August 8, 2010

Xenophobic Me! (Part 1)

Recently, there was an article in Time Magazine by author Joel Stein called  “My Private India”.,9171,1999416,00.html

where the author was saddened to find his all white town “Edison” been transformed into an almost all Indian town. The authors opinion and his expression hurt a lot of Indians…and me too.  The author, sure had nice things to say about the community in the article, but, the derogatory tone of the article masked all that to an Indian reading it.

Then there was a rebuttal article that was published on CNN by an Indian doctor who retorted to most of what Joel wrote.

I felt good reading that too. But, then another comment below the article by a girl called Neetika made me think of their perspectives. (To look at the comment that Neetika made, scroll down the above link to the comments section and you should be able to find it).  She gave a similar story of herself from her school days, how she reacted when confronted by strangers, and how similar her situation was to that of Joel Stein’s. Both of them had reacted due to their ignorance.

What both of these writers,  were feeling was fear of strangers, like most of us in the world. How can one trust strangers?. The word says it all, foreigners! strangers! We are wired to automatically dislike them due to ignorance. Ignorance of their lifestyle, their ways of living? And what if we take that extra step to accept them but the feeling would not be reciprocated. Would we be able to fit into their ways? What if we are rejected for being different?

Another Indian friend of mine had hinted about the mindset of Indians to stick to each other rather than mingle cross culturally.  This maybe true for most of us Indians, who are first generation Indians into the country. As a working women and first generation Indian into the US, the only foreigner friends (people different from my culture, non Indians) that I have, are from work. I didn’t go out of my way to make friends outside my culture when I’m outside of work.  Firstly, because I had the luxury of having people of my community around my home, and secondly because, I think I didn’t get the opportunity.

Or maybe, I’m just making an excuse. Maybe, there were several opportunities and I never saw them pass by.  And if I didn’t see it , why would that be? It got me thinking that I fear strangers just like everybody else. And to most Americans’ I do look foreign. In general, any Indian in America like me would seem so.

The food we eat,spicy, hot, fatty (well, that's how it is served in most Indian restaurants), aromatic(to me at least), and so many varieties, intimidating to a stranger. Scary sometimes,(I remember, most of my colleagues avoided the sweets that had the silver foil on it, when I offered them).

Our accents vary so much between us Indians itself. We have our Gujju ben and bhais saying “take-o” for “taco”. We have our gults putting an “oo” sound to almost all English words, “love-vu” for “love” , “un-cul” for “uncle”. Then we have our bongla babus accent with “Birtual phonkson” for “Virtual function”, and I could go on.

Our gods are so many, each looking so weird and different, god for rain, fire, wind, water, sun, creation, destruction, power, money, knowledge and so on. Numerous stories of them with numerous versions, Each of us telling a different story of the same god to the American. So confusing even between us. Some of us celebrate Diwali because its their new year, while others celebrate it because it was the day Ram returned back to Ayodhya along with Sita.

Our ways are so weird and funny, for example, most of us Indians node our head sideways, in the shape of the number “8” to say “yes”, while, the rest of the world would just swing their head back and forth to agree.

We dress so different with most of us women wearing jazzy and colorfully  loud Saree s or Sal wars or Churidaars, adorning dots (Bindis) on our foreheads,  We look so out of place. The Bollywood movies we follow are so different, sometimes ridiculous, and so is our music.

How would I be accepted by a common American, when I am so different unwilling to blend in for if I have to, I would have to give up my bindis, my dressing style for sure. Now lets see how similar I am to a common American.

Almost all of us desire to love and be loved. We all work hard to make our lives comfortable. We all want our kids to go to college and become law abiding citizens, after graduation, make themselves useful to the society by taking up a job and pay their taxes. All of us try to vote for the best leader.  All of us need our eight hours of sleep once we come home tired. We all smile and laugh to express happiness and joy. We cry when we are sad. All of us catch the flu bug, if exposed. Basically, we are all humans, with desires and emotions and our bodies are as fragile as the next person.

So, I do realize that even though my looks and ways are different from a common American, they are just superficial. Underneath, I am the same woman, just from another culture. Why then, am I so fearful of pursuing friendships that crosses cultures. Why am I fearful of being rejected, fearful that I will be unable to fit in. Fearful, that I am going to be misunderstood due to my distorted use of the English language. Fearful of not appearing sophisticated.

1 comment:

Rachna said...

Very true, didi. I had reaad this article too. As a matter of fact, I've felt in my short stay in US that Americans are open, smiling, civil and very accepting as compared to Indians. I remember that I had asked Gurdev why pure strangers smile at me and ask me how I was or indulged in small talk. There are cultural differences, which one gets used to slowly.

As you rightly pointed out, even among Indians there are so many differences culturally, food wise, language wise and so on. I think, the gist lies in as you correctly pointed out is the fear of rejection. Also, assimilation is important especially in public settings to feel accepted or to fit in.