Letters from Readers
Gov. Bobby Jindal sparks heated debate on identity
I was reading the editorial (“Stop Being Indian-American!”) in the February issue of Khabar, and I wanted to say Hear! Hear! I totally agree. I am a little old white lady, and I look forward to Khabar each month. Why would someone be asked to turn their backs on their own culture to live in America? This country was built by immigrants and people adding their own flavor to the melting pot. One of the amazing things about this country is the acceptance of people of other countries and other religions. I hope you enjoy living here, and love and be proud of your own country and culture.
Khabar gives me the opportunity to experience a culture other than my own, and learn. Keep up the good work!
Johns Creek, Georgia
In the editorial, your statement “But then, for Jindal to suggest that one must also go on to disown their native roots, heritage, and culture is a slap on the face for both Indian and American sensibilities” is right on the money. “Bobby” Piyush Jindal, a fundamentalist Christian convert, has now become the extremist of the Republican Party and is planning to run for the 2016 Presidential nomination. What the Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul said about religious converts applies to Bobby Jindal: “To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say ‘my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn’t matter’.”
Bobby Jindal is associated with and taking cue from Bryan Fischer and David Lane of the hate group American Family Association (AFA). These people and AFA were the primary sponsors of Jindal’s event “Response” in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on January 30, 2015.
On his radio program, Bryan Fischer recommended that the United States adopt an immigration policy based upon the Bible, meaning that all immigrants must convert to Christianity and completely leave behind their native practices, beliefs, culture, and language. David Lane is a Christian-nation absolutist who believes America was founded by and for Christians and demands that politicians make the Bible a primary textbook in public schools. The American Family Association’s chief spokesperson believes the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections do not apply to non-Christians.
At the rally in Baton Rouge, Jindal declared “Our God wins.” In the February 27, 2009 interview with Morley Safer on the CBS News 60 Minutes program, both Bobby and his wife, Supriya, protested against Safer calling them Indian-Americans. Bobby was so insistent that he is American now and not Indian-American that Safer voiced over in the interview that “this oyster- and crawfish-eating Louisianan tends to downplay his ethnic background.”
Shashi Tharoor, the Congress MP, recently wrote that “at his Indian-American fundraising events, Bobby is careful to downplay his extreme positions and play up his heritage, a heritage that plays little part in his appeal to the Louisiana electorate. Indian-Americans, by and large, accept this as the price of political success in white America. But Bobby has never supported a single Indian issue; he refused to join the India Caucus when he was a Congressman at Capitol Hill, and is conspicuously absent from any event with a visiting Indian leader. It is as if he wants to forget he is Indian, and would like voters to forget it, too.”
Bobby Jindal was invited to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Madison Square Garden event in New York last September. He sent his regrets and did not attend. Even South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley, who is very careful not to expose her Indian heritage, attended this event and followed it up with a visit to India with a South Carolina business delegation. Bobby Jindal missed a great chance to establish business relations between India and the State of Louisiana.
The comments and behavior of Jindal reflect his state of mind and his inferiority complex. I believe Bobby Jindal is a poor role model for Indian-Americans to follow. They should stay away from him and not support any of his political endeavors.
Simpsonville, South Carolina
Your recent editorial on Gov. Jindal’s comments was overly one-sided and misleading. There was no need to take offense at one man’s comments on his own ethnic heritage, even if he is a politician. Or, in this case, especially if he is a politician !!
If Gov. Jindal’s parents did not wish him to be a hyphenated American or display any emotional allegiance to his Indian heritage, then that is their right in a democracy. We, as Indian-Americans, may disagree with such a stance in our own lives but, surely, the Jindal family’s viewpoint on the matter is hardly our business. Furthermore, and this is an important point to bear in mind, the Governor’s speech did not say that other Indian-Americans should cease hyphenating their cultural/ethnic identity, or stop watching Salman Khan’s latest potboiler, or give up our love for spicy food. He certainly did not suggest banning Cinco de Mayo or Diwali. Even if he had ventured to such lengths, who would take him seriously?
The Governor and his parents made a conscious choice not to reflect his Indian heritage and that is a decision which should be respected, even if we find it incomprehensible as first or second generation Indian-Americans. We should not be so ultra-sensitive as a community and take one man’s comments as a reflection on ourselves.
S. M. John
Your point is valid…in the case of a private person as opposed to a public official. Jindal, on the other hand, is a public official of high stature whose lifestyle choices are fair game for media scrutiny.
In Jindal’s case, how he lives out or omits his Indian identity and heritage is even more fair game considering he has benefited immensely from fundraisers organized by Indian-Americans, which he actively courted.
Regarding your assertion that he “did not say that other Indian-Americans should cease hyphenating their cultural/ethnic identity”—he did indeed use his high public office to stigmatize, in an international forum, those of us who choose to live hyphenated lives. He doesn’t have to literally say so; the inference of his public proclamation is that by being hyphenated Americans we are somehow inferior Americans.
Incident in Madison should be a wake-up call
On February 6th, there was an unfortunate case of excessive use of force by Officer Eric Parker of the Madison (Alabama) Police Department. As a result, Mr. Sureshbhai Patel is temporarily paralyzed and hospitalized with fused vertebrae. Patel, a thinly built 57-year-old man, was walking on the sidewalk outside his son’s new home, when a neighbor called the police saying that he did not recognize him. He also thought Patel looked suspicious. Two officers asked Patel to stop and patted him down, before Parker pulled his arm up behind him and flung him face first onto the ground. Perhaps Patel’s only fault was that he does not understand English and could not respond to the officer’s commands when asked to stop and show an identity or give his home address.
Fine work done by the Indian-American community in Alabama and outside, along with the efforts of Atlanta’s Consulate General of India officials, has expeditiously led to the arrest and firing of Parker. For the actions of the Madison Police Department, the Governor of Alabama tendered a written apology to Sureshbhai Patel, the Government of India, and the citizens of India residing in Alabama.
Madison, a booming community outside Huntsville with fairly diverse residents, is similar to our communities here. Our visiting parents and grandparents walk in our subdivisions and on the sidewalks. Assuming that most of them can understand basic English, they must be advised to always carry an identity or a home address. Also, we as a community need to constantly find creative ways to connect with the local authorities on a regular basis, and introduce them to our events/cultures and maybe our languages.
[Agnihotri is Chairman of the Board of India American Cultural Association (IACA) and President of Asian American Heritage Foundation (AAHF).]
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s response unconvincing
With all the police brutality in the news and grand juries not coming up with true bills, the interview with Preet Bharara (“Law & Ardor,” December 2014 issue) seems to be a great segue. His fluff response to the question asked about [the Indian diplomat] Devyani was amazing. “It was a low level case that was investigated and put into motion by, again, career agents at the Department of State and career prosecutors in my office—and it was all ready to go and done before I even heard about it,” he said.
This may have been true—I can’t say. I was not there. However, Mr. Bharara was the one present at each and every negotiation with Devyani and her attorney. He had plenty of opportunity to handle it “differently” after he heard about it. What is really sad about his response is that a man of his caliber is hiding behind the pulp answer: “And so, I think it would be helpful generally…that you focus on the facts of the case and the arguments and not cast aspersions on the motivations of the people who are public servants and acting in the way they think is in the best interests of the mission.”
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