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Speak Up and Get Respect
by Aneeta Chakrabarty Bookmark and Share
 

Arvind used to cringe and hide in his 8th grade social studies class, especially when the study topic was India.  His skin would burn and his face would flush when they mentioned the caste system, cow worship, or the all pervading poverty.  The whole class would look at him as if he was the embodiment of this backward India.  The look of curiosity bordering on contempt would lurk in his subconscious and give him sleepless nights.  

Arvind is not alone.  While the parents are stoutly pretending that all is well, the children grow up being ashamed of their culture and heritage.

On one such day, he arrived at school tired and dispirited.  But today there was a change.  They were studying the fall of the Alamo.  The teacher gave facts about the Alamo, the heroism of the Texan martyrs who gave battle to a more superior army, and concluded that it was an event that triggered Texas independence.  While the students were listening attentively, suddenly a hand went up, “Excuse me, ma’am, my parents told me a different version than what is said in the textbook.  There were heroes also among the Spanish.  They were not all villains.  Something doesn’t sound right.” 

Arvind looked up as his friend Carlos spoke with conviction and emphasis.  He was not sure if he was right or wrong, but what impressed him was that he took a stand.  And Carlos was not apologetic, nor did he seem ashamed.  He was just being himself and exhibited a quiet confidence.  Soon there was a debate.  The teacher asked him to create a portfolio depicting events from the Spanish point of view.  Carlos worked hard and his portfolio bristled with facts, figures, viewpoints, pictures, authentic eyewitness accounts, opinions and quotes from heroes of the war.  He who was always looked down as perhaps an illegal immigrant with a background of poverty and backwardness won respect and admiration for his brilliant depiction of the fall of the Alamo.  

From that day on Carlos became his inspiration.  “Carlos is a minority just like me.  Why is it that he has more confidence? How come he knows so much about his country and his culture?  Where does he get the courage to speak out?” wondered Arvind.  “It’s my family,” replied Carlos. “They gave me the pride and the spine,” he said in response to Arvind’s question.  “My dad worked all day in the sun building houses and yet never owned one. But he inspired me with the tough heroes of the revolution such as Emiliano  Zapata and Pancho Villa and Francisco Madero.  He taught us History and told me to walk proudly.  “The anglos may say anything but remember our Mexico has a rich culture and civilization.  Always respect Mexico and don’t let anyone talk bad about it,” he said.  “Is this true of only your family or other Mexicans also,” asked Arvind.  “Almost every Mexican knows about the revolutionary heroes and the myth of Zorro,” replied Carlos with a passion. 

The grit in Carlos’ eye set him thinking.  The Indian community also had several soul-searching seminars where they collectively explored about generational rift and passing the baton of Hinduism to their off springs.  There was high talk and lofty rhetoric but the ground was buzzing with chatter such as:  “Things are bad in India.  Kids can’t get admission to colleges,” “The price of gold has gone up and so I bought 2 pairs of chains and bangles,” “The traffic, the pollution, the crowds, the dirt made me sick the whole time I was there,” “You are here in this country for 25 years and you still don’t drink?”, “Have you seen the three idiots,” “I love Shah Rukh Khan,” “I think I’ve heard about your company.  I own several stocks there,”  “He just bought a house for a million dollars.  Where did he get the money?” 

“Forget about Hinduism,” thought Arvind, “there wasn’t even any humanism in the politically correct crowd of “movers and shakers.”  For the hard questions that followed him like a shadow, he left the land of humans and turned to technology.   He scoured the internet, websites on Hinduism, and read books to learn about the history, the culture and the reasoning behind the rituals and festivals of his country.  He learned about the freedom movement, the slavery under the rapacious Mughals, about the disunity of the venal Maharajahs and the general weakness of Hindus to team up and protect their interests.  Soon he learnt how to represent and hold his own when the class started talking about India.  Knowledge about his roots and  courage to face facts not only gave him confidence to assert his self but also to educate and lead others.

By refusing to be a cultural punch bag, Arvind sought and obtained a more robust faith that radiated positivity and eventually got him the iconic and enviable title of “the new cool kid.”

Arvind is not alone.  Many Hindu children in America endure this gauntlet of humiliation and embarrassment.  Emotional trauma caused by subtle taunts ranging from “worshipping the monkey God” to satanic cults of sacrifice are not easy to ignore.  While their parents are stoutly pretending that all is well, the children grow up being ashamed of their culture and heritage.   Children, of course, learn by example and the behavior of Hindus who go out all western when their kids are small, but make an about turn to desi when their wards start dating, does not help either.  As the proverbial African adage says, “It takes a village to raise a child,”   and involves a collective effort with a shared History and culture to pass on the sense of identity.  For this to happen, the parents should get their narratives of India correct and instill pride in hindu children just as the Mexican builder did.   Ostrich-like head in the sand attitude and a culture of denial will only lure the children to the open and welcoming arms of other cultures or religion.     

19-Feb-2012
More by :  Aneeta Chakrabarty
 
Views: 691
Article Comment Amit:
The first step is to admit that there is a problem that the vulnerable pre-teen Indians face. Right now the society is in denial. The second step would be to involve young adults (who grew up in America) who are articulate and are in media sciences or media communication and have been through the gauntlet of middle-school/high-school traumatic image issues to set up a big-brother/big-sister mentoring type of activities with the pre-teen and teen kids.. They could put up their thoughts/etc in a venting/discussion forum, or capture some of their trauma/issues on u-tube, or write their experiences anonymously and take it up as a group activity. Brainstorming is a first step which can drive solutions. Also adults who have never gone to American public schools should volunteer in their schools and get an idea of what is happening first hand. Then coordinate with young adults.to come up with the available state resources/other minorities and learn from their experiences. The community activities which are run mostly by 1st generation immigrants can not relate to the 2nd generation unless they involve a new tier of leadership derived solely from the 2nd generation (now young adults.) Else they are talking oranges and apples. It requires a whole village to raise a child. Otherwise as a visible community we could become sitting ducks. These are just some ideas to get started.
aneeta chakrabarty
07/16/2012
Article Comment Excellent article Anita. I completely agree that children abroad face these cultural/societal challenges and is interesting thought.
Many Indian abroad are not aware of their culture either. This is manifested in many children cannot even speak their own mother tongue with their parents/relatives. So what kind of culture/religion awakening are we talking here.
Its a complicated issue, where the 1st step should start by imparting Indian language skills. After that some kind of connection can happen.
I think now, even if you try to tell them the religious stories abt. the great saints/characters/historical figures, once you reduce something to worshiping a monkey figure, there is no point going further on this.
You have rightly pointed out that, taking pride in ones cultural is the key. In the same way one has to be aware to counter the western societal threats. Both are necessary.
How one goes abt. doing this is complicated. Easy said than done. Your comments?
Amit
07/13/2012
Article Comment Knowlege about India or Indian's progress/talent has not percolated to the common man here. The children face this lack of knowledge among their peers. Most Indians live in emotional ghettoes and not tuned in to American thinking. This could change if Indians volunteer in schools, sports, politics, red cross, YMCA, charity foundations, etc on a large scale and get to know what the children are really exposed to.
Aneeta Chakrabarty
02/23/2012
Article Comment Your story concerns Indian children living abroad; but, years ago, the 'shame' of Indian culture was an experience of children in newly independent India! This was because western culture, more specifically, British, was the way of life in the cities. The 'shame' of India was most apparent in Anglo-Indians, including the anglicised Goanese community in large cities like Calcutta, whose Christian upbringing, associated with westernised culture, only set into relief the 'ignorance' of followers of Hinduism. I recall as a boy in the nineteen fifties, the emergence of firms like Tata and Bata, whose Indian-ness was refreshing, though associated with foreign companies, Tata, based in Jamshedpur, with Mercedes Benz in their vehicle manufacture; and Bata Shoes based in Batanagar under Czech management. Later, the Hindustan Landmaster, modelled on the British Morris Oxford of the time, brought a capability of Indian manufacturing into the popular domestic car market. I recall that taxis in Calcutta were American brands like Dodge, DeSoto, Chevrolet, Plymouth; which were gradually replaced by the smart Hindustan Ambassador. In the world of IT India excelled itself, with its own silicon city in Bangalore, and the brilliance of Indian scientists exported to the US and elsewhere increasing respect for Indians worldwide. The recent 2010 Commonwealth Games including a magnificent cultural pageant, and then the opening of the F1 circuit, has brought India completely up to par with world excellence. In the eyes of people in Britain it has even prompted a question as to whether India should receive financial aid! The successful national polio vaccination program reaching to every one of its poor families has given an idea of India's comprehension of its teeming masses. If there are problems, it appears they are internal, like those of alleged corruption; but in the eyes of the world, and certainly to the Indian child abroad, India has reached a level of competence that has sloughed off any lingering cause for shame.
rdashby
02/22/2012
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