For the record I vote for the former, which may or may not reflect how my fellow Über Desi bloggers felt about this Time article, which seems to have divided bloggers of Indian origin (BIOs???) and Tweeple of Indian origin (TIOs???). [Time] (ht: Patrix on Twitter)
A blog in the WSJ screams “Indians Unamused by Time’s ‘Edison’”. Ummm, only partially true. Let’s not pull a Zed uncle, who at any given point in time could be offended by at least half a dozen non-events and claim that the opinions of some (self included) represent the entire community/ethnic group. Some of us were amused, others offended and the rest indifferent. Call it (lack of) reading comprehension on my behalf but this is my translation of Joel Stein’s article.
I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J. The mostly white suburban town I left when I graduated from high school in 1989 — the town that was called Menlo Park when Thomas Alva Edison set up shop there and was later renamed in his honor — has become home to one of the biggest Indian communities in the U.S., as familiar to people in India as how to instruct stupid Americans to reboot their Internet routers.
My humble translation (mht): His (Stein’s) hometown of Edison, NJ, has experienced a population explosion of Indian people. For good measure, he throws in a couple of digs at Arizona’s immigration law and Indian call center tech support.
My town is totally unfamiliar to me. The Pizza Hut where my busboy friends stole pies for our drunken parties is now an Indian sweets shop with a completely inappropriate roof. The A&P I shoplifted from is now an Indian grocery. The multiplex where we snuck into R-rated movies now shows only Bollywood films and serves samosas. The Italian restaurant that my friends stole cash from as waiters is now Moghul, one of the most famous Indian restaurants in the country. There is an entire generation of white children in Edison who have nowhere to learn crime.
mht: Crime appears to be down since those Indians moved their brown kundis to this town. Can our NJ readers please confirm if this statement is true or not?
I never knew how a bunch of people half a world away chose a random town in New Jersey to populate. Were they from some Indian state that got made fun of by all the other Indian states and didn’t want to give up that feeling? Are the malls in India that bad? Did we accidentally keep numbering our parkway exits all the way to Mumbai?
mht: Stein never knew how a bunch of people half a world away chose a random town in New Jersey to populate. Obviously, he needs to be educated on the desi fascination for the Statue of Liberty and Niagara falls and anything and everything in the neighborhood.
I called James W. Hughes, policy-school dean at Rutgers University, who explained that Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 immigration law raised immigration caps for non-European countries. LBJ apparently had some weird relationship with Asians in which he liked both inviting them over and going over to Asia to kill them.
After the law passed, when I was a kid, a few engineers and doctors from Gujarat moved to Edison because of its proximity to AT&T, good schools and reasonably priced, if slightly deteriorating, post–WW II housing. For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor.
mht: First came the doctors, then the merchants and others that make up the desi support system. The “India is so damn poor” statement is one of the few times I feel he crosses the line.
Eventually, there were enough Indians in Edison to change the culture. At which point my townsfolk started calling the new Edisonians “dot heads.” One kid I knew in high school drove down an Indian-dense street yelling for its residents to “go home to India.” In retrospect, I question just how good our schools were if “dot heads” was the best racist insult we could come up with for a group of people whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose.
mht: These immigrants had to put up with all sorts of racist asshole locals.
Unlike some of my friends in the 1980s, I liked a lot of things about the way my town changed: far better restaurants, friends dorky enough to play Dungeons & Dragons with me, restaurant owners who didn’t card us because all white people look old. But sometime after I left, the town became a maze of charmless Indian strip malls and housing developments. Whenever I go back, I feel what people in Arizona talk about: a sense of loss and anomie and disbelief that anyone can eat food that spicy.
mht: While the quality of food has improved with the Indian invasion, Britain can testify to this, he points out the lack of variety when it comes to business establishments. I beg to differ with this observation. Desis shop at a variety of stores – strip malls, retail malls, outlet malls, Walmart, K-Mart.
To figure out why it bothered me so much, I talked to a friend of mine from high school, Jun Choi, who just finished a term as mayor of Edison. Choi said that part of what I don’t like about the new Edison is the reduction of wealth, which probably would have been worse without the arrival of so many Indians, many of whom, fittingly for a town called Edison, are inventors and engineers.
mht: The large number of highly skilled desis have actually ensured a higher per-capita income for the residents of Edison, even in tougher economic times.
Unlike previous waves of immigrants, who couldn’t fly home or Skype with relatives, Edison’s first Indian generation didn’t quickly assimilate (and give their kids Western names). But if you look at the current Facebook photos of students at my old high school, J.P. Stevens, which would be very creepy of you, you’ll see that, while the population seems at least half Indian, a lot of them look like the Italian Guidos I grew up with in the 1980s: gold chains, gelled hair, unbuttoned shirts. In fact, they are called Guindians. Their assimilation is so wonderfully American that if the Statue of Liberty could shed a tear, she would. Because of the amount of cologne they wear.
mht: The first generation of Indians refused to assimilate, which, if Stein did his homework on Indians would realize, is true for most places in the US and the world over. However, the second generation is more assimilated and well adjusted to the local customs and costumes. The “Guindians” comment evokes visions of a desi version of the MTV classic “Jersey Shore” with an all-desi cast. Hey, we can always hope.
In conclusion, the article dripping with sarcasm, is funny in bits and pieces and devoid of humor in other places. If Joel Stein were desi, his very much fine Indian name would be Anurag Mathur, whose literary masterpiece evokes similar divisive thoughts from BIOs and TIOs. Unforunately, Stein missed the release of the sarcasm font, which this article should’ve been written in, for the benefit of all.
What do you think?