Über Desi

Keeping it real, desi ishtyle

Joel Stein’s Edison article: Sarcasm or Racism?

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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?

Lost in translation!

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So this lady goes to a dollar store and buys what she thinks is gift wrapping paper. Comes home and horrors! sees that the red and gold paper is covered with “swastikas”.The local press gets involved and the result is this.

Wrapping paper ( img from wesh.com)

(Image: from wesh.com)
Its pretty obvious that this was some cheap wrapping paper made in India or China and targeted to the Diwali gift market. Post -Diwali, the paper finds its way to the dollar store and creates a sensation. Not helping the situation is the Rabbi quoted in the article:

But Rabbi Rick Sherwin said even if the perceived swastika is a Hindu symbol, he feels it should not be used in our culture out of respect for the horrors the swastika is associated with.

“There should be sensitivity to the awful things that symbol represents,” he said. “The swastika has been outlawed in Germany.”

Personally, I think its time we reclaimed the swastika (the one with the dots and all). I do go out of my way to make sure that no religious icons I display have the symbol overtly in my neighbors faces but this incident is a bit much. Isn’t it time people broadened their horizons a little to recognize that the swastika (in the Hindu form ) is not the same as the horrible symbol of the unforgivable atrocities of the Holocaust?

What do you think?

The invisible 51 %

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Two articles I read this morning stayed with me the entire day.
The first was this uplifting ( sarcasm) headline “India at bottom in man-woman equality index: World Economic Forum” in the Times of India. India ranked a shameful 114 out of 134 developing countries , indexed in terms of man-woman equality. The gender gap is increasing – not the least because of an estimated 25 Million ” missing women ” in India.Missing because of female foeticide or abortion. On the list , India ranks behind Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka in South Asia! Meanwhile, “Incredible India” woos foreign tourists with exotic shots of spices, dancers and masks. Malls sprout unrestricted in Indian metros.`Disposable incomes in the cities are up and Bollywood is celebrated at the Oscars. Sonia Gandhi is defacto Prime Minister. Welcome to the madness that is India!

The second was when I saw NOW’s press release on the much vaunted , so -called historical health care reform bill. The Dems agreed to the “Stupak amendment” which if incorporated in the final version that passes through the senate will:

* Prevent women receiving tax subsidies from using their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;
* Prevent women participating in the public health insurance exchange, administered by private insurance companies, from using 100 percent of their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;
* Prevent low-income women from accessing abortion entirely, in many cases.

In other words our democratically elected government has just thrown women under the bus in an all out attempt to get healthcare reform passed. What the Stupak amendment does is what the conservatives have wanted all along : reducing access to abortion almost completely , especially for low income women – those who need it the most. The amendment effectively will result in no coverage of any kind for abortion. Our female speaker of the house has just sold all of us out. Meanwhile, we celebrate “hope”, “change” and unbelievable Nobel Prize and the fact that this country is a beacon of liberty in an increasingly fundamentalist world. Welcome to the madness that is America!

Two democracies : one developing , the other developed.

One constituency that no one gives a shit cares about.

There is an old Chinese proverb that “Women hold up half the sky”. I don’t know about that – I’ll settle for dignity on earth.

White House Diwali – why so touchy?

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Rediff reports:

Obama’s Diwali celebration upsets Indian-American community.

Here’s the back story – ex-president Bush started the practice of hosting a Diwali event since 2003, courtesy request of the Indian-American community and it’s been a practice ever since. Some of the events have been full fledged and upto two hours long, while some, like last year’s,  have been less flashy.

While the article about the first Obama-era Diwali, quoted above, points out reasons why Indian Americans are upset (mostly elderly immigrant Indians), the rest of the article quotes two second generation desis – both staffers at the White House (including Kal Penn – supposedly the organizer for the upcoming event), deny that this would be a ‘diluted’ event. Couple of changes include, the venue  is now moved INTO the Whitehouse as compared to previous occasions when it was hostedn in an adjacent building, and also George Bush never made it to any of the Diwali events since 2003, always sending a   representative instead. Obama however, will attend the event this year. And this time, the event is open to all Asian-Americans and not exclusive to desis only.

The glitch however, seems to be that none of the community activists have been invited (yet), and since Kal Penn – a first timer is in charge of the event, it may well be  be a miss for those waiting to get an invitation to the Whitehouse for Diwali.

Scouting for news articles – I did not, however, find any statements from any acclaimed Hindu statesmen (yet).

So what do readers think? Is Fasicst Obama trying to dilute ‘our’ Diwali event, so that Kenyan festivals are more popular in Whitehouse (this is where, you add a smiley in your head)?

Or is it a case of some senior (and quite possibly invitation -deserving) activists feeling left out and blaming clueless Obama for trying to ‘dilute’ a celebration?

And just another snippet of info, an article dated from 2004 (by the same author as in Obama’s article, Aziz Haniffa from Washington D.C.)  -

Bush’s snub of White House Diwali celebration irks Indian American supporters and guests alike

Me thinks, we are way too touchy about having Diwali, in WhiteHouse, in the way we want it. (It’s Whitehouse – not our own house).

Shout out your thoughts in the comments section below.

Something else happened.

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This is a post that I would rather not have written. It is one of those that is deeply uncomfortable and yet it must be written. Especially after the minor meltdown I had last week. Diepriye Kuku, an African American Phd Student at the Delhi School ofEconomics gives a searing and first hand account of the racism he faces daily in India in a piece entitled wincingly enough ” India is Racist, And Happy about it ” published in Outlook India. (link

Read it. Its horrifying.

Discrimination in Delhi surpasses the denial of courtesy. I have been denied visas, apartments, entrance to discos, attentiveness, kindness and the benefit of doubt. Further, the lack of neighbourliness exceeds what locals describe as normal for a capital already known for its coldness.

Kuku taps into the collective Indian subconscious and what he unearths is not pretty. He has honed in to the fact that racism is endemic – that it is taught in homes daily. Whats worse is that he has come to the conclusion that there is no motivation to change.His piece makes me deeply ashamed of who I am and where I come from.I don’t know if I agree fully with everything he says – I would , for example, not brand the whole of America as racist based on my own admittedly minor experiences- but I cannot discount his experiences .

Of course- as in any article on the racism of Indians- he mentions the fairness creams that are regularly advertised in India and the classified advertisements for the “gori” bride. There was a time when I would have treated those ads with the nudge-nudge- wink approach that I take to the all things connected with the desi mania for marriage. But lately I am horrified to think that this madness for fair skin, this equation of a light complexion with beauty is just a small symptom of the vast pool of roiling racism that exists everywhere in India and also in Indians.See this for example : there’s not much to choose between casteism and racism – two sides of the same coin.

Sadly, its not just faraway in the dusty lanes of Delhi that one can see this. It happens in our living rooms right here in the US. I have had desis tell me to my face that they would never ever agree to their sons marrying black women – but white Americans are ok. I have had to ask guests to not use the n-word because I don’t allow its use in my home. And every Hindu – centricdinner party invariably ends badly when in the course of some political discussion omeone says that Muslims are the cause of all the trouble in the world.

I despair of humankind. We are hurtling towards an inevitable annihilation that is going to start with small cracks and fissures based on our differences. Liberals vs democrats, browns vs blacks, blacks vs whites, feminists vs conservatives, upper castes vs lower castes, Hindus va Muslims, Immigrants vs Citizens . Sometimes I think that civilization is a thin veneer over what is ultimately savagery. We are tribal and cling to our tribes and exclude and spit on all others. The latest and sickening example of this tribalism was the defense of an admitted child rapist by the so-called liberal Hollywood elite ( link 1, link 2 )

In this rush to identify with our own and demonize the other, we are lurching towards a bitter end. I started feeling that way last year when I wrote this .Almost a year later , things are worse, infinitely worse.

Robert Frost knew this and that’s why he wrote:
“Some say the world will end in fire/Some say in ice/From what I’ve tasted of desire/I hold with those who favor fire/But if it had to perish twice/I think I know enough of hate/To know that for destruction ice /Is also great/And would suffice.”

There is no hope for us – absolutely no hope.

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