Listen Up, my fellow effing Desis in the Bay Area
I have been meaning to write a post about the unique phenomenon of young Desis, typically, and most likely new immigrants, students and H1-B’s in the Bay Area studiously ignoring other Desis in close up circumstances. Not hostile but pretending we don’t exist.
I see you every day in San Francisco or in Oakland around Lake Merritt. You can’t miss me, I take a sizeable portion of the sidewalk and yet you manage to look elsewhere. Some of you look uncomfortable but still avoid eye contact. This has to stop.
If you are an Hi-B or a boat person, i.e. recently arrived or studying in one of our fine Bay Area colleges, you have to know that some of us have been here a very long time. Sikhs in California came at the turn of the century, the last one, way before your great, great grandfather met your great, great grandmother and begat your great grandparent and so on.
In a foreign country, actually my adopted country, when I see a fellow Desi my initial desire is to acknowledge their presence, after all there are not that many of us around here. This has never been a problem in other big cities U.S cities. In fact in New York I have had Bangladeshi and Sikh Cab drivers giving me free rides even though I insist I can pay. One Afgan cab driver gave his life’s story and how he was planning to ship his daughter back because she was becoming too American. I was afraid to contradict him or argue because it was past midnight and he was driving too fast. But he felt that since we came from “the same neighborhood” that I caould relate. Touching but embarrassing.
But when it comes to my “Peytai,”(neighborhood/backyard/etc) in Norcal in casual settings for some reason I cannot quite fathom the avoidance technique is rampant. I suspect the Hetch Hetchy water, wide open spaces, the weather, the knowledge that they have come to the land of plenty, the joy of Costco, your own car…something.
Non acknowledgement is not a problem in India, there’s over a billion of us and growing, its not expected or even wanted. Maybe in London its OK or quite possibly even New York where it seems every third person is a South Asian and the Cab companies are run by Indians. Or inside a Desi movie theater in Fremont, along the various little Indias in the Bay Area. These are places where you will not see me unless I had to parachute in for some shopping. But outside of those areas in the Bay Area its not acceptable, its just not polite.
If I am within a few feet of you and you know I exist and am Desi, its not hard to figure out, and I know you exist, just nod and move on. Even though there is a wide gap in age all we need is some form of acknowledgement. The blacks have it with their nod and the Latinos have it. In fact I exchange nods with Latinos all the time. They are curious and when they rattle off in Spanish sometimes and I am unable to follow they are wounded and disappointed. After all we are brown and yet this guy can’t speak Spanish? where’s the justice…btw this brings up a sidenote. Learn a bit of Spanish, they are appreciative. Hispanics and especially Mexicans are a growing population and one day, if you still live here, your son or daughter might marry one. It might cause tension if you can’t speak a few words. I was in this little airport in Mexico last week and the customs people were overjoyed to see a Desi with a U.S. Passport, they thought I was a homie and had done good and were all smiles till I told them I was of Indian origin. They they went over my stuff even harder. That’s one of my larger mistakes I made after living here so long. Not knowing a bit of conversational Spanish and Mandarin.
Back to the issue at hand, I am not going to stop you and get your family details or where you work, which State and city you came from and whether I had relatives in that city and did they know them nor am I going to invite myself over for a meal, invite you over for a meal or borrow money from you or ask whether you are married or not and whether you have a copy of your horoscope because I have a nephew or niece looking for an “alliance.”
After these recent unpleasant encounters, and just so you know if they ever meet you in a social setting and bring you around for the family to meet, the first question I will ask you is if you walk around the Lake, or hang around the Mission in the city. If yes, I might just reject you out of hand, using my Uncle’s veto power. I don’t like poorly raised people, especially Desis.
This is a major reason why I prefer dogs to humans. Every time I see a hate spewing Trump fan, I immediately look around for a dog to feel better. My neighbor’s dog, Oso, is unquestioningly friendly. Today’s story of a White Supremacist stabbing a black man in Olympia just because he was kissing a white woman is a reminder that Trumpmania is a “yuuge” problem for us. Then there was this college kid in Florida who bit off the face of an older couple because “Trump” made him do it. Whaaaat! seriously, he blamed his cannibalism on Trump and minorities. Maybe he thought it was Trump branded steak? Its times like these and what’s coming for us minorities if Trump gets elected makes me wish California was an “Open Carry” State. If it ever comes up in a State ballot, I am not PC enough to say I am against guns, I am so voting for it.
By the way, please treat black people and Hispanics with respect. They are a large minority and they notice when you treat them with disdain. My nephew, a first gen American says the black people hate Indians because we look down upon them. I don’t know why that is the case, most of us are as dark as them and not that much smarter. If its because of skin color, just remember in the American food chain we came from the top in India to the bottom here. You just might not have noticed it yet because your co-workers and maybe your neighbors are so nice.
Just remember, Obama is 50% White, super smart, possibly the best President we have had in a while and yet Congress has stymied every positive action he wants to take to improve our condition. Some say its because he’s black and they are yearning for days gone by when they could sit on the porch, drink mint juleps and order the “help” around.
White people don’t care if you are upper class Hindus or Brahmins. After 9/11, we all became “Ayrabs.” When an ignorant bubba like the ones mentioned above is getting ready to beat you up or take a shot from a passing car, he’s not asking for your background or inquiring politely if you are a Indian, Muslim or Arab. He sees Brown and thinks Muslim. And Trump just made it OK to be openly hateful. Its going to be a rough ride.
The poor Sikhs took the brunt of it after 9/11 because of their turbans. some of them have been here the longest and yet it did not make a difference. A significant portion of Americans have never traveled overseas and know little of other cultures than what they see on TV. Those that watch Fox and/or various TV dramas on terrorism think anyone brown is a terrorist.
With Trump in ascendance, he has “given” permission to his supporters to be openly hostile to brown races. Now we are either Mexican or Arabs or Muslims just waiting to be deported or “extremely vetted.” Just like in England after the Brexit mess white Brits ganged up on Polish people or Indians, Pakistanis and Bongs (Bangladeshis) and ask them when they are going back. The Poles, even though they are white, took jobs the Brits would not do but they are still resented. The Desis because, well, they are brown. Never mind the fact that some of them are second, third or fourth gen Brits and whites would never do the jobs or want to run the businesses that the South Asians run. But some of them have gone up the educational and corporate food chain and that hurts, they probably think we are getting uppity. The additional complication for South Asians in England is the Colonial mindset that persists to this day. The Brits can’t let go of the fact that the Sun set on their empire and even the Scots and the Northern Irish want to leave and stay with the EU.
All this rambling and exposition just to ask you to acknowledge your fellow Desi, you might need our support and goodwill some day. Also don’t lock yourself up in your apartment, house etc after work and watch a steady diet of Hindi, Tamil, Telugu or whatever your language of choice Indian movies and socialize just within your sub-groups. Being proud of your ethnicity and background is just fine but integration is required if you continue to live here. Get out, socialize, join groups, become involved in politics. Its needed more than ever now. No one is watching out for us except us.
If you are green card holder eligible to become a Citizen, do so immediately. There is no sense in holding on to an Indian passport unless you move back soon. The difference it makes when you become an American is that now you belong. When an ignorant Bubba, trust me there’s plenty of them right here in Progressive Northern California, it could be your neighbor, your checkout clerk, your bartender, anybody that tells you to go home. You can tell him or her that you have and its right here. Their ancestors just came a couple of hundred years before you. Most everybody came here to get away from something. I always tell them I am American of Indian (I did not ask them to call Native Americans, Indians) origin and they are standing on my traditional Tribal land and for them to go back to where they belong. I pulled that once at the Ahwanee Lodge in Yosemite and the conversation on where I came from ended very quickly. I told them I had landed there to reclaim my ancient property.
Anyway, just nod or raise your eyebrows or some form of accepted acknowledgement the next time but don’t stop to chat. Remember I don’t particularly like other people and as I said before I prefer dogs. If you don’t I might just embarrass you by waving and shouting out loud to find out if you are Desi…none of us want that, do we?