One day we arrive – at O’Hare, at Newark, in Detroit, in Atlanta, in San Diego and in San Fransisco; holding our I-20s, H1/H4 papers or other visa documents, either fresh out of the college, recruited by a “consultant” or plucked by another desi and transplanted into this new culture through marriage – arranged or otherwise; either heading to dorms, a family home or to bachelor apartments with 8 people stacked in a single unit; aware of the success stories of the South Asian immigrants before us; carrying our emotional baggage with us along with all the masalas and utensils from home.
The physical confusion of having to deal with a different environment and a different work culture is overcome pretty fast and easily. It is the psychological confusion of having to deal with a different social culture and identifying our place in the bigger scheme of things that makes us a
DESI –Desis Everywhere Searching for Identity.
Of course, we like to think that we have the ability to straddle both cultures and environments successfully – the culture of our birth and the culture of our adopted homeland but at every opportunity, life throws surprises and litmus tests that constantly prove that assumption false. We try to preserve our culture and our way of thinking and force them on our kids, in turn making them confused and clipping their wings.
Our regional prejudices come with us through thousands of miles, two oceans and X-ray scanners and we are never able to let go of them; if anything, we add racial and national prejudices to the explosive mix. We are always confused when another DESI asks us (which is much too often in the initial years) whether we are planning to stay here or go back and we answer with a non-committal “it depends”. At the check-out counters and in elevators, in cafeterias and trains, we speak to each other in our native language confusing the hell out of people who are within earshot and don’t understand what we are talking about.
Except for a select few (and that includes most of the Desicritics), for years we work day in and day out never bothering to understand the history and culture of our surroundings, never knowing about politics of our adopted country and never getting involved in social and voluntary organizations that make the US what it is even though we unfailingly make our annual Haj trips to pay our homage to national landmarks – the Niagra, the Yellowstone and the Smokies and dutifully send the pictures back home for relatives to enjoy.
When the time comes for mandatory donations that our employers make on our behalf at the year end and let us select charities we are confused between whether to select Asha or a local organization that helps kids of under-privileged families. Do we support Democrats (they will help our jobs here, won’t they?) or Republicans (they will help globalization that helps people back home, doesn’t it?), are we in favor of outsourcing or not, do we yell at the Dell support person in India who does not know what the hell he’s talking about or should we be patient with a college kid who is working at 2 AM in the morning? Do we invite the Americans across the cul-de-sac at our house warming party? Will they fit in or get bored?
We are confused about our contribution to the US tech industry (we always overestimate) and while buying a car we are confused between honoring the traditional Indian values of reliability and (the ephemeral) resale value or the horse power, style and bulkiness that the Americans seem to favor (c’mon, how many Desis have you seen in a Ford F-150?)
The confusion grows by leaps and bounds and knows no end but the biggest confusion is yet to come and that confusion comes in the form of cute little packages – yes our children. But then that should be the subject of a different post altogether.
Cross posted on desicritics.