Indian Americans vs American Indians..

So far, the cynosure of our Indian eyes has been American Indians – those Indians which are settled in America. We in India live in awe of them and continue to think how one could locate to the fantasy land.  Sure their achievements are noteworthy but this ignores how Indian Indians have also achieved over the years.

Anjuli Bhargava of BS points to another emerging type – Indian Americans. These are people who live here but behave just like Americans. The trend is particularly picking up within children:

The boy has been to Disneyland three times. He eats at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut several times a month. Now he’s beginning to migrate to Wendy’s and Burger King. He wears Nike shoes. His t-shirts and clothes are mostly Polo. He celebrates Halloween and Christmas – the former with much gusto.

His favourite club is Arsenal. He knows the names, prices, clubs, family details and favourite food of his top soccer stars. Messi and Ronaldo are household names. He swears by Eminem. He has tried his hand at baseball. If he meets a boy from New York, they hit it off like a house on fire. If he meets one from Nashik, they are tongue-tied. He follows several American sit-coms. In fact, he finds it hard to do without them.

He has been to Dubai, Singapore, Thailand, Maldives and, of course, “back home” more times than he can count. The valley usually means Silicon not Kashmir. Birthdays are at the mall celebrated by taking the gang to the latest Hollywood release. It’s often followed up with a round of bowling – and ice cream is Baskin-Robbins. Who eats Kwality anyway?

Increasingly, when I look around me, I find that parents seem to be quite happy to let their children think, talk, dress, sound, eat, behave, breathe and dream American. Strangely, many of their progeny even sound American – with accents so pronounced that you have to strain to catch some words.They are just so “cool”. Hindi is so passe that most of the affluent slick set can’t speak it to save their lives – even if they grew up in the North. They, in fact, take pride in how poor their Hindi is.

So if you cannot go to the lala land, start behaving like them. Though example of knowing soccer clubs is out of place. It would have been more apt if author used baseball as an example. Like saying these kids identify baseball players and teams with much ease than cricket players and IPL teams (though given the controversies around IPL, one might just be fine not remembering the teams)..

Earlier this fascination was to behave like British. What mattered was one’s knowledge of London and the British connection. Now the focuss has shifted to America.

Poor Hindi has always been a sign of progress. It is kind of celebrated in families. The twisted Anglicised accent of speaking Hindi has always been fashionable and indicates someone has spent considerable time abroad which is a sign of a developed individual. It is one’s schooling in so called English medium schools/Public schools which sets the position of children in society from a long time.  It is so sick to realise this on growing up really. I doubt if there is any country which gives a secondary status to its main language (and languages in India’s context).

Though, appearances can be deceptive:

Yet, appearances do not and should not matter. If below the American façade, one could glean an Indian soul, I wouldn’t worry. But I am not sure that many young kids – or at least the kind I seem to encounter – are actually proud of their country at all.

Why is this happening? One, I think India’s and the endless problems the country seems to face – primarily on account of poor governance – confront and impact not just the older generations but even the young. The cynicism that one may have found in those post-40s and 50s has set in much earlier. Higher awareness levels and more exposure means that children too know the enormity of what India is up against. “West is best” is the message they absorb.

West is best – or rather is all there is – as far as travel goes. For rich, affluent parents, short weekend breaks mean a quick dash out of the country. It’s almost as if there is nothing worth seeing within. I don’t know of many parents who have taken their children to see the Gwalior fort or the Golden Temple, but every possible destination in South East Asia has been covered. Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok, Bali, Hong Kong and Macau are commonplace. And, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos somewhat exotic. But in India it’s either Goa or nothing. How can one feel proud of something – India’s rich cultural heritage, its monuments and diversity – if one is never exposed to it? This also holds true for exposure to Indian arts, dance and music.

This further extends to festivals, customs and occasions. As joint families die out and nuclear set-ups take hold, there is a steady dying out of several traditions, which were followed in adherence to the elders of the family. Who performs shradhhs to honour those no longer amongst us? Who celebrates several of the Indian festivals – Lohri, Teej, Janmashtami – with the same kind of dedication as one may have seen in one’s growing up years. While some of the customs were cumbersome and questionable, the failure to even acquaint the next generation means that many of these will die out regardless. Will it be a loss or a relief, time will tell.

Third, I think the lure of the American culture and way of life is something few countries have managed to resist. Development in country after country has been synonymous with a whole hog “Americanisation” of the way of life – be it food, sports, films, speech or dress.

I don’t know if I am alone in this, but I worry that we are raising the next generation of Americans right here in our larger Indian cities. Let me clarify here that I speak of people like us. I know this represents a tiny subset of society. But it is still a worry because people like us seem to have an extraordinary hold over people like them. The blip is often the trend-setter. What they do the rest aspire to do.

Like Niall Ferguson points in West vs Rest, how a quintessential American product – jeans has become such a common thing to wear across the world. He also says, how children in most parts of the world dress much like the American counterparts. The impact of West has been far more pervasive than we can imagine.


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