In June, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced his 2016 White House bid. In the speech he gave to supporters in New Orleans, he declared that he was "done with all this talk of hyphenated-Americans," dismissing his own label as an Indian-American. In a later campaign ad, he drives his point home: "I'm tired of hyphenated-Americans. We're not Indian-Americans or African-Americans or Asian-Americans. We're all Americans."
With that statement--one he has been echoing repeatedly as governor and now as presidential hopeful--Mr. Jindal single-handedly dismisses the relevance of those who identify by that hyphen, and all they have accomplished through that hyphen. Many immigrants attribute their success in America to blending the old and the new, or to linking their past lives with their current one. However, Mr. Jindal calls on them to completely discard their old values for superior American ones, and to "learn English, roll up their sleeves and get to work." He suggests that the American way of life should be the only way of life.
Unfortunately, this type of chauvinistic xenophobia coming from a politician is not unheard of in 2015. Earlier this summer, another candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump, made headlines when he blasted Mexico for "sending over drugs and rapists." However, I would expect more cultural sensitivity from Mr. Jindal, a non-white Christian convert and son of immigrant parents, who himself faced discrimination growing up in Baton Rouge.
Mr. Jindal wants to be the next President of the United States, the leader of more than 300 million people. Of that number, almost a fifth of the population identifies as non-white--and that percentage has been steadily growing. By 2043, a predominantly white America will become a thing of the past. The U.S. is set to become the first major post-industrial country where racial and ethnic minorities will make up the majority of the population. This shift in demographics is shaped largely by rising immigration rates and strong minority growth from births. If Mr. Jindal continues to cling to his outdated notion of a homogenous and uniform group of Americans, he is unfit to govern this intricately diverse population. It is exactly this type of bigoted and narrow-minded mindset that has led to a dangerous "us versus them" mentality, fueling acts of racially charged violence and ethnic stereotyping that continue to plague America.
In times of crisis, we look to our President as a source of light and guidance. As racial tension and fear become increasingly commonplace, we need a President who will unify the country in spite of our differences, not divide us because of them.
I am Taiwanese-American. I am the daughter of immigrant parents, who moved to New York from Taiwan in 1989. I grew up in the clean and pristine suburbs of Long Island, and attended a high school that was 65 percent white. More times than I can recall, I've had strangers ask me, "No, where are you really from," when I tell them I am from New York. I know they're expecting me to say China or another distant Southeast Asian country. Sometimes I'll feed into their confirmation bias and say, "Well, my parents are from Taiwan." Other times, I'll stubbornly repeat, "I was born in New York." I'm reluctant to be categorized into a box neatly labeled either "American" or "Immigrant" for their convenience.
Mr. Jindal remarked on his parents' immigration to America, "If we wanted to be Indians, we would have stayed in India." But he's wrong--you don't get to pick and choose who you are. There is no one inherently correct answer: Indian or American. My hyphenated identity does not make me an outsider or fundamentally "un-American." A hyphenated identity is not an identity crisis, and immigrants who wish to retain their heritage should be welcomed, not fenced out as he suggests.
So, Mr. Jindal--it's one thing to cast aside your own roots, but don't be so quick to reject it on behalf of all those out there who still proudly identify by that hyphen, like myself. I am Taiwanese-American, not just American, and I won't throw away my own identity just because you have disavowed yours.
Photo: John Pemble, Creative Commons 2.0