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INDIAN AMERICAN- THE OTHER Me

THE INDIAN AMERICAN GENERATION GAP ...


"My Indian Parents Are Huge Fans of Cultural Appropriation, Even While My Generation Finds it Appalling"- the above article by Nikita Redkar published on XO Jane brings up some interesting points, some we agree with, some we don't. Nonetheless, the article got over 22 thousand shares and so analyze it we must.


The gist of the article is that she feels while her parents' generation see nothing wrong with people of other races cherry-picking parts of Indian culture, she equates it to cultural appropriation. To them, it was a sign of their culture gaining mainstream acceptance, while to people of her generation, it is thievery and a selfish promotion tactic. 

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LET'S ANALYZE ...

First lets put Nikita Redkar's thoughts about her parent's generation and her own generation in two separate columns. 

PARENTS' GENERATION (let's assume this refers to the first generation of Indian immigrants.)

Our parents never came to this country for assimilation; they came here for survival. They knew from the onset they weren’t going to be accepted. They grew up embedded in a deep sense of cultural identity -- one that everyone around them shared. They always knew where they are from and they owned it, even when they arrived in America. 

Years later, our parents' generation is bursting with pride at the thought of all the customs they accepted being embraced by the mainstream -- whether it’s being exoticized or not. Our parents see the western infatuation with select parts of their otherwise deeply rich culture less as self-promotion and more as an acknowledgement; it is a cross-cultural equalization they could have never dreamed of.

Our parents definitely had their struggles, but they never compromised their cultural integrity. They proudly donned their saris and kurtas, brought their food in curry-stained tupperware to work without a care of what anyone else will think. They knew they were outsiders and were never trying to fit in in the first place. To them, selective adoption of Indian customs and fashion is a compliment, a recognition, and not a double standard of acceptance. And that’s why they’ll continue bask in the appreciation we deem appropriation. 

CURRENT GENERATION (the ones who are born and raised here in today's world)

My generation struggle to fit in. So that’s why we are upset when someone wakes up one day and decides to exploit our turbulent identities as a disposable fashion -- and by doing so be rewarded as a paragon of globalization and cultural acceptance. How dare they regard Indian fashion as effortlessly cool and chic while we make it look 'fobby', or a stubborn adherence to our culture that purports us to be 'fresh off the boat'.

How dare they have a crush when we spent our entire lives trying to love.

My generation of Indian-Americans is not really Indian, and not really American. Our endless journey to fit into the western mainstream while trying to retain our roots left us -- and continues to leave us -- in an eternal purgatory of identities; Americans getting to be fully American and a little bit of Indian -- whenever they please -- isn’t fair. 

At the end of the day, your (white people's) bindi selfies will eventually disappear on social media’s news feeds, you’ll take your colorfulsari off, and you can go back to being American whenever you want. But for my generation, we can never go home and remove our heritage, our culture, and our riddled identity struggle.

IN MY OPINION 

I agree with Nikita with what she says about her parent's generation, about the first-generation Indians- that they come here for a more prosperous life, that the goal is seldom to assimilate. And before you disagree, lets first analyze what is it that qualifies as 'assimilation'-

1. Not wearing Indian traditional clothes outside of Indian traditional events? Sure.

2. Not speaking in Indian languages when in the company of non-Indians? No, for that is politeness.

3. Celebrating Easter by participating in egg-hunting with your little ones, celebrating 4th of July by wearing red, white and blue that day and organizing a family outing to watch the fireworks, celebrating Halloween in costumes while going for trick-or-treat, celebrating Thanksgiving with a large spread of food- some traditional like beans, mashed potatoes, even turkey for the meat-eaters, celebrating Christmas complete with outside lights, a well decorated tree with wrapped gifts underneath and gift-exchanges with friends, teachers/ co-workers? Sure all that is assimilation.

4. Mixing with the majority white people here, inviting them over for barbecue and getting invited in theirs? Sure. But do we mix with the white people or with people of any other race here in America on a personal level? No. There you go. That is where we fail to assimilate. And there lies the biggest difference between the first-generation immigrants and the subsequent generations born and raised here. And that is why I agree with Nikita that we (the parents) came here for better life. We assimilate with respect to festivities, but we celebrate those festivals with likes of us. Whereas our kids want to truly assimilate, they want white or black or oriental friends (whoever they like), they want to hang out with them and not just seek out Indian company. 


However, nobody disagrees that our kids want to totally assimilate. They want to and we want to let them. What then is the hindrance? The parents? No? Lets see, you, as a parent, is an obstacle to your kids' assimilation if you-

1. make your kids wear hair oil outside the privacy of your home

2. make your kids wear Indian traditional clothes in an non-Indian event

3. pack Indian food for their school lunch

4. show up at their school dressed in Indian house clothes

5. in fact, make your do ANYTHING, in the name of 'Indian culture'

We know that we have a 'treasure chest' of Indian culture. As parents, we can open our treasure chest wide for our kids to take a good look, spill it all over the house even- if we have to, but that is all we can do. That is all we should do. Our children must have a say in what they pick and choose from that treasure chest. Believe it or not, growing up in India, we too had the choice of picking and choosing even though everywhere we went we saw similar culture. Familiarity and commonality didn't deter us from shunning the most familiar and common "culture". Our kids must get that choice too. Not because they need to assimilate in the American culture, but because they need to be what they choose to be. 


Coming to the current generation- the generation of kids that were born and raised here in America, in the midst of American culture, a culture that they naturally imbibe, a culture that comes naturally to them, yet they feel the need to "try" to assimilate. They might think that their "struggle to fit in" and their "turbulent identities" arise from their conflicting (?) goal of retaining their roots, but it really doesn't have to be that way. Let's analyze what Nikita has to say of her generation-


1. Nikita says- "My generation struggle to fit in. So that’s why we are upset when someone wakes up one day and decides to exploit our turbulent identities as a disposable fashion -- and by doing so be rewarded as a paragon of globalization and cultural acceptance."

I say the intention of non-Indian celebrities behind embracing Indian fashion might well be to project themselves as 'a paragon of globalization and cultural acceptance' but who is to say that the goal is to 'exploit turbulent identities'? 

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2. Nikita says- "How dare they regard Indian fashion as effortlessly cool and chic while we make it look 'fobby', or a stubborn adherence to our culture that purports us to be 'fresh off the boat'."


I say, who is to say that if a talented & confident Indian American singer were to dance on the stage in an Indian attire, she or her attire will not look effortlessly cool and chic and that she and it would not be accepted? Remember the rich and the famous can make anything look "cool and chic". Precisely why they are roped in by famous designers to showcase their expensive gowns. You can bet an average white american woman might not do justice to their exclusive master pieces. Of course, we look 'fobby' in our traditional clothing. We are no catwalk models and we are certainly not "modelling" our outfits either. But see it this way, some of us do probably look "cool and chic" enough to catch the world's eye. You don't see white American celebrities donning on garbs from other cultures, now, do you? As for if we do it it is regarded as a stubborn adherence to our culture, agree. We are judged and compared against other immigrant races who assimilate better. But we have to


3. Nikita says- "How dare they have a crush when we spent our entire lives trying to love."


This is by far the most interesting perspective in the article and the one that most stuck a chord among the readers, I reckon. 


She goes on to say, "My generation of Indian-Americans is not really Indian, and not really American. Our endless journey to fit into the western mainstream while trying to retain our roots left us -- and continues to leave us -- in an eternal purgatory of identities; Americans getting to be fully American and a little bit of Indian -- whenever they please -- isn’t fair. At the end of the day, your (white people's) bindi selfies will eventually disappear on social media’s news feeds, you’ll take your colorfulsari off, and you can go back to being American whenever you want. But for my generation, we can never go home and remove our heritage, our culture, and our riddled identity struggle."


I say, as a parent, I found the viewpoint intriguing. I can see where this is coming from. Our children "try" because we "make" them. If as parents, we take a step back and merely expose them to the limitless treasure of our culture and allow them to pick and choose from both the cultures- Indian and American, then perhaps we might make their "struggle" easier. 


To the current generation of Indian Americans, I say, it is okay to be "not really Indian and not really American". It is okay to have hyphenated identity, one that acknowledges your roots as well as what you naturally imbibe. It is okay to pick and choose the best from all cultures- as long as you get the essence of your roots for without that you will have no identity to struggle about. If you have two treasure chests open in front of you, you can only truly be richer. Remember, you are what you choose to be. You must choose what you love. What you love you carry with confidence. What you carry with confidence, others want to too.

 

let's say it

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