On Being '-American'

**Disclaimer: This entry is written from the view-point of a first generation Indian-American. I was born in India and moved to the United States when I was six years old. The beliefs expressed here are a result of being raised in an immigrant family in Texas, Ohio, New York and Illinois.**

Recently, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's office photo went viral on the Internet. As viral as political photos can go, anyways. In that photo, Jindal is seen in a manner pretty similar to his real face, but significantly lighter. To a point that no amount of "Fair n' Lovely" could ever make a person reach. While the way Jindal views himself is a little disturbing, it's not really what should draw our attention with him. Jindal deciding to view himself as more Anglo-Saxon is a personal decision, the same way one would decide their preferred gender pronouns.

What's more troubling, in my opinion, are Jindal's remarks on the immigrant identity. Before Jindal's office photo went viral, he made a statement that was largely swept under the rug. When asked about the idea of being Indian-American, Jindal responded with

If we wanted to be Indians, we would have stayed in India. It's not that they are embarrassed to be from India, they love India. But they came to America because they were looking for greater opportunity and freedom, ... My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans. Not Indian-Americans, simply Americans

The fact of the matter is, there isn't really such a thing as simply "American." The ones that can truly claim that are rather low in numbers. There is no one parameter that qualifies somebody as American or even a set of qualities that comprise a monolith of American culture. While Jindal's comments are directly aimed at Indian-Americans, they're insulting to all immigrants and the general creation of this country. The idea of a "Blank-American" exists because the nation was built on the ideals of immigrants from various countries. America became a so-called melting pot because it was hordes of Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, etc. all creating the communities that we now recognize as America. If it weren't for the word on the left of the " -American" hyphen, this country wouldn't exist.

The fact that idea of an Indian-American or Chinese-American or Mexican-American even exists is what makes this country beautiful. When we come to this country, we don't have to choose one identity over the other. We're not required to fully assimilate nor are we required to walk around as if we had never left our home. Instead, we're allowed to wear traditional Indian garb for a Diwali party and go to work the next day in a suit.

It's true that when we come to this country, we come here to be Americans. We realize the opportunities afforded to us, and there's a reason we work so hard to never leave. However, that does not mean that we come here to shed the identity we were born with. Instead, we realize that we can embrace both worlds. First generation children spend a lot of with the internal conflict of not wanting to seem too "fobby" but also don't want to come across as "white-washed". Finding the balance between the two may be hard, but we realize that it's not a burden to try to find that balance, rather a privilege.

Piyush went from his birth name to Bobby decades ago, and I kind of wish he left the Jindal as well. If he doesn't want to be associated with the community, that's fine, the identity one chooses is a personal decision. However, to come out and speak for an entire community while having almost no ties to it, outside of pleading for campaign donations, is shameful. The Indian-American community doesn't want or need a candidate like Bobby Jindal. We need one much stronger who can embody the values of the American dream, while also embracing our heritage and realizing how it can enrich the political ideology of America.