how the world sees america

Indian-American Fourth of July

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Me at a local food stand (to the right of the striped shirt, can you tell?).
Chennai - Until now I've been exploring what people around the world think of America. But at times like last night, drinking rum and cokes with U.S. sailors in a Chennai club, or today wondering how to commemorate America's Independence Day so far away, I confront how others see me.

I met the sailors the way I do most new faces on this trip. “Hi” I said to a 22 year-old from Oregon. He stared at me quizzically: “You don’t have that funny accent?”

“No, man, I’m a DC lifer!” I slap his back. With that, the distance between us slammed shut and we passed the rest of the night exchanging horror stories abroad. I’m American.

But before I opened my mouth, I wasn’t, at least not to him. That’s certainly reasonable: I’m a brown-skinned guy in India, after all. But at the time, I really wished he’d recognize me as an American right away.

Indians here seem to have some sixth sense for Americans. Before I speak they know I am one, or at least that I’m Western. This is unsettling, not just because I have to bargain harder, but because deep down, I do want to be recognized and trusted here right away too.

So I asked a local journalist to Indian-ize me. I'm thinking “Indian Eye for the American Guy.” He sized me up. My shoulders are bulky, hair un-plated, un-oiled, essentially un-groomed, and my demeanor "confident bordering on arrogant." Verdict: lost cause.

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American Born Confused Desi
About all that fits me is the label: American Born Confused Desi: ABCD. I was born in DC to Indian immigrant doctors. I didn't learn Hindi growing up; my parents thought I'd fit in better that way. It went too far and in eighth grade I pretended to be Italian, Sicilian. Call me “Armani Bakshi.” Concerned family pulled me from the brink. But still no Indian parties. No close Indian friends until college. Only curry made the cut every Sunday. But I still get sick over my first few meals in Delhi. "How do you feel as an Indian American here?" the journalist asked me.

"Frustrated,” I eventually responded.

Frustrated that I can't drink the water, or eat golgappas because they burst with local water. Frustrated at the language barrier. And I just don’t get some quirks here: like the corny humor, or the way men touch each other publicly, or how "yes" can be deployed without carrying a commitment. All the difficulties of not being Indian.

Then from being American I'm frustrated by the sycophancy that wafts my way -- that extra-kindness reserved for foreigners with deep pockets. It's attention that goes too far. A couple of U.S. dollars can buy a day of labor here. A fifty-rupee tip, one dollar, delights a waiter. There’s frustration at having and not being sure what to do with it.

There are whole scenes that frustrate for this very reason, like sitting in a rickshaw while a small boy with a scalded red arm that looks like it's growing lizard scales scratches my hand begging for ten rupees: "Sir…please, sir."

These are frustrations born of distance and high expectations. As an Indian American, I expect to belong here and to know instinctively how to react to India. This is because the country has occupied a romantic space in my psyche -- first as a dark land to run from, then as an exciting home I never knew. In college I learned about Bhangra and the Bhagavad Gita. Amazing.

So there’s a connection to this place which I can’t define. Probably because it’s mostly a fantasy. I struggle with which emotions to allow and which to suppress. Should I be outraged when I see the boy with the burns? Reserved, practical, hopeful? All this seeps out uncontrolled.

“So do you think of yourself as just American?” the Indian journalist asks. It’s a tempting offer. Responsibility washes away. Expectations evaporate. And all I’m left with is a bit of annoyance over the sailor unsure of my nationality. But I answer his question right away: "No, I'm Indian American." I want it all.

Sure, I'm a failed chameleon. I stick out wherever I go. But both countries allow me the freedom to do just that. I won't be able to celebrate with lots of sailors tonight because protests in Chennai against their presence and rough waters have stranded the majority of them out at sea.

But I feel perfectly comfortable celebrating the Fourth of July here with any sailors who make it, with some bored Indians looking for a Wednesday night out, or alone, enjoying the time to think more about where I belong.

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Comments (84)

MH Lee:

In response to Deennaa's rant about her being a "Native American". Native Americans didn't originally originate for America. They migrated here from somewhere else so for you to accuse like that is hypocritical.

As an Asian American myself this article really touched on something I'm sure many people with hyphenated identities can relate to. I've grown up here and had American friends so sometimes it is fustrating and diffilcult to understand some of the more recent asian immigrants in my community. They call us twinkies (yellow outside, white inside) and we call them FOBs (Fresh Of the Boat).

Me:

Its kind of funny, how a brown skinned person so much wants to be condered American. It is rather ironic how people of Indian/Pakistan origin take pleasure in speaking English or being considered American, whereas the orientals are pretty much proud of their own culture/blood. I guess we should learn to live with what we are. A brown skinned person born and raised in UK for instance cannot be really Bristish at the end of the day. He never shared the same history the white Bristih did. Being born in a certain country doesnt really make u the true citizen. On paper yes, in values, somewhat, but at the end of the day, you are what you are:)

Imran:

Re: Amar C. Bakshi

Another Asian writer trying to make it "big" by talking about America's favorite subject - Jihadists.

And of all places in Kerala.

It's all from the KudreMukh!

P.S. Kudremukh (meaning horse face)

Anonymous:

People can debate to the end of time and no good will come from it.

What is needed is action.

blimpmilb: "I gave to one and faced the dreadful reality that this was all I could do."

A small step by YOU is a giant leap for mankind. Think about it.

blimpmilb:

"It goes without saying that people in a financial position like yourself should at least give some coins to this poor samll Indian boy with a scalded red arm. What is there to think about?"

Mickey,

Some time back I remember crossing a bridge on my way to visit the basilica in Mexico City which was lined end to end with beggers. My friend remarked that should we give to each one we would have to take our place at the end of the line! I gave to one and faced the dreadful reality that this was all I could do. How much easier it would have been to ignore all of them. I wonder if this is what the writer was feeling....overwhelemed by the size of the poverty.

Ramu Ramsingh:

Sammy Singh's comments about first-generation Indians is absurd. He has taken a few examples, probably from his small town in Ohio or wherever, and generalized to the whole population. Ridiculous logic.
As for the Bakshi article: it is shallow, caricatural ("funny accent"?), and utterly pointless. The Post should not publish this kind of mindless drivel.

KLW:

To Mickey

You have to be careful about giving money to young children in the third world. Cute kids can earn much more money than their fathers and become the family breadwinner. They then drop out of school in the primary grades and forfeit any hope of education or a satisfying life. In India we gave to lepers and poor widows (without children to take care of them) who have to sleep in the temples. We gave souvenir pens to children
and ancouraged them to do well in school, but not money.

Krishna:

I loved reading thro all these comments and the articles by Mr. Bakshi. I too am an Indian-American who came here about 40+ years ago. Most of the time when I go to India,[which is very often these days, it used to be about once in three years before] I drink the local water and eat at local restaurants. I may suffer the first few days but then I am ok. Most of you may not have read a novel "Nowhere Man' by a displaced Indian author named Kamala Markandeya who lived in London. When I read that life time ago, little did I know that I will become one eventually! But then what is Indian? After all Inida is original melting pot with even English men being born and bred there like Rudyard Kipling. We have many languages but we cannot speak to others except in English! I agree many Indians nowadays watch Inidan TV here in States, and eat Indian veggies and talk about Indian actors and movies. Very few Indians either knew or keep abrest of their heritage. It is the same story even in India! I read as a college student a book by Goldsmith called 'Citizen of the World" Your articles remind me of that book even though he was an englishman writing about London of his times with an eye of a chinese traveler. Keep up your posts Amar! May God give you happiness when you visit these places! My son, just like you an ABCD, travels all over the world whenever he has few days. He still loves to visit India!

Krishna:

I loved reading thro all these comments and the articles by Mr. Bakshi. I too am an Indian-American who came here about 40+ years ago. Most of the time when I go to India,[which is very often these days, it used to be about once in three years before] I drink the local water and eat at local restaurants. I may suffer the first few days but then I am ok. Most of you may not have read a novel "Nowhere Man' by a displaced Indian author named Kamala Markandeya who lived in London. When I read that life time ago, little did I know that I will become one eventually! But then what is Indian? After all Inida is original melting pot with even English men being born and bred there like Rudyard Kipling. We have many languages but we cannot speak to others except in English! I agree many Indians nowadays watch Inidan TV here in States, and eat Indian veggies and talk about Indian actors and movies. Very few Indians either knew or keep abrest of their heritage. It is the same story even in India! I read as a college student a book by Goldsmith called 'Citizen of the World" Your articles remind me of that book even though he was an englishman writing about London of his times with an eye of a chinese traveler. Keep up your posts Amar! May God give you happiness when you visit these places! My son, just like you an ABCD, travels all over the world whenever he has few days. He still loves to visit India!

Krishna:

I loved reading thro all these comments and the articles by Mr. Bakshi. I too am an Indian-American who came here about 40+ years ago. Most of the time when I go to India,[which is very often these days, it used to be about once in three years before] I drink the local water and eat at local restaurants. I may suffer the first few days but then I am ok. Most of you may not have read a novel "Nowhere Man' by a displaced Indian author named Kamala Markandeya who lived in London. When I read that life time ago, little did I know that I will become one eventually! But then what is Indian? After all Inida is original melting pot with even English men being born and bred there like Rudyard Kipling. We have many languages but we cannot speak to others except in English! I agree many Indians nowadays watch Inidan TV here in States, and eat Indian veggies and talk about Indian actors and movies. Very few Indians either knew or keep abrest of their heritage. It is the same story even in India! I read as a college student a book by Goldsmith called 'Citizen of the World" Your articles remind me of that book even though he was an englishman writing about London of his times with an eye of a chinese traveler. Keep up your posts Amar! May God give you happiness when you visit these places! My son, just like you an ABCD, travels all over the world whenever he has few days. He still loves to visit India!

Jagannathan:

At my citizenship ceremony where I had to a few months back the judge played " I am proud to be an American" and I agreed with him and the law to forswear allegiance to the laws of my country of birth-India . Ask any immigrant and they will probably recount countless touching stories of warmth and kindness from fellow Americans. Unfortunately people around the world do not see these daily acts of help and comfort. What they more often see is the strong muscular arm of the state and all the succour and aid provided by the softer arms of diplomacy remain hidden from sight. So long as we tread softly but wield a big stick, people only see the stick. It is probably time to return to an era of national and international service so that Americans can bring a touch of their common charity to the less fortunate at home and around the world

jp:

Though the article is interesting inquiry, for lot of older farts like me, it's a territory that has been charted.

The reason I am writing to is to draw attention to a exceptional comment by - Stakeout239.

Anonymous:

SAMPATH,
I know what you mean. Both in shcool and work place, they love to ridicule and mock non-white foreigners' accent.

On the other hand, you hear them praise white foreigners' accent with words like cute and exotic.

It's very obvious, isn't it?

Anonymous:

BRIAN MATTYS:
"In China there were roving gangs of children pretending to be beggars all the time. I know that in some places in China people would adopt a whole crew of children and then send them out onto the streets to beg. The children were expected to earn a certain amount of money each day, otherwise they would suffer without food, beatings, etc. I even saw a kid once being beaten because he wasn't acting pathetic enough. Another tactic used by manipulative adults was to drug children to make them appear sickly."

It's the same in the U.S., e.g. there are roving gangs of American teenagers selling magazine subscriptions door to door from coast to coast. These naive teenagers, mostly from poor, dysfunctional, abusive, broken families, are tricked (lies and promises) and controled (drugs, beatings, rape) by unethical, manipulative, and criminal adults (distribution contractors) into working as underpaid slaves (if they are lucky enough to get paid at all). These teenagers are expected to make certain sales quota or face beating, solitary confinement, and withholding of food.

sampath:

no matter how long you live here in america you will be indian american unless you could change your color. i see new immigrants pouring over here from russia and other east europeans. they get a job without any problem. they are americans next day they arrive here. I failed to identify them with the locals.they need not speak english.so forever we will be indians and do what we can to help india.

sampath:

no matter how long you live here in america you will be indian american unless you could change your color. i see new immigrants pouring over here from russia and other east europeans. they get a job without any problem. they are americans next day they arrive here. I failed to identify them with the locals.they need not speak english.so forever we will be indians and do what we can to help india.

Brian Mattys:

Just some observations and comparisons I'd like to point out during my time abroad in China (3 years):

Chinese have a similar acronym for Americans of Chinese descent (ABC, American Born Chinese). A more derogatory reference is "Banana People" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). I'm not sure about Indians, but most second generation and older Chinese-Americans from my experiences seem to definitely relate to their American heritage much more than their Chinese side. I did a summer in China through college and I remember there were more than a few kids whose parents sent them to China because they wanted them to learn more about their heritage. Most of them seemed disengaged, some of them hating it outright. Chinese people for their part didn't seem to register that these kids were no longer Chinese and their connection to China was through genetics only. They were continuously surprised to find they spoke Chinese poorly (or not at all); their dress, their mannerisms, etc. As a caucasian I noticed that I was treated with a bit more courtesy by Chinese in some respects, but had to watch for people trying to scam me. There is an automatic assumption that white foreigners in China all have money to burn.

As for the begging situation, well, I have to agree with Amar's actions. In China there were roving gangs of children pretending to be beggars all the time. I know that in some places in China people would adopt a whole crew of children and then send them out onto the streets to beg. The children were expected to earn a certain amount of money each day, otherwise they would suffer without food, beatings, etc. I even saw a kid once being beaten because he wasn't acting pathetic enough. Another tactic used by manipulative adults was to drug children to make them appear sickly. The "parent" would hold the incapacitated child and look as sad as possible. However horrible that may be, I didn't want my pity money to end up in the hands of thieves and child abusers.

A little tale told to me by one of my professors during his first trip to China: He gets off the plane and is greeted by a Beijing dignitary. He's taken for a tour of the city later that day with the dignitary. An old, filthy woman with missing teeth comes up to him and begins begging for money. The dignitary tells him to stop. "Don't give her any money!" "You see that house up on that hill?" The dignitary points to a huge mansion overlooking part of the city. "This woman owns that house."

Not to disparage the poor, but you never know what is actually being done with your money when you give it to a street person.I also can't say what the situation may be in India, having never went, but after my experiences I think it's just better to give to an organization rather than someone on the street.

Anonymous:

Are there any sense of right and wrong, honor and shame left in this world?

A poor boy begging for money is shunned by people around him, but prostitute, thief, robber, dishonest "businessman" are all welcomed and served by obsequious people ready to make a profit.

It does not matter how people get their money because the only thing that matters is they have the money.

To steal a relatively small amount of money is called a crime, but to steal hundred of millions or even billions of dollars is called "doing business".

To kill a man is call a murder, but to kill hundred of thousands or even millions of people is beyond the reach of justice.

Tortured reality, indeed.

Amar:

Pmshah? Are you planning on living in India with her as she grows. Will your daughter move to America anytime you think? Interesting solution to my post...

Maurice:

Not giving money to the street kid just tell me how Americanized some of us forigners who return home have become. Our americanization have made us to think only of self "ME". At least, giving money to the street kid would at least have provided hunger relief for a day. Blessed are the poor for they shall see God.

pmshah:

This is in response to Deennaa:

I agree with you entirely. I am an original Indian - i.e. from India - not a misnomer by a stupid explorer who could not recognize/identify you native Americans.

We were to an extent fortunate that we were in sufficient numbers to preclude the same fate as that faced by you. Why talk only of USA? The same thing happened to the natives of Australia, New Zealand and South America. When the historical wrong is being corrected by some in South America the present day US govt sees it as offensive & talks of taking "corrective action"

The strife faced by people all over the world emanates from the "white man's greed", to take by force what does not rightfully belong to them.

I have lived in US first as a student & then as an immigrant holding valid "GREEN CARD". I Returned to India with my 2 year old US born daughter to prevent the exact same problems faced by the author. Identity crisis.

My daughter is back in US and doing very well indeed. Having grown up in India surrounded by INDIAN family and friends she has no Identity crisis whatever.

Amar:

Laura: You can certainly get the before! The after has yet to happen...

laura:

Hey, can we get a before and after picture of Amar's Indianization?

Fleur de Lys, Canada:

Anonymous:

In my post above (July 4, 2007 7:48 PM ), I have been rather unfair to my country and more particularly to those who made amends to Japanese Canadians, on behalf of Canada and Canadians. Let me be more specific here, so justice be served.

"On September 22, 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave a long-awaited formal apology and the Canadian government began a significant compensation package, one month after President Ronald Reagan made similar gestures in the United States. The package for interned Japanese Canadians included $21,000 to all surviving internees, and the re-instatement of Canadian citizenship to those who were deported to Japan."

Reference:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_Canadian_internment#_note-CBC-9

[That page was last modified 18:30, 27 June 2007 and retrieved July 5, 2007].

I recommend that people interested watch the 4:30 minutes "Apology and Compensation", taken from the CBC archives at:

http://archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-71-568-2924/conflict_war/internment/clip9

Anonymous:

It was the same "American confidence bordering on arrogant" that led to Americans believing that Iraqis will welcome them and kiss them with open arms.....time for a reality check! Big time.....


Anonymous:

America or American values are not exactly "things" of pride. In fact, they are worthless. Case in point: McDonald's in India, where the cow is considered holy and eating beef a sin.
Another case in point: Vegas or the fact that Euro-Disneyland in Paris failed as a business and it was politely rescued by the French government during a recession.
Who would go to Disneyland in a place where it is the birthplace of Renaissance and one of the largest collection of art and history?

Fleur de Lys, Canada:

Anonymous: "... I remember reading a newspaper article about a special "Head Tax" on every Chinese living in Canada during the late 19th century or early 20th century. Perhaps there was some sort of apology from the Canadian Prime Minister too."

This is a different matter though: this is NOT a case of outright discrimination against Canadian citizens but against a specific category of immigrants to Canada, many of whom were instrumental in building the Trans-Canada railway.

"The Chinese head tax was a fixed fee charged for each Chinese person entering Canada. The head tax was first levied after the Canadian Government passed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885. The act was replaced by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, where it excluded Chinese immigration altogether. It was meant to discourage Chinese from entering Canada after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

....

Canada's federal Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 stipulated that all Chinese entering Canada pay a $50 fee, later referred to as a head tax....The Government of Canada, under subsequent Liberal administrations, increased the tax to $100 and, then, $500, under the Chinese Immigration Act of 1900 and the Chinese Immigration Act of 1903, respectively, on the pretext that the penalties did not sufficiently deter Chinese immigration... In the early 1900s, the value of $500 was enough to purchase two homes in Montreal...

.....

On June 22, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an apology and compensation only for the head tax once paid by Chinese immigrants. Survivors or their spouses will be paid approximately $20,000 CAD in compensation. There are only an estimated 20 Chinese Canadians who paid the tax still alive in 2006.

As no mention of redress for the 4,000 immediated families who were directly affected was made, the Chinese Canadian community continues to fight for redress from the Canadian government."

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_tax_(Canada)

[That page was last modified 07:45, 30 June 2007 and retrieved July 5, 2007]

http://sympaticomsn.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060621/head_tax_060622

[Updated Thu. Jun. 22 2006 11:30 PM ET and retrieved July 5, 2007]

Ali Ettefagh:

A well-written expression of true feelings. However, roots matter and they are a lot deeper than Sunday curry in DC.
These feelings of confusion that you are experiencing is a common thread among all those that are from the Old World and land in the New World of America. Thus, many Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Egyptians, Turks, even Eastern Europeans and Russians are going back to search for their roots, resettle back in the old country.....and perhaps get away from the various shades of gray, as seen on TV, and experience true natural colours of reality in the real world.

I vividly recall a visit to Chernobyl (overhead by plane) and then watching CNN in a hotel room.....CNN thought that the trial of O.J. Simpson was important to broadcast it live and worldwide!!

Good luck.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hi,

Thank you all for this feedback. It's very nice to have it, especially as I travel about.

Jhbyer,
We really need an "email this article button". I'll try to get it asap. For now, you can just cut and copy the text in the box at the top of the screen, paste it in an email and send it to your son. I'd be interested in what he's feeling from Russia. Is that where you are from originally?

Mickey,
Of course I remember Macacaca. Big news. I wonder if people knew about it over here. Obama made big headlines for "race baiting" by listing some Indian American funders of Hillary and suggesting her policies were swayed by them to become anti-American. But there's a keen knowledge of U.S. presidential elections, and transnational slights. As far as U.S. Navy, certainly don't think they're all America. It's a good point. But I met dozens and didn't come across any non citizens, but did meet loads of immigrant's sons like myself, or people who naturalized late, like a guy from the Philippines who came to the U.S. at age 12.

And as far as giving money here. The thinking is really whether just tossing a few coins is too easy a gesture, and you should do more, last longer, invest more meaningfully. There's also lots of controversy about whether giving money on the streets encourages a dangerous practice for beggars, whereas going through certain organizations is safer for both. For the first few years I visited here, I gave to every person I saw who asked for it. Now I think about the action much more. Read Neelima's comment further down. I think she addresses it well.

Arjun,
Did a lengthy visit to America change your experience living in India? Curious about this because I've been meeting lots of people who come to the U.S. for a few years for experience, money etc. and then return for the rest of their lives.

Deennaa,
It's a really passionate post. Thanks for it. I'm happy to hear more, but I'm at a loss for how to respond directly. I certainly don't hope to gloss over atrocities. It made me think though, that an analog to this project around America, or an epilogue, cold be very worthwhile....Meera, glad you're also on the thread to discuss with Deenaa.

Vijay, ate golgappas last night per your suggestion (and because I took Cipro for the stomach a few days back)! Sarbo, that's right. Delhi-Belly. Should have used that term. Hartmann, I agree. Stakeout239, delighting in difference and using that vantage point is crucial. A professor of mine, Doris Sommer, used to always stress that the uneasiness, the uneven ground of moving between identities, locales, is a gift almost all of us can excersise, in some way or another, and use it to question our own assumptions, and learn from others. So as much as I may complain, I want it all. Wouldn't trade it for a simple, straight line.

Neil,
Changed your name? What was it before? Am writing about call center employees now, who all have adopted pseudonyms. Just checked out your website: weaving? Does that have anything to do with your India connection?

JRLR (I'll ask around here too about songs), Gregor, Anil, Barry, and all the commentors here, many thanks for sharing some of your thoughts.

Anonymous poster above,


Just before I was going to post this, your message above came up about discrimination within India. There are Fair & Lovely adds all over the place here (a skin whitening product), and if you open the matrimonials section, "Fair" is the one request you see for brides in almost every post. Being lighter is often seen as better, more beautiful. There are probably lots of reasons for this -- colonial vestige, class symbols (elites avoid sun), regional variations (crudely put, North/South). I'm sure other commentors could put it in better perspective than I can at this point, but I certainly plan to do a post on Fair & Lovely, either going to their factory, meeting high-up staff, or interviewing groups of users.

Up next,
I'm writing a piece now about call center employees (a good number of whom were out last night, July 4 here, partying -- not for July 4, just because there was excitement in the air (at least among the small night-life-going community here) with time of from calling the US and the sailors visiting. Call center employees are an interesting bunch. On average they're 22 years old. They're paid relatively well for their level of training and live with their families so they have lots of dispensable income, a lot of which can go on material things like iPods, or clubs. America maintains a strong allure among these young, competitive, upwardly mobile kids who pride themselves on selling products well over the phone, for example. Hope some of you stick around the site to see it. And if any of you are in India, or have suggestions on places to go or people to see, let me know.

Anonymous:

Base on your observation, is self discrimination, i.e. Indian discriminates against Indian, prevalent in India? If yes, does British colonization of India have anything to do with present Indian self discrimination?

For example, Mexican friends tell me white skin Mexicans discriminate against dark skin Mexicans, and Korean teachers tell me Korean parents prefer white English teachers over Korean English teachers for their kids and English Language schools in Korea pay higher salary to white English teachers.

NS:

S Singh,
You are right on the money with comments about how some people here of Indian origin are disconnected with what goes on.

But I think this is more of a generational thing than any thing else. We can safely say that the younger generation is more connected and cares a lot about what happens to the US.

Anonymous:

What is the point of writing only the positive (or negative) side of the story? Complain forces change e.g. the Civil Rights Movement.

S Singh:

My problem with many first generation Indians is that they still think of India as their real home. I know families where Indian TV is on all the time and they are so disconnected with the country they live in now. Is Hillary Clinton running for President? This was the question I was asked by a woman who has lived here for 20 plus years. Not everything is right about America. And there are thousand things which are wrong about India even today after some recent progress.

It is really frustrating to be with people who have nothing meaningful to talk other than the gossip Bollywood stars. Loving America is not loving Bush or the Republican Party. It is about showing some meaningful commitment to the history, culture, and ideals of the nation that we have adopted as our new home.

GE:

I enjoyed the article because unlike a lot of hyphenated Americans, he's not using this as a forum to complain or present himself as a victim. Very positive article. Be thankful for what this country affords you despite its flaws people.

Sarbo Sen:

Hardly surprising that golgappas made you sick - after all, you are born and bred American. I have a cousin sister and we were thick as thieves from our childhood days. We would bunk school and eat everything, including golgappas, and other delectables, from roadside stalls and our tummies never felt a twinge. She got married and emigrated to USA. A few years later she visited us in India and we immediately went golgappa slurping. Boing! down she went with a bad tummy. Maybe it's a reflex - if you don't go down with the Delhi-belly, then what's the diff between the US and India?

Roshan:

Amar:

This was a very honest and open-minded post.

Enjoyed reading this article and I very well empathized with your feelings. Having been born outside India, I find myself having spent an equal portion of my life in three different continents, and have trouble identifying the true Indian-ness in me, no matter where I go. I guess this phenomenon is bound to manifest in any individual (be it a white or a non-white) that gets displaced from their roots - of their own will or otherwise.

Wishing you all a Happy Fourth!!.

Ramu Ramsingh:

Bit of a smug article. Fellow comes across as flaky.

Anonymous:

Fleur de Lys,

Yes, a lot of that happend in Canada too. I remember reading a newspaper article about a special "Head Tax" on every Chinese living in Canada during the late 19th century or early 20th century. Perhaps there was some sort of apology from the Canadian Prime Minister too.


Anonymous:

I can't believe Indians treat this small poor Indian boy beggar this way. Enough of this scrooge mentality!!!

Scions of Indian restaurant owners, motel owners, doctors, ask yourself this: Does $25 U.S. dollars mean a lot of money to you?

If you give each begging Indian child 3 coins (2 dimes and a nickel), even up to 100 beggars, it will only cost you $25 U.S. dollars. Think about that!!

Fleur de Lys, Canada:

Anonymous: "Are any of you familiar with the concept of "Perpetual Foreigner"? It matters not you have lived in the country for generations. What matters is the perception that you are foreigners. That you look different. That you are not truly one of them. During World War 2, Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, remember?"

I am.

For the record, in my country, Canadians too were confined to concentration camps, during WWII. They were of Japanese origin. Their property and (just about) everything they owned was confiscated and appropriated by other Canadians!!!

It took more than half a century for the then Prime Minister of Canada to be coerced by public opinion into mumbling some sort of apology to those Canadians....

One of those old "Japanese" ladies was my neighbour, in North York, Toronto, in the early '80's.

Afterthought... it needs be said, however, that even already famous Dr. Albert Schweitzer was forced to spend time in a concentration camp, in France, during WWI, away from his humanitarian work in Africa!!!.... It cannot have been so much because he looked different ... must have been because of his national origins, assuming this can make non-white people feel any better... I am not aware that Dr. Schweitzer's property and hospital, in Lambaréné, were confiscated and appropriated by French authorities.

Anonymous:

I, too, would like to address the giving coins to beggars or others thread. There are an overhwelming number of beggers in India who will ask you for money while there. Not 1 or 10. But perhpas 100+. With sheer number, I do think the thought process of whether and who to give to changes.

Anonymous:

Are any of you familiar with the concept of "Perpetual Foreigner"? It matters not you have lived in the country for generations. What matters is the perception that you are foreigners. That you look different. That you are not truly one of them. During World War 2, Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, remember?

meera:

To Anonymous: Apparently you do not understand irony. A pity, for that would have saved me this response. I do not ever think Europeans as the last word on good looks. Au contraire, in fact. India is singularly blessed with many beautiful people, so no envy here my friend.. I was merely pointing certain difficulties faced only by those of us who are non-European background when confronting the larger majority.One of these is the constant assumption of 'foreigness' of the non-European looking immigrants, who even when born here, are automatically considered foreign. Like my Japanese and Chinese friends, who are always treated as if they were visiting the US, when their parents were born here!!!
A helpful hint: Not all of us want to be white!Try chewing this one slowly.

Neelima:

Hi,
I found a certain theme in some of the responses regarding the incident of not giving a few coins to a wounded child. What is not understood by people who are not of Asian Indian ancestry, is that, in India one must act like Indians. If a street beggar is given a few coins, his fellow beggars will surround you at the blink of an eye.

I am not being cynical. I am stating reality. In fact, I have experienced that the people who have
lost their homes and livelihood are so dazed and
overwhelmed, that they just sit in some corner of a street or railway station with most of their belongings including babies in arms. They don't know how to survive in this new reality where they don't belong. Whereas, in most cases, the street beggars who approach a tourist are well-versed in their trade. Again, this is reality. One may argue that one does not know which child is truly needy.

However, judging from my experience on Chicago's downtown sidewalks, I cannot tell which panhandler really is needy. So my reaction may be:
"I am late for my concert at Orchestra Hall, so maybe next time!". The reality is that "in Rome [one must] do as the Romans do".

Aaditya:

Hey man,

Growing up here without knowing the Indian Culture sucks. I am born and raised here, but I do not think I am an ABCD... I am just an ABD.

I grew up in a tightly knit family circle, I had uncles and aunts and plenty of cousins here. My family even owns Indian restaurants, so I was never seperated from my culture. I met people who were in college, and it honestly struck me as very odd.

Being Indian is a part of who I am, and who you are. Be proud to be what you are, and I am glad you seem to have grasped it now.

Anonymous:

MEERA: "especially those of us not blessed with European features"

Americans with European features are blessed? Why?
You sounded like you envy those Americans with European features.


Meera:

A poignant essay, connecting to the many immigrants like me. Thank you Bakshi.
Deenaa: I read the anger and anguish in your comments. But I fail to comprehend your hate for immigrants like Bakshi or me and my family. We are from India, and by hard work, have reached a comfortable place in the American story. I completely understand your deep sorrow about your displacement by the European colonizers who annihilated your people with ruthless calm. You see, I studied Native Indian anthropology while at college and wrote my final research paper on the Blackfeet Nation. I spoke with many people from the Blackfeet reservation in Montana, since I needed first person interviews for my paper. A greater tragedy, has not been committed on this soil than the savage destruction of your people. My husband will angrily declaim often,that the first mass terrorist action was not the September 1th tragedy but the countless killings of the Native Indians.
But your venom directed against the writer is unwarranted. Like all new immigrants, he desires to feel part of his adopted country. In fact, he was born here! So, he is American. We all have to face different levels of discriminations, especially those of us not blessed with European features. So, please join us and do not condemn us. And we will never forget that this land is your land.

Barry Hansen:

Amar
Great article. Makes me proud to have you in our melting pot.

Anil:

Nice article! Enjoyed it. Be proud to be an American of Indian ancestory. Nice thing is that both the US and India are democratic and open societies hence it is easy to deal with the comments etc. Just enjoy life and do not take remarks too personally.

You are a good writer and keep up the good work

best wishes

Anil:

Nice article! Enjoyed it. Be proud to be an American of Indian ancestory. Nice thing is that both the US and India are democratic and open societies hence it is easy to deal with the comments etc. Just enjoy life and do not take remarks too personally.

You are a good writer and keep up the good work

best wishes

Amused:

Raj, I'm a bit perplexed too.. how is Amar not normal exactly? He just penned a thoughtful essay on the vagaries of identity in a global society that many of us first/second-generation Americans face. He deserves no derisiveness especially given the efforts he has taken to learn more about his heritage, and his honest appraisal of his own identity and it's various manifestations.

I suspect it is hard for many not in the same position to understand his perspective -- such as yourself. There's no reason for idiotic ad-hominem attacks just because you can't empathize or have some other issues ;)

Raj:

This guy is absolutely what Indians derisively called ABCD - American Born Confused Desi (Indian).

A shallow, callow character. However overwhelming number of Indians born in America are not like Bakshi - they are like any other Indian or American - normal people.

gregor:

For immigrants, America will always be the land of opprtunity.

Perhaps it is possible in many countries for a twenty-one year old foreigner to go there with just a single suitcase with a couple of changes of clothes and eight dollars in his pocket and within a decade do well enough to belong to upper middle class, but I cannot imagine it being so easy elsewehere as in the USA. In 1970 when I came here from India with tens of my classmates as graduate students in Berkeley and Stanford and Case and Cinicinnati and so many other universities little did we anticipate that the sailing will be so smooth here. To a person, all of us have done quite well here, and are as much Americans as anyone else. We are Republicans and Democrats, Deaniacs and Bush lovers, conservatives and liberals, but above all we are Americans.

So for us the American dream still is the promise of America, for all of us and our kids like Amar Bakshi continue to live it.

Neil:

Hello Amar,

Great essay. I can relate to what you are going through. Even when I was 4 and went to India to go to school, because I came there from another country, I was an outsider there, even though all my family is from India. Then when I arrived in the US at 16, the same feeling. I have grown up here, don't speak hindi anymore and somehow don't fit in with Indians here either and yet feel I am not an American in the middle american sense. I used to live in the midwest because that is where I went to college but now when people ask me what I am or where I am from - I say "I am Californian" I live in San Francisco and love it! This is the only place that I know off that makes me feel at home because there is such a mix of people here. I have a house, a girlfriend, and a business. Move to San Francisco and give me a call! People like you will be welcomed in San Francisco more than anywhere else.

Neil (not my indian name - had to change it to fit in)
www.moeniadesign.com

Anonymous:

Should I be offened by locals calling me "Chinese" everywhere I go, even though I am not Chinese? Why do people in Mexico (or pick any country south of the border) call me "Chino"? Why do people in Russia ( or any former Soviet Republics such as Ukrine, Belarus) call me "Kita-iz"? Does it ever occur to them that there are other Asians e.g. Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malaysian...

sam krish :

good writing you could have gone deeper lord knows how many times i've wanted to put my sentiment to paper but havent you have done a good job do write more.

MaryD:

I'm Scandanavian by ancestry. Spent time in Sweden and Norway a few years ago. They don't like most Americans because Americans disdain Socialism, government planning, peace, and reasoned secularism.

MaryD:

I'm Scandanavian by ancestry. Spent time in Sweden and Norway a few years ago. They don't like most Americans because Americans disdain Socialism, government planning, peace, and reasoned secularism.

Stakeout239:

Amar, change your perspective. In India and for that matter America, you will forever be a 'stranger in a strange land.' Accept this. I also grew up away from my parent's homeland (USA), instead speaking Thai, Hindi, Swahili and Italian growing up...more familiar with brown faces then white, even today preferring curry to steak, knowing that a 'yes' in many places in the world is really an expression of a desire to make the commitment, but not yet a commitment -- so do not judge too harshly. Your keen observations and honest questioning of your feelings are a gift, resulting from the pain of forever being 'out of step,out of place.' Instead of fretting, delight in your difference, wet your appetite for discovery and yes, take comfort in your broad American shoulders.

ss:

You have written a really nice piece. There are many others of us who are "failed chameleons" like you! I like to think we make the US and the world a more interesting place to live. Keep writing!

Jack:

I have lived in Europe for 15 years and your experience and feelings are like most 2d and 3d generation European immigrants to the U.S. They think they are Italian-Americans, German-Americans, Swedish-Americans, etc. Then they visit the "old country" and they find out they are just Americans and the locals think of them as Americans regardless of the DNA. My family came primarily from Scotland. I look like them but we sure do not think, dress or act alike, not even close! The funniest experience was an African-American friend of mine who worked in South Africa for three years. He came away saying to me, "Jack, I could never figure out what those cats were thinking!"

Hartmann:

Great article. I enjoyed reading it. Don't be too offended by that sailor, it wasn't racism, at least, I don't think it was. I was an exchange student in Germany and I look German. There is a large American military presence there and whenever I'd meet a service member they'd automatically assume that I was German. It's a valid assumption to make.

Muthu:

I've been living in USA for more than 25 years. Last visit to India was in 1998. Planning to visit again in 2008 to attend a wedding. Looking forward to it.

No country is perfect, but to me, USA is the most closest being a perfect country one can dream off in this world. Only in USA, no one is above the law. Thanks on July 4th, to founding fathers of USA. I would rather live poor in USA than rich in some other place.

Have a Happy July 4th.

JV:

Amar - Touched my heart and made me nostalgic all over again. Have been in the US 21 years and feel more American at times more Indian at times. Be who you are. Don't try to Americanize or Indianize. You may be an ABCD and I a "CD" (confused desi) but either way I think we are truly more American and more Indian then the Americans and the Indians themselves.
Eat the golgappas. Over time (and fairly quickly) your stomach will Indianize.

Vijayakumar:

Amar - Touched my heart and made me nostalgic all over again. Have been in the US 21 years and feel more American at times more Indian at times. Be who you are. Don't try to Americanize or Indianize. You may be an ABCD and I a "CD" (cofused desi) but either way I think we are truly more American and more Indian then the Americans and the Indians themselves.
Eat the golgappas. Over time (and fairly quickly) your stomach will Indianize.

Vijayakumar:

Amar - Touched my heart and made me nostalgic all over again. Have been in the US 21 years and feel more American at times more Indian at times. Be who you are. Don't try to Americanize or Indianize. You may be an ABCD and I a "CD" (cofused desi) but either way I think we are truly more American and more Indian then the Americans and the Indians themselves.
Eat the golgappas. Over time (and fairly quickly) your stomach will Indianize.

Vijay:

Amar - Touched my heart and made me nostalgic all over again. Have been in the US 21 years and feel more American at times more Indian at times. Be who you are. Don't try to Americanize or Indianize. You may be an ABCD and I a "CD" (cofused desi) but either way I think we are truly more American and more Indian then the Americans and the Indians themselves.
Eat the golgappas. Over time (and fairly quickly) your stomach will Indianize.

Deennaa:

You have, it appears, become one more example of america's purpose in OUR world: almost perfectly assimmilated into "white america". Its always a goal for "the immigrants who are labled "legal".

As one of the ORIGINAL so-called "americans", i.e., "Native American", I know of the real sham of assimmilation. Don't call me "american". It insults my intelligence, angers me beyond words, and fills me with unending grief. Go learn who the "REAL People" of america are. You know, the "INDIANS" who WERE ALREADY HERE. Not to be mistaken for "Indians from INDIA). And what is so great about this so-called war mongering nation that STOLE this land at the gargantuan GENOCIDE(that is ongoing) of our "AMERICAN INDIAN PEOPLES!

You all live in lala land who think this country is blessed by God. You are all immigrants. ALL!

I am not afraid to say anything of the negative - just the same as I can say anything positive. Don't be afraid of the negative commentary or the negative anything. Its ALL a part of REALITY. You know. That place where no one here lives.

To the writer who wants some non-american artists celebrating america: You shouldn't have too much trouble(do your research) finding that in a country that so aggrandizes itself .... and so successfully assimilates its immigrants who long for a "lala land". You're surrounded by these ones from "sea to shining sea". Oh, btw: Native Americans extolled the BEAUTY, CULTURE, LIFE, NATURE, and LOVE for the LAND THAT BELONGED TO THEM! They were not called "americans" then. They were called "savages". You know. Like americans now call "terrorists" those who stand in the way of their massive greeds for ownerships of the world. Just a continuation of their horrific "Manifest Destiny" to conquer and pillage and murder THE REAL INDIAN PEOPLES INDIGENOUS TO THIS COUNTRY STILL LOOK UPON THIS LAND AS STOLEN!! I rather despise your false claims to being "american". I am sure you won't understand it at all. Anyone who must question giving his money to a poor child (of his own partial bloodline!) says alot to me about his assimilation into american citizenship. I would say from that comment alone, you are perfectly assimilated. But then maybe not. You have your other DNA of the "caste system". Such arrogance from your "other side". It appears you also do not know your own colonial history. Another example of your being "americanized" - leaving out your true history and the shame of it. Colonizing a peoples is SHAMEFUL - yet it is the legacy of your dual ancestry.

Differentiate yourself from my people please. You are not an "Ameircan Indian". You could be called "native american" by virtue of the fact that you were born in the land called america. But your ancestry is far eastern from the subcontinent of India. To those of us INDIGENOUS to this stolen land called america, you are among, still, the "immigrants". Period. I have nothing against people from anywhere in OUR WORLD. I have everything against people who do not know their history and lay claim to a false history and then be proud of that falsity!

Everything here has been stolen from the original indigenous peoples of this land you all lay false claim to. Except for a few of us called "vanishing americans". We remain: NON-ASSIMILATED and NON-VANISHED! (capitalization is for EMPHASIS)

Deennaa - DENE! enn'zah'gah'kah enn dee'eeh'zucq! If anyone wants to reply to this be prepared for many treatises! This is not even a tip of the iceberg response.

A fan:

What an excellent piece. Enjoy the fourth. India I am sure is enjoying it with you because it is in you. You have the tolerance and peace of India (Mahatma Gandhi's peace) and that is a gift you and other Americans of Indian heritage give to America and make America even more of your own.

Happy writing

A fan:

What an excellent piece. Enjoy the fourth. India I am sure is enjoying it with you because it is in you. You have the tolerance and peace of India (Mahatma Gandhi's peace) and that is a gift you and other Americans of Indian heritage give to America and make America even more of your own.

Happy writing

Arjun:

Amar,
I was born and raised in India and have been living here for the past 12 years.
As time goes by, i feel like i no longer belong in India, worse, i feel like i don't belong here either. I was just wondering how difficult it must be for you.

Tenzin:

Brilliant writing! Loved reading it

Mike:

Thi is noting more than paining lipsick on a pag - a propaganda piece that is not reflective of Indian opiion of the U.S. Right this minute, I'm in Europe, where Indian's are merely tourists. Thy don't give European jobs to India's here, nor to anyone else. You see, immigrants who displace European workers aren't allowed. I guess that's why Indian's don't much like Europe. Everyone, it seems, likes a sucker....

JRLR:

jhbyer, I think I do understand the wish to "return to a positive interaction", beyond the destructive obsession with permanent conflict and perpetual war.

I just thought it would do us some good, were we to hear even some old songs by great non-American artists, celebrating America, i.e. LIFE, NATURE, CULTURE, BEAUTY, LOVE, GOODNESS, TRUTH... American style.

I must be getting too old. I am out of fashion, I'm afraid.

jhbyer:

JRLR, it stands to reason there would be no pro-war song. Most of the few who take satisfaction in other countries' wars would feel ashamed to admit it. Fewer still celebrate their own wars, with the exception of a dwindling number of Americans privileged to fight proxy wars, allowing them to unconsciously perceive it as if it were no more than gory video game to win at no real cost, except the price tag. Sorry to be so negative, but in reality there's nothing positive left for ordinary Americans to win in Iraq and everything positive to lose, not just human lives, eyes, limbs, and mental health but all of what we claim to fight for. The war has become a debit far below zero, making anti-war songs a true attempt to return us to positive interaction.

Anonymous:

H
I am proud to say that I, like us all Americans, come from a different part of the world and that is what makes us uniquely American. Whether we are white , brown or black, it truly is irrelevent, that is the beauty of our country and that is what we celebrate today. America today represents all corners of the globe, we are proud to enfold humanity in our cloak. May we keep our ideals pure and teach our children to believe in them

MiddleFeast:

Bravo my American Friend . . . . spanning worlds is a skill more and more people, especially the elites need to be good at and thrive on. Drink one for us stateside -- and we shall drink one for you abroad.

ajb:

Masterful!I was hoping the article would not end! A touching portrait universally applicable to any global citizen.

Mickey:

During my travel I learned from some Indian medical students the term "Indian pseudo American" in reference to someone like yourself. In one of the Indian films I watched, an Indian actor also used this term "Indian pseudo American". Have you any knowledge of this term? What do you think about Indians using this term to describe you?

Why do you think every sailor off the American ship is an American? Many are just immigrants (including white immigrants) from all over the world joining the U.S. military with the hope of getting a green card or American citizenship.

It goes without saying that people in a financial position like yourself should at least give some coins to this poor samll Indian boy with a scalded red arm. What is there to think about?

You said "All the difficulties of not being Indian...Then from being American I'm frustrated". Why do you expect Indians to trust you as one of their own?

It's very common for minorities in the U.S. to think about where they belong. White America still has a problem with you being a real American. Do you remember in Virginia Senator Allen called an Indian American "Macaca"?


j:

bravo, this is writing that touches the soul

jhbyer:

Wish I could e-mail this to my son, who is Amar's age and has been to Russia four times, for his pleasure, as he would surely identify with an essay that speaks to us all, him in his youth, and an old bot like me in our common humanity. Thanks Amar for reviving my sense of the Fourth in a much truer way than those dreadful noisy fireworks that scare the animals and make our Vets jump. Don't need no stinking fireworks. P.S. Can anybody tell this frustrated mom why there's no WaPo way to e-mail this?

nitrane:

Well written, Amar.
An enjoyable read I can relate to.
You should write a book about your travels in India.

JRLR:

Sorry to post twice in a row but something bothers me immensely.

The "World Songs About America" section has turned out to be very much anti-war.

Personally, I have spent quite some time searching the Web yet did not find anything more positive that I could bring to your attention: I only found Dassin's "L'Amérique"...

Amongst people you meet in India, anybody who could help with more "World Songs About America"?

JRLR:

Delightful, Amar, just delightful!

I dare say you're at your best here. I would read pages upon pages written by you in that key: "American Indian literarure"...

-- "I'm Indian American. .. the country has occupied a romantic space in my psyche... So there’s a connection to this place which I can’t define."

-- (Prospero)

"You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir
...
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."

(Shakespeare, The Tempest (IV, i)

Now you owe me something on how what remains of the India of the Bhagavad Gita sees America, Amar.

Good to see you're back with a sailor's vengeance...

PS Do you happen to know the novel "The Namesake", by Jhumpa Lahiri? If so, any thoughts on it, at this point?

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