Friday, July 31, 2015

Race representative

I am sick of it. Tired of being a representative for India. I am tired of answering questions about my country of origin, about the traditional clothes I wear, about Hinduism, our food habits, history etc etc.

I am still never able to kick off the feeling that I always need to be on my best behavior. I represent India, and I am answerable for all its issues from the possible realities of Slumdog Millionaire to food and everything in between.

I am tired of being around people who assume just because we speak a different language, it must be Spanish.

All this from people who are the nicest as can be but so not exposed to anything other than the four walls of the Midwest. I am not saying buy an airline ticket to Seoul or Tokyo. But it's time to pick up some books and find out what a sari looks like or a Kimono or a Cossack.

The world has shrunk, we practically live on top of each other and yet so many people I know are completely ignorant. Never mind that it is such an irrtant that even after two wars and all the exposure from novels and news, people pronounce Iraq as Eye-rak or Afghanistan as Aafganistaan. Seriously? Time to hit the books, friends. Time to twist that tongue already.

The days of living in your own little world blissfully ignorant are long past. Might do you some good to learn Mandarin and pick up some tips about not cutting a sorry figure in a meeting in Mumbai.

Now let's flip the coin to the other side.

My own stereotypical thinking and imagery.

American women are super confident. Having observed women from all over the world, American women walk different, talk different--just with a slight chip, it would seem, to the lay observer. They appear so tough and seldom let chinks in their armor show. And so I make certain unfair assumptions based on that--presume lack of sensitivity or understanding and such. I admire them for their sheer show of strength, be it real or not. But for someone who walks around with her heart on her sleeve and being from a culture where such strength isn't necessarily needed to be shown only to be seen in action, its hard for me to see beyond the mask. Even friends, the game face is seldom off so its hard to break down that barrier, that facade of what might well be bravado. It's unfair of me I know and yet...

And with minor stereotypes, if I speak to someone with a European accent, I realized that even the most innocuous statement has me romanticizing them somehow. Someone I know from Europe mentioned to me in passing how he take coffee with his wife every morning at 6:30. Instantly, in my mind flashes this image of him and his wife sitting on a balcony facing a cobbled street and age old buildings. The man lives in suburban Illinois and I know this yet my mind went to what my association with his accent and manner were.

Perhaps people think I sit around the house wearing tons of jewelry and cooking tandoori chicken, listeaning to sitar music. And I suppose I mustn't blame them, I guess.

What's commonplace to one is exotic to another.

I cannot see an Asian woman without wondering what she might be cooking for dinner since Japanese and Chinese foods I absolutley love. When I see them at grocery stores buying this and that I have to contain myself from stopping them and asking for recipes for whatever goodies they have planned. Does it occur to me that they're just like the rest of us trying to get a meal on the table, not a gourmet spread? Yes and no.

And yet despite understanding this, I am starting, perhaps in my old age, to feel the need to be around people who just get it. To whom I don't need to explain what a bindi means or who Ganesh is.

Or that we don't speak Spanish at home.

Truth is I am a foreigner in America. In some senses. In many I am as American as they come having absorbed core values that I believe makes my adopted country so great. And yet I need to feel like I belong in a place where there are other transplants like me. Others who would like to be wished Happy Chinese New year at the appropriate time or Happy Diwali. And in the middle of it all, Merry Christmas too...