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!

 

A South Asian Francophile Novelist and Medical Student

Spruha Magodia is a 23 year old who lives in Philadelphia. A medical student originally born in India, she graduated from Rutgers University in 2012. Some of her accomplishments include receiving honors in her French major and publishing a novel at the age of 13.

1. Tell us about your ethnic and cultural background.

I am Gujarati. I grew up knowing how to converse in Gujarati, Hindi and Marathi. Mumbai has a very cosmopolitan background and I have always been raised to be appreciative and inquisitive about other cultures. When I was little, I remembered the thrill of the non-stop staccato of fireworks during Diwali, the star-shaped lanterns hanging from nearly every other home, and the intricate rangoli patterns and dias decorating doorsteps. One of my favorite holidays was Holi, when we threw colored powder on each other and had water-balloon fights with friends and family. A memory that always comes to mind is the monsoon season in Mumbai, when I would make small paper boats and watch them sail with the incessant stream of rainwater, only to find them later, all bunched together into a formless pile of debris by a drain.

2. Discuss the environment in which you grew up.

My childhood was actually split between three countries. At the age of seven, we left India and stayed, for a brief period, in Florida. After Florida, we lived in Canada for a few years. But then, when I was ten years old, due to my dad’s new job, my family had to move to the United States. I was teetering on the cusp of being this precocious yet blissfully happy child who was all positivity all the time and someone who was becoming more observant of the world around her, who was beginning to see things in a different light, especially the negative things. I was starting to grow up. We moved to New Jersey and I began sixth grade not knowing anyone. For the first time in my life I remember being scared.Till now, it is the only time I can really remember feeling “alone.” Later that day, I made friends with whom I am still friends with even today and that feeling of loneliness was quite short-lived; however, its intensity, even as I recall it now, in memory, is so palpable. No one forgets that first moment when they felt like an outsider, no matter how brief and transient it was.

3. How did this affect your perception of the world and identity formation?

Moving around taught me that moments are fleeting and transient, and that wherever you are, you have to make the most of the time you’re given, regardless of the situation. It also made me realize the force of my own resilience; I never wavered, I always moved forward with hope, embracing new people and new ideas and a new version of myself. And this strength and resilience comes directly from my parents, who have taken brave steps to chart out a unique journey for their children. 

4. What led you to publish a novel? And could you elaborate upon it for readers who have not seen it before?

Inspired by the stories I was always reading, I felt the need to write my own. I always enjoyed creating things. Sometimes I liked to paint and draw, but most of all, I always loved to write. I remember a story I wrote in French class in elementary school about how ants were just like human beings. When I was around twelve years old, I began to write a story where the main character somehow finds himself in an alternate world (I was quite fascinated by the science fiction ideas of different and parallel universes). He assumes the identity of a dead person he had the misfortune of witnessing earlier, and it lands him in a whirl of trouble, from mistrust between new friends to acquiring a power and fame that is not rightfully his. It’s called Entwining Worlds: From the Other Side (http://www.amazon.com/Entwining-Worlds-From-Other-Side/dp/0976352303).

5. Tell us about the publishing process.

After school, I would write on my computer. An idea blossomed in my mind and the words took flight. Soon, Chapter One became Chapter Two and so forth. One day, my parents saw how much I had written and entertained the notion of having it published. That notion turned into sending out samples of the manuscript, to agreeing to a publisher, to dealing with an editor and a graphic designer for the cover, and to having a 407 paged novel held between my two hands when I was thirteen. There was a book launch and I was invited by Barnes and Nobles and local schools to speak to kids about writing and following their dreams. The best part was a series of messages I received from the elementary school kids at St. Mary’s; they were so sincere and heartwarming.

6. Describe your college experience and how your South Asian American background affected it. And how did you end up with two very different courses of study?

My undergraduate studies were comprised on a dual path of French Literature and pre-medicine courses. I’ve been fortunate to have a great relationship with my parents that leans more toward friendship and am thankful that they have always trusted me and let me chart out my own path. I lived on campus at school for the first two years, and they even allowed me to live off campus for the second half of my years as an undergrad. They never pressured me towards a particular career. As a child, I always had a fascination concerning medicine; I wanted to help others and make a difference in their lives. In fact, at my book signing, I remember saying that writing was my favorite hobby; however, it was not what I wanted to pursue as a career. That distinction, even a decade ago, was important to me.

It was the dynamic lifestyle I had as a child that really affected my college experience. In Canada, at the age of eight, I began to learn French. I fell in love with the language and the textures of the words when they were spoken correctly. I continued to learn French in middle school, high school, and spent my four years of undergrad getting immersed in the culture, the films, and the literature. My family always encouraged me to see my goals to the finish. My dad always says, “There is a difference between a wish and a goal.” Spruha, meaning “wish” in Sanskrit, made me, as a child, believe that I had some kind of super power – whatever I wished for would come true. Thankfully, a lot of what I wished for, has come true, but the practical part of me is very much aware of the work required to turn a wish into a goal and then accomplish it. And so I decided that no matter what, I would write my thesis entirely in French and become fluent in the language.

As a South Asian American, I am fortunate to have the education I received. In the States, I did not have to choose to either study the arts or the sciences – I could do both. Over here I was pressured by neither my family nor society to pick a career at a young age and work towards that and only that. I am thankful for the flexibility.

My college experience was everything I wanted it to be, for the exact reason that I did everything I wanted to do. I took an active part in the Bioethics Society and being part of that organization was the best decision I could have ever made. I was among peers who all were a source of inspiration to me and by discussing various ethical scenarios and taking the time to see healthcare from a moral lens, I discovered a new passion and a way to nudge away from a more traditional outlook on medicine.

In the eighth grade, when someone asked me “What do you want to be?” I had blurted out: “A Renaissance woman.” I knew that in concrete terms, the reply should have been “A doctor”, but the abject and sincere way in which those words somehow formulated in my mind and left my lips made me realize just how much they were true. I wanted to be in control of my own story; I did not want to take a traditional route to reach my goals. Oftentimes a course like this can have setbacks, but I knew I could trudge through them bracingly if I knew that it was my decision. I wanted to and I still want to become a doctor, and the beauty of this country is that I can reach my goal in a way that is entirely my own.

7. What did you do after college?

After college, I took a year off. I took the MCAT, I worked at a bookstore, and I volunteered at a small community health clinic. I also traveled to England and France.

8. Where are you now?

I am finally on the medical path I’ve ardently worked towards and in a few years, I get to be Dr. Magodia at last. I also get to call Chinatown, in Philadelphia, my home and I am continuously having small adventures in what is a most interesting city.

9. How has medical school affected your views on your ethnic and cultural background?

I am constantly aware that I represent my ethnic and cultural background. I was aware of that as a student in undergrad and I am certainly aware of that now. In the way that I interact with others and the way I hold myself, everything that I am is represented symbolically. I come from a very vibrant culture; our festivals are grand and colorful and originate from different stories in Hindu mythology, and yet the unifying message of all of them can be simple: family and tradition.  I was raised with the knowledge that what I do affects my family and is a direct reflection of how they raised me. I never want to disappoint them. My family and what we have been through, the adventures we have had, the lives we have led in various places, all give me the ability to focus and march on, to keep in mind that everything I need to succeed is always with me.

10. What are your future goals? Gandhi once said something along lines of “You can lead a happy life or a meaningful one. But not both.” My future goal is to try to live both.

11. How importance has your culture been to you and how has that importance evolved?

My culture, my roots, will always be a largely inherent part of who I am and will permeate, consciously and subconsciously, into everything I do. I am an Indian in America and that combination itself has its quirks and nuances. I am a child from the noise, tumult and heat of Mumbai and the bells of the Siddhivinayak temple. I am also the girl who grew up in the West and can listen to Elton John’s rendition of “Moon River” every day, for the rest of her life. I like to jam out to Bollywood songs like it’s nobody’s business. I like to combine vastly different things and see how they go together, a testament to which is my entire academic path.

What I’ve come to realize is that in doing so, I have paid tribute to the amalgam that I am, and the combination of things that make up my own identity. 

Make your own damn rotis!

In an effort to undermine gender stereotypes about South Asian women, this “Empowered Woman” meme has been going around. Credit for the meme goes to students at IIM Kozhikode in India.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.372666242745589.96444.180543498624532&type=3

http://www.buzzfeed.com/regajha/make-your-own-damn-rotis

Visit these links to figure out whose feet a woman should always look at, why a woman must always be home at 6 p.m., and why this woman can’t get into IIT. Feel free to leave comments about your opinions on these images, how you handle gender stereotypes in your daily life, and/or any other thoughts you may have!