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Speak Up and Get Respect
|by Aneeta Chakrabarty|
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.
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.”
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.
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