On Growing Up Indian in America

On Growing Up Indian in America

May 13, 2013

Growing up in America provides a very unique set of challenges for the young Indian.  First of all, your parents will berate you from birth about getting good grades so that you can have an illustrious career in medicine, thereby becoming an appropriate trophy for their mantlepiece.  They will say to you things like, “You need to raise your grades so that you can be like Jasleen who went to Harvard, is now chief of surgery at Cedars-Sinai, is a published author of ten books on surgical technique, just completed her fourth Iron Man, has appeared on Good Morning America, is raising three kids who are all Spelling Bee champions, lives in a mansion, and will be the first surgeon to operate in space next year.  Do you want to be like Jasleen or do you want to flip hamburgers?”  Given this binary option, you certainly want to be like Jasleen, but deep down you fear that if you try, you might spend your life floundering in her cold, dark shadow.  You think to yourself, “Is there an option somewhere between Jasleen and flipping hamburgers?”  However, you don’t dare utter this insolent question for fear that your Mom will hear you and beat you into a pulpy bhartha.  Aunties, like my Mom for instance, are not to be trifled with as they are eagerly awaiting opportunities to physically discipline their kids into submission for being mouthy or for getting an A- instead of an A.  I’d like to see a top-ranked Mixed Marital Artist (MMA) fighter try to mouth off to an Auntie.  I think he would be cleaning up his room in about five minutes, quite frankly. 


There’s no escaping it, Indians in America are an accomplished group, especially those that are part of Indiaspora.  We seem to have achieved significance in nearly every industry as CEOs, politicians, professors, physicians, scientists, chefs, composers, philanthropists, political analysts, authors, attorneys, artists, economists, venture capitalists, journalists, and entertainers.  However, I think we are still eagerly awaiting an Indian heavyweight boxing champion or a Superbowl-winning Indian quarterback.  I think, candidly, that we might be waiting for quite some time.  I realized this when I tried out for football in high school and it was politely suggested that I needed to be “as tall as this very short sign to play football.”  The wrestling team finally accepted me and my tiny stature only so that I could try to dominate one of the lighter weight classes.  Soon into my nascent wrestling career, however, an overzealous opponent managed to pull my arm out of its shoulder socket dislocating it for the first, but not the last, time.  Perhaps we have to accept the fact that we are just not going to dominate in sports that involve massive size or musculature.  Hopefully, some of my larger Punjabi brethren will prove me wrong. 

Another area of challenge for an Indian youth is dealing with the way that non-Indians will butcher your proper birth name. 


“Ramakrishnamur….sorry, what was the rest of your name?”


Or in my case,


“San-shit?  That can’t be right, can it?” 


Or at Starbucks,


“I HAVE A CHAI TEA LATTE FOR BALA…RAMA…um…something – something – Krishna – something,” the barista will say, trailing off sheepishly.  “Sorry for messing up your name, sir.  Here’s a voucher for a free drink.” 


You take your drink and inspect the cup noticing that your hastily scribbled name wraps all the way around the cup.  “You know what,” you’ll say to yourself, “I’m going to be ‘Jack’ from now on.  I can’t take this name carnage anymore.”  Don’t feel bad.  I’ve met a lot of people with names like ‘Jim’ Chakravadhanula and ‘Frank’ Singh written on their business cards. 


In summary, being Indian in America has its minor challenges and, believe it or not, I’ve written an entire book about this subject – see https://www.amazon.com/Are-You-Indian-Humorous-Growing/dp/0578116138 .  As much as I may find humor in our sometimes awkward journey, I am proud to be part of such an accomplished and well-respected immigrant population.