Who am I?
An identity crisis has befallen me.
I’d like to say I’m an American, but in light of recent events — more specifically, the crowning of an Indian-American as Ms. America 2014 — and subsequent social media backlash, apparently my status is in question.
On Sept. 15, Nina Davaluri, a New York native, became the first winner of Indian heritage in the Miss America pageant. The xenophobic reaction was immediate as Twitter exploded with indignant Americans: “9/11 was four days ago and she gets Miss America?,” “Congratulations Al-Qaeda. Our Miss America is one of you,” and “I swear I’m not racist but this is America” to name a few. So then by default, I suppose I should assume that all children of immigrants are un-American.
There’s a term for people like me — those of Indian origin and American upbringing. They call us ABCDs, or American Born Confused Desis. We are unable to completely align with our Indian culture — we’re far from the traditions of India and can only retain so much of our heritage. “Real” Indians can’t help but criticize the fact that we, the second-generation Indian-Americans, have been Americanized in excess and attempt assimilation to an unnecessary extent. I suppose I understand; I’m acquainted with several ABCDs who have forgotten their roots in favor of conforming. They’ve let go of their beliefs, they’ve let go of their values, and in the process, they’ve let go of their heritage.
But now, I can’t help but question their judgment. What for? So when one of our very own ABCDs attains success, that we are all degraded and referred to as terrorists?
“Are you offended?”
No, I am not insulted by the comments people have made. If they had any merit, if they were truthful in the slightest, perhaps I would be. But all I’ve managed to draw from these remarks is that some uneducated individuals (to avoid any derogatory terms) have spent the past few weeks making fools of themselves on the Internet. Perhaps they should start by reading a map to determine that India does not constitute the Middle East. Associating Indians with 9/11 solely because of our skin color and somewhat close proximity (continent-wise, I suppose) is completely inappropriate and calls forth the ethnocentrism and cultural supremacy that so many countries have already pinpointed in us. There’s a reason American tourists aren’t appreciated as much as the others. This does nothing but strengthen other opinions that Americans are egotistical and close-minded in their meager attempts to humiliate Indians, these individuals have done nothing but demean themselves and Americans as a whole.
No, I am not offended, but I am saddened. I am deeply saddened that Americans still hold such deep grudges. I am saddened that they cannot view an American as anyone but a white-skinned individual. Is that what defines an American then? Will I be begrudged for my skin color, and my successes belittled simply because I don’t fit the most common perception of an American? I thought an American was someone who chose to come to our country, someone who desired to become one of us. I’m just as American as the next person, having been born in Texas, and I’ve always identified myself as primarily American. Nina Davaluri, in response to the negative commentary about her title, stated, “I have to rise above that. I always viewed myself as first and foremost American.” But if the Caucasians won’t accept me, and the Indians won’t accept me, then who am I?
I am an Indian and I am an American. There will always be stereotypes to deal with and there will always be people who disavow me, but then again, maybe I am the lucky one. I will never deal with the repercussions of being ethnocentric — I have been brought up as an Indo American, instilling in me the better of two cultures, and inevitably making me a culture enthusiast.
This past week has brought with it retrospection for me and I encourage you to ask yourself that same question: Who are you? The American populace certainly has some thinking to do. We may have come a long way tolerance wise, but we still have a long road ahead of us to fulfill the promises of a nation of equality and justice.
Manu Kondapi is a senior at Horizon Honors High School in Ahwatukee.