“You need to find to find a way to harmonize your obligations with justification of your passion.”

Photo courtesy of Hidden Grounds

Low lighting, communal tables, Indian art, and shelves of coffee beans decorate the walls of Hidden Grounds, a South Asian themed coffee shop located in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Anand Patel and Spoorthi Kumar left their corporate jobs at Johnson and Johnson to establish the store, which opened in July 2013.

“I always had a passion for coffee. I grew up next to a coffee estate. It was basically ingrained in my blood,” said Kumar.

The South Asian aspect of the business came about organically as their parents helped them decorate the shop.

It describes our nature. A part of me wanted that,” admitted Kumar.

They started incorporating South Asian traits in “subtle” ways, such as through art and pictures.

“The fact that we know so much about our cultures resonated with the business,” Patel added.

After the art came the masala chai, the signature product of Hidden Grounds. Made from scratch, the drink is made from ginger, assam tea, and spices from India.

A Hidden Grounds chai comes straight from the stove and carries a flavorful kick that gives the drinker a taste of the Motherland. Hidden Grounds chai challenges the mainstream perception of chai in America, a perception often based on chai tea lattes from grab and go coffee shops like Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts.

When customers order chai at Hidden Grounds, the salespeople transparently explain their product and even give a small sample to combat the “misalignment of expectations” that results from lack of knowledge about  authentic Indian tea. Rather than create a watered down beverage, Kumar and Patel do their best to educate customers about chai. 

Their business has fostered the philosophy of passing down knowledge.

“You have to start…perception of chai from scratch,” reflected Patel.

Another South Asian menu item is the Bombay sandwich, a sandwich made from mint chutney, grilled vegetables, whole wheat bread, and Indian cheese.

“It reminds me of home,” reminisced Kumar, an Indian native.

Patel and Kumar started a coffee shop in New Brunswick due to their troubles finding a place where young people could sit down, hang out, and chat. The two have done their best to maintain this open culture as business owners.

“We make an active effort to be in front of the customer at all times or whenever possible,” said Patel. 

Hidden Grounds is active in the New Brunswick community, catering events and participating in the local Farmer’s Market. It also hosts internal events, including a monthly comedy night. A customer even hosted an event with tea which had a “great turnout.” Another customer worked with Hidden Grounds to host a cold brew cocktail event where patrons could taste test alcoholic caffeinated beverages.

“It’s about building the community however you can. I never feel like we’re a coffee shop. We’re much more than that,” stated Kumar.

New Hidden Grounds projects include bottled iced coffee and efforts to source coffee from India.

Though the business has been a big hit in New Brunswick, Patel and Kumar are very aware of the difficulties that entrepreneurs face.

Passion itself doesn’t necessarily start businesses,” Patel commented.

Both Patel and Kumar encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to know their product, the market, and the perceptions of people who interact with both.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, people become really excited about ideas. They don’t follow up. They don’t do the rest. You need to do a lot of research, plan it. You need to figure out how to fill the gap [in the market],” observed Patel.

Patel notes issues for South Asian American entrepreneurs in particular.

“We live in this cocoon where we’re told, ‘You need to go to college and get a 9-5 job.’ As South Asians,[who are often expected to] fit into categories, you need to break out of the cocoon. You need to fulfill your obligations, but you need to find a way to justify your passion…a way to harmonize your obligation with justification of your passion.”

If you want to see how Kumar and Patel harmonized their obligations with their passion, in a culturally authentic atmosphere, visit Hidden Grounds on weekdays from 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m., Saturday from 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., or Sunday from 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

For aspiring entrepreneurs who would like further advice, Patel has welcomed correspondence at antarescollective@gmail.com.

From arranged marriage to dating counselor…

Image courtesy of Randy Glasbergen

Red, White, n Brown readers wanted more articles about dating in the South Asian world, and your moderators are committed to fulfilling your requests!

Here is an article by Beejoli Shah, a South Asian American author. 

http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/08/dating-advice-from-an-arranged-marriage.html?mid=facebook_nymag

Shah describes her mother’s solid dating advice and credits her keen interpersonal knowledge to an arranged marriage: 

My mom had to learn how to build a relationship using things besides romance: She and my dad had to figure out together, in their early 20s, what was important to each other if they wanted to last the long haul. That grounded approach to marriage, coupled with the anecdotal anthropology of growing up outside her cultural comfort zone (as one of very few Indians in Fort Wayne, Indiana), has made her more of an expert on dating and relationships than I was ever willing to give her credit for.”

While arranged marriage remains a complicated issue, in the best and worst circumstances, Shah reflects upon her mother’s experience and how it affected her perspective.

Let us know what you think in the comments section, and feel free to share your own experiences on this topic that regularly impacts South Asian Americans.

The identity of loss

“My family was uprooted from East Pakistan, and I grew up in Kolkata. Yet if you ask a Bengali even today where he is from, he will not tell you that he is from one part of Kolkata — he will say he is from Dhaka or Comilla or Sylhet. None of these have been to Bangladesh but their sense of identity is coupled with a sense of loss — the identity of loss.”

These words come from Kalyan Ray, a literature professor who has recently published a novel called No Country. No Country depicts migration and the intertwining history between Ireland and India. Ray writes in both Irish and Bengali voices.

The novel deals with colonialism and human rights abuses that both countries endured at the hands of the British. In an interview in New Jersey, Ray admits that he is fascinated by the common heritage of Indians and Irish.

“There is a long history between Ireland and India. In this book, I have told many harsh truths of what the British did and didn’t do in Ireland and then in India, 100 years later. For instances, in both cases they let famines happen and did nothing about it. The maximum money raised for the Irish famine didn’t come from the English crown or government, not from America where a lot of Irish had gone but from Calcutta where a lot of Irish troops were stationed,” he says referring to the Great Potato Famine (Ireland, 1845) and the Famine of Bengal (India, 1943).

Ray credits his own story of fleeing from riots in East Bengal, and curiosity about South Asian storytelling traditions, as influences on this work.

In addition to geographic displacement, the novel also touches upon identity and universal commonalities.

According to an interview with the Indo-American Arts Council, Ray’s next novel will depict the “nature of devotion, religion, and violence”  and will also “examine… faith and identity, religious authority and nationalism, and how violence is used, increasingly, as a form of political language.” It will take place in New England, India, and Somalia.

Rest in Peace

 

Red, White, n Brown offers its condolences to the family and friends of Haris Suleman, a 17 year old Pakistani-American pilot who died during an attempt to break a world record for “fastest circumnavigation around the world in a single-engine airplane with the youngest pilot in command.”

Suleman and his father decided to fly across the world in 30 days to raise funds for Citizen’s Foundation and Seeds of Learning, non-profit organizations that collaborate to build schools in Pakistan. They raised $1,000,000, and their family requests further donations to the organizations in lieu of flowers for remembrance services.

Their plane crashed above the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of American Samoa, and Suleman was recently laid to rest in America after a memorial at sea. 

Whereabouts of Suleman’s father remain unknown, and officials have called off the search to find him. 

While Suleman’s journey certainly left behind a legacy, Suleman’s friends fondly recall him for his positive personality and energy, which left a particularly strong mark on his fellow soccer teammates. 

(Photo courtesy of Newsday.com)

“If she had a big brain, would you call her at all?”

Photo courtesy of indiaopines.com

http://www.groundswell-mvmt.org/faithshare/listen-up-jay-z-this-muslim-womans-got-something-to-say-to-you/

Watch this video to hear a young South Asian spoken word artist!

Madiha Bhatti speaks, (or beats), out against modern rap music that promotes misogyny and double standards against women of color.

While her performance has quickly become an Internet success, critics claim that people who find rap distasteful can just stop listening to it.

What do Red, White, n Brown readers think? Feel free to leave a comment or submit a response at redwhitenbrown@gmail.com!

That unavoidable question for South Asian Americans

I grew up in a homogeneous town where I represented one of the few Indian Americans. While I faced very few instances of overt racism, I remained painfully aware of the differences between myself and the majority of my peers.

This situation might have bothered me less had I forged strong links with an Indian community. I found that my purely Anglophone tongue, born and bred Catholic beliefs, and ignominious ignorance about Indian issues beyond Bollywood and food rendered me an object of othering by those who could have resembled me most.  A family friend once remarked, “You’re definitely not Indian. You’re just a tan white person.” Yet I knew that no white person would ever accept that. 

These conditions, (and my compulsive nature), provided me with a consistent habit of labeling myself. I had to find single words to easily explain who I was. It did not matter if the words blatantly contradicted themselves. It did not even matter that people would probably never discover my use of these qualifiers. I still held an unyielding belief that one could not function in society without knowing herself. To follow that philosophy all the way to its end, I had to appropriately identify my personal, physical, mental, and emotional qualities.

Categorizing myself ethnically seemed to provide the only easy answer when I defined my identity. In my town where over 90% of people were Caucasian, I would immediately say that I was Indian. Why? Almost every student came from the same place. When people asked where I was from, they already assumed that I had local roots.

Identifying as American was redundant, and my Indian heritage truly differentiated me in terms of culture, appearance, and experience. Contrary to what these musings suggest, I did not necessarily see this as a negative point (though I certainly told my parents otherwise.) I simply acknowledged my position as claiming Indian status without really being Indian.  In my mind, no Indian would willingly accept someone like me, especially once he/she discovered that my lack of natural ability for Math and Science would forever eliminate “doctor” and “engineer” from my long list of descriptors. 

Fast forward a few years.

I went to college at a large public university, relieved that I would graduate debt free. But my greatest source of excitement, that I could hardly contain yet revealed to no one, stemmed from my knowledge that I would finally make demographically diverse friends and pursue grander areas of progress. I made a vehement declaration that I wanted one Indian friend, (but only one!), so I could reap the benefits of bonding with someone of my ethnic label while exposing myself to the people whom I’d never received the privilege of meeting in my hometown. (Ultimately, I made more than one Indian friend and realized that increasing my quota would pose no serious consequences on my well-being.)    

Though my proficiency in Hindi extended to a few excessively repeated phrases from Bollywood movies, and my skill in my father’s native language did not exist at all, I became surprisingly serious about studying French. I took courses in Paris one summer. And that’s where I started to question my Indian label.

Unlike grammar school, where a social scene constantly shoves itself in your face, unlike college, where students like myself brim with excitement over whom they may meet, Paris provided me with no anticipation. I had traveled across an ocean to study in an authentically French setting; I could not be bothered with finding friends or making social contact.

Yet people wanted to talk to me, particularly those who shared my skin tone. I could swear that none of my classmates had to answer where they came from as much as I did. Sometimes discussions about my ethnicity presented themselves in pleasant ways. I will always remember, for example, drinking free tea from Middle Eastern restaurant owners who also identified with being colored in a country where that was not exactly the norm. Less positive experiences, however, included the many leering men who asked me where I was from and subsequently mocked me when it became clear that I may look Indian but would certainly bleed red, white, and blue before white, green, and orange. 

The turning point came when, after weeks of remaining on guard against anyone who even looked at me, an Indian man sold me fruit and asked if I was Indian. Of course, I said “yes.” His eyes lit up, and he started speaking to me in a language that I did not at all recognize. 

“I don’t understand,” I admitted apologetically.

“But you said you’re Indian!”

“I’m Indian, but I was born in America. My parents are from India,” I confessed.

“Oh. You’re American.”

The man smiled at me with pity in his eyes. How could an adult-aged woman not know her own ethnicity? Clearly your place of birth determined where you came from. And I couldn’t argue with such logic. 

From that point forward, when confronted with the seemingly innocuous question of where I came from, I mentioned either my home state or town. 

College could have been the place where I placated my penchant for labeling myself. However, it exacerbated this habit more than anything. The grander areas of progress I’d searched for finally gave me an opportunity to put myself into more boxes. My ambitious personality wanted me to prove that I could fit into all of  them. 

Honors Student. Educator. Human rights enthusiast. Christian fellowship member. Singer. Feminist. Gym goer. Peer mentor. Friend. New student recruiter. Employee. Ethnic minority. French major. Dorm member who’s always awake no matter what hour other people come home. Person who gives a little of herself to everything but everything of herself to nothing.

Fate, (and plenty of blind courage), sent me to France after graduation, where I taught English in the French public school system. 

And my ethnic identity came into question once more.

At first, I only heard jokes from a teacher who let me stay at her house despite her fears that an American would just mumble indistinguishable English phrases, constantly text on an iPhone, and, worst of all, hate cheese. (For the record, I didn’t have any functional phone, loved the moldiest of cheeses, and articulated well in English and sometimes even French!)

Once I started regularly teaching, however, the inadvertently aggravating question of, “Where are you from?” came in the form of interrogation from youthful students. This time, however, I refused to give them the answer for which they searched. 

“I’m American.”

“No, but, where are you from?”

“I was born in America.”

Only when they asked about my origins did I say, “Well, my parents are from India” and became inexplicably irritated when they made comments such as, “I knew it!” or “That was so obvious.” I acknowledged my feelings but did not hold their comments against them. They had no idea of knowing that their remarks disorganized my carefully constructed categories.

One of my teacher colleagues said that students had difficulty comprehending that Americans could be brown like me. We viewed my presence as a way for them to open their minds, change their conceptions, and reconsider a country whose media they devoured while knowing little to nothing about the nation’s practicalities.

If students represented the only people who contested my claims to being American, I would not have been bothered. Yet I constantly had to answer the question, “Where are you from?” and prepare for a debate with adults, many who had never been to America but still felt as though they had the authority to dictate how I self-identified. 

I remember meeting a lady who argued with me, saying, “Excuse me, but Americans are white.”

My mother told me that I was being snobby. “You are Indian. Just say that your parents are from India. That’s what they want to hear,” she said. 

I did not refuse to identify as Indian because I believed this race beneath me. Far from it, in fact. Since my meeting with the fruit vendor, I stopped feeling comfortable claiming a culture that I only knew in a limited context. My adulthood in America marked a period of extensive exoticism for many Indian exports, from bindis to Bollywood. I believed that saying I was Indian would let me benefit from the exoticism without truly holding a stake in the culture. 

American culture, however, provided me with familiarity and ease. Even better, saying that I was American implied that I had immigrant roots as America prided itself on its melting pot nature. Logistically, admitting Americanhood provided the most accurate answer as well: I had an American passport and had been sent to France as an American ambassador of the English language. 

Ultimately, I discovered that my mother had raised a valid point: People already knew what they wanted to hear. But I had spent much of my life crafting intrapersonal knowledge and refused to let it go to waste in the face of other people’s expectations, particularly when they opposed my own convictions. 

Though living and working abroad provided me with challenges that I had not foreseen, challenges that made me deconstruct and reconstruct my self-perception time and time again, my experience provided me with a strong takeaway: People enter and leave your life in many different ways. You remain with yourself forever and reign as the master/mistress of your self-expression.

My long history of categorization certainly taught me flexibility between qualities. While today I say that I am American, my next trip to India could change my mind. When other people contest either assertion of my ethnic identity, I will be at peace with the knowledge that the one person whose experience qualifies her to describe this identity has already spoken: me.

-Post submitted by Justine D’Souza

Could California have a South Asian governor?

Former Goldman Sachs executive and US Treasury Department official, Neel Kashkari, challenges incumbent Jerry Brown for the position of California governor.

A Republican who has been garnering publicity through radio waves, Kashkari has received endorsements from Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, Condoleeza Rice, and Darrell Issa. He seeks further support through a Students for Kashkari coalition and fundraising efforts to give him more visibility.

Kashkari has both a BA and a Master’s degree in Engineering, as well as an MBA from UPenn’s Wharton School.

According to his website, Kashkari will start rolling out detailed policy proposals to fix the California public school system, make college more affordable, and create jobs.

In an interview with Frontiers before an LGBTQ parade in California, Kashkari stated, “‘Look, I’m a brown guy, son of immigrants, I’m pro-immigration, I’m pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, I’m Hindu and I’m running for governor. I’m not going to apologize for any of my beliefs. I’m going to explain to you why I believe what I believe. And even if you disagree with me on some of these issues, that’s OK. The issues I think we can all unite around are economic issues.”

Nicknamed Barry Goldwater 2.0 for his conservative libertarianism, Kashkari is most well-known for his role in responding to the 2008 financial crisis.

Though Kashkari has been planning a visit to the USA/Mexico border, and states that he is “pro-immigration,” he has not made strong public policy stances on the issue, save for his position that national legislation must be reformed and that immigrant children must be sent back safely and compassionately.

What else do you know about Kashkari? Would you vote for him?

Image courtesy of US Treasury Department website

Has being South Asian given you the strong desire to….talk?

If your answer to the subject of today’s post is “yes,” then Red, White, n Brown has found a way to fit your needs!

Radha Modi, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, is conducting a study on the experiences of people with South Asian ancestry, who were either born in the U.S. or emigrated to the U.S. before the age of five, and currently live in the New Jersey, New York, or Long Island area. Modi will be interviewing people over 18 who fit those criteria, and she’s currently seeking interview subjects. 

South Asian organizations, and related groups who seek to improve the South Asian community, will have access to the aggregate results of the project.

“The more stories and experiences I collect, the more I can offer in terms of helping the larger society understand South Asian experiences in the U.S,” says Modi,

All participation is completely confidential, and interviews will be done in a location of your choice.

Interviewees have to currently live in the New Jersey, New York, or Long Island area. Do you fit the requirements and want to talk about your experience as a South Asian? Email Radha Modi at radmodi@sas.upenn.edu or call her at 856.281.4547. 

Are you not located in the tri-state area and still ready to express your thoughts on South Asian American related topics? Red, White, n Brown invites you to submit any form of expression to redwhitenbrown@gmail.com. 

Here’s to hearing from you!

Nepali Mela

The 2nd Nepalese American Festival took place on July 6, 2014 in Jackson Heights, New York.

The great success of the first festival led to an even larger scale event this year.

The Non Resident Nepali Association coordination council organized the occasion with the goal of uniting the Nepali community and introducing Nepali culture to Americans.

The United States Ambassador to Nepal, Peter Bode, made an opening speech.

Those who attended received the opportunity to taste Nepali food, view Nepali art and artifacts, and observe Nepali dance and musical performances.

Watch the videos and see if you can match the crowd’s enthusiasm!