Before I start – if you’re are offended by anything said against India or Indians then read no further. Exit now!
Over the past few months several anti-immigrant incidents have been reported across the country. Some of them have been against Indians. An Indian software engineer was shot and killed and his friend injured in a bar in Kansas City. Others have been asked to “go back to your country”. Yet others have had feces flung at their homes – according to reports. A video emerged from somewhere in Ohio of someone recording a bunch of Indians hanging out in a Park.
This is not about why those incidents “reveal the ugly underbelly or racist America”. No. This is about the why. Why are Indians seen as aliens and outsiders? We are one of the best (if not the best) immigrant ethnic group any country can get. Most – if not all – of us go through often lengthy immigration process to become LEGAL and VALID residents or citizens of this country. We’re sincere. We pay our fair share of taxes. We – again most of us – are law abiding (law fearing) people. So – why?
Assimilation – or the lack of it.
That’s the reasonable expectation – that an immigrant group conform to the local customs and practices.
Mind you – this is not about following rules or not breaking the law. This is about culture and customs.
There are several things we do as Indians that are so “Indian” that even the most open minded born-and-raised American can be pissed off.
Let’s start with the phrase “Personal Space”. Different cultures have different definitions of personal space. The more crowded the country – the more cozier people get in public spaces. Picture the friendly neighborhood grocery store. You need tomatoes. There is one person in front of you but there’s enough room for two . Now, the American way of doing it is to wait until the person finishes. But you, you don’t wait. You pull up next to the person, getting a bit too close to them (remember 18 inches or less is ‘close’ in the western world). You start picking these tomatoes. Several times your hand can be within an inch from the other person’s. In most western countries that’s defined as an act of war.
It gets worse when you’re in an Indian grocery store – mostly at the Tindora box. When two Indians (who’re already physically too close for comfort) are picking these veggies a third hand emerges from within the 2 inch gap. The hand invasion continues as you and the other person part a move away a couple of inches. The shoulder and eventually the owner of that hand then makes himself (or herself) a happy sandwich and continues gathering, blissfully unaware.
Scene 2: At the restaurant. The waitress is taking your order. The kids want coke. You want them to stick to water and stay healthy – knowing fully well that once they’re out of home they’ll be binging on coke and chips. Instead of saying in plain english “We talked about this at home kids, no cola. Period!”, you start off your Bhagavad Gita discourse in your native language. When the kids try to speak in english you reprimand them. You indicate that you don’t want to discuss this in front of the waitress. Your body language betrays your mention of her. She doesn’t know what you’re saying. All she can tell is that she’s being discussed. Strike 2
Scene 3: The Office. Oh boy where do I start. I know I’m going to take a lot of heat for this but I’ll say it anyways. If there’s one place that has contributed to the alienation of Indians in the US, it’s the IT workplace.
It’s a scene that is probably played out every single day in the thousands of cubed offices across the country: the polarization of Indians vs the rest. We tend to form and move around in groups, talking about obscure politics happening 8500 miles away, cricket matches and their heroes, Bollywood and its heroes (and heroines). Yet we seem to be totally oblivious to what’s happening around us. When someone says “out of the left field” we have blank faces. An acquaintance referred to the 2017 Super Bowl as “that popular football match”. We have that smug smile when an American talks about his son’s “basketball game last night” – somehow conveying that he’s wasting his time while his own son is competing in Math Counts.
We suffer from a severe lack of contextual awareness. It’s compounded by the fact that we refuse to learn. We don’t have to be an expert on American History. But some cursory knowledge of the Cuban missile crisis or the Watergate scandal would do quite well. When we hear Ford Bronco and OJ Simpson in the same sentence we draw blank faces. Why? Even talk of Kyrie’s clutch 3-pointer will render us absolutely clueless. And that happened in 2016.
I guess what I’m saying is that one doesn’t need to transform oneself to assimilate into this culture. But an earnest effort will go a long way in identifying Indians as an acceptable ethnic group as opposed to an alien one. None of the above mentioned scenarios are illegal or unethical. But they are irritants which usually bubble up and cause social issues.
Even in that video of the Park in Ohio, while the person was shooting the video you can see kids running around, crossing his path and cutting in front of him. What you don’t hear or see is a parent asking them to watch for people. If I were in his position I’d be thinking “what the heck – not even the minimum decency towards other people?”
There is a refusal to assimilate – and THAT is what alienates us.