An "Indian" Overdose in America?
On a sunny fall morning, during a break between the classes I teach, I was flipping through an Indian community magazine. I also happened to have a copy of a local township magazine. Browsing through both, what struck me is the thought, “Are we too Indian even amidst our American lives?”
Just look at the advertisements in the Indian magazines! Desi TV channels, Bollywood movies, fashion shows, cultural programs, Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Arangetrams, Carnatic music, Kavi Sammellans, Gujarati plays, Hindi plays, festivals, parades, conventions, temple and religious events?and the list goes on!
My observation is that most of us are trying to get to as many of these events as we can. The already hectic weekend is often spent in just maintaining the speed limit on highways to be at some venue or another on time. Most of the community seems to be in a race chasing a rainbow, in our blind and excessive pursuit of things Indian. We are now a part of American society, but we seem to have created an Indian cocoon around ourselves.
Of course, I am not talking about disowning our Indianness. We need to be proud of our heritage and culture, and that, admittedly, can be kept alive only by events and activities. But up to what extent? What about balance? What about broadening our horizons? Can we not dedicate some part of leisure and social time to live like locals? Remaining an Indian island amongst ourselves in America serves neither us nor the country that we made a conscious choice to move to.
In all this Indian mayhem, we are missing out on a lot that is happening in our own neighborhoods and towns. Whether in New Jersey or Georgia, we can be reasonably sure of a long litany of fun events and activities offered within miles of our homes. I have known this to be true whether in a big city or in the suburbs (perhaps also in rural towns). Maybe one place to go for information on these events could be the website of your local city, township, or county. City and county offices, parks and recreation offices and local area magazines are other valuable resources to keep up with such activities. You will be surprised at the wealth of information.
Best of all, many of these events are free. I was impressed with the list of programs that I saw in the local magazine. We are truly blessed to come to such a wonderful country with a mosaic of cultures flourishing in front of our eyes, but we are so blinded by our own agenda and activities that we ignore all this beauty and goodness around us. Our towns have lined up programs such as walkathons, costume parades, international festivals, township community day, harvest festival, concerts?the list goes on. Then there are the seasonal offerings like Halloween with its pumpkin patches, Easter egg hunts, 4th of July parades, strawberry picking (as well as other seasonal fruit pickings), and many more.
I’ve been living in this town for 18 years and have volunteered for many events sponsored by our town—specially the ones that promote a greater awareness of the different cultures that make up our American mosaic today. I regret that at most such events, participation or even attendance by members of the Indian community is almost nonexistent, even though a large number of us live in this town. Similarly, while working for the Board of Election in our county, I could hand-count the Indians who came to vote in the township election, even though it could directly benefit us.
When it appeared the whole town came together to celebrate an international dessert festival, I counted 10 Indian Americans, including my family of four. And this was after I had handed out fliers for this event at Indian centers. On the other hand, Chinese Americans are always there with their friends and family, proudly representing their culture, costumes and food. I have yet to see any major event where I haven’t spotted them in their booths, showcasing calligraphy, paper folding, dragon dance, music and so on.
Sometimes, to satisfy our needs and desires, we overlook the needs of our children and young adults, who need to assimilate more vigorously in mainstream society. It is perhaps time to shed some of the Indian fixations and consider taking part in some of the “American” activities around us.
With the New Year, I hope we can make a new beginning. Instead of yet another Hindi movie, a weekend spent in getting to know our local community will leave a pleasant memory and have a greater impact on our kids’ lives.
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By Kalpana Jhaveri
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