Posts Tagged ‘Indian American’

Am I on Crazy Pills? Wait – Don’t Answer. Just Read.

Proof that Bill O’Reilly Will Always be an Asshat

Ok, y’all. (Yes, I know I am an Indian girl from New Jersey, but I have lived in Virginia long enough to say y’all).

I have not said much about the election this year. I have gotten annoyed at Facebook friends that have also been acting like asshats trying to shove their political beliefs down my throat and talking ignorant shit about BOTH candidates.  I know, I know, let’s move FORWARD.

Ok, I will. I promise. Just give me a second to say something first.

Bill O’Reilly has said something to upset me.

What? Bill O’Reilly? Stop the effing presses. Are you kidding me? When has he ever said anything offensive before? I will give you this, next to Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter, he looks like Gandhi, but still.

Bill. Said. Something. Questionable.

Now the only reason I am not saying that it’s “questionable” versus outright racist, ignorant, blatantly hostile, borderline hate-mongering is because of this. THIS.

People. Well, some people think I am overreacting.

What? Me, overreact? I am like the Dalai Lama. What the HELL are they talking about? I epitomize what the person who invented the saying “cool as a cucumber” was thinking, when they were eating that cucumber.

If you are not going to watch the video, here is the quote that he made when asked why Romney did not win the election.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” he added. “The voters, many of them, feel this economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You’re gonna see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things — and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”


I am not questioning any comments around demographics here. In fact, I will confirm the following:

Where I Come From

A few days after our son, Nico, was born, we had to rush him to the hospital with a fever. The long and the short of it is that we had to be admitted to the children’s ward for a few days because the spinal tap showed he was positive for Spinal Meningitis.

He was five pounds. And they were giving him a spinal tap.

Once I moved past the shock and horror and the tremors had abated long enough for me to calm down and think as clearly as I could over the course of the next five days, I did what I normally do in situations where I lose control and have to watch something hard transpire.

I shut down.

I sat there like a mute, holding my baby boy, alternating between tortured heaving sobs and the still, quiet kind of tears. The strong and steady ones that leave a path of wetness against the dry, unmoisturized skin of your face to fall on the blanket below you.

Drip. Drip. Falling on the blanket and leaving behind a wet patch on the receiving blanket that Nico was wrapped in.

I remember the cute little doctor walking into the room, the physician who would be working with us over the next few days to determine if his meningitis was viral (bad, but manageable) or bacterial (So bad. So very, very bad for a baby who weighed so little and was four weeks early). Dr. Shah was her name.

She took inventory of the room and observed my husband, John, the most Indian looking half-Italian and half-Puerto Rican descended man most people have met outside of Eric Estrada. She next saw my older sister, Kusum, who looked like she was trying to be the calm in this storm, but she wasn’t fooling anybody with the look on her face.

She then turned her attention towards me. I looked exhausted. Since being given the news, I felt like I had been punched in the gut and sat hunched over, holding my child to my chest, just praying they would not take him away from me. It felt impossible that I had managed to keep him safe for 8 long months in my belly, to only make him sick days after giving him life in this world.

What kind of mother was I?

“Hello,” the young female Doctor marched in. She extended her hand to my husband and then to my sister, “I’m Dr. Shah.”

She then turned to me and bent down with her hands on her knees and said really slowly, “Do you speak English?”

Well, I guess it was nice of her to check, but to this day, I am still not quite sure what made her ask me if I could speak my native language.

I nodded my head. I wasn’t sure whether to say, “Si,” “Oui” or “WTF?”

“Good, good,” she nodded her head. “And where are you from?”

I know she what she wanted. You see, Indians will often ask each other, “Where are you from?” to really mean, “What part of that honking big country is your family from?” This helps us size each other up and immediately gives us license to make vague generalizations about each other like, “Oh, her family must be cheap” or “Oh, those people are usually rich, but major wankers.”

“New Jersey,” I said. “Exit 10.”

Take that, Dr. Shah. From her last name, I already was able to guess that she was maybe a vegetarian, she spoke the Indian language, Gujarati, and that she used a lot of coconut in her recipes, because that’s how her people roll. (And by the way, they make rockin’ food).

But really, she was just as American as me. Which of course is very confusing, because most people ask me just that when they meet me, “Where are you from?” And of course they don’t care to know the answer of New Jersey.

But I can’t really hold that against them.

Nico and I were transported on one of those little hospital beds from the Emergency Room to the Children’s Ward. If you want to hear more about what happened there, I wrote a post about it a few years ago, still fresh from the trauma and still overwhelmed by how close we were to life taking a very different turn for us.

But I think about that question, “Where are you from?” quite often. I also wondered why I bristled so deeply when the young Doctor assumed, either through a combination of my disheveled appearance and my Indian heritage that I wouldn’t speak English.

Maybe because that day, I didn’t want things separating me from anyone. I just wanted to be a mother, with no other labels or perceptions tied to me. Just a mother who was feeling lost and wanted a doctor to understand where I was coming from.

I was coming from a place called “Motherhood.” It’s a sometimes sketchy part of town and you don’t want to always go there at night. You could have your diaper bag stolen right from your shoulder if you carry the right kinds of snacks in it. It’s a place where no matter what language you speak, a mother’s fear or grief is evident and is respected.

Motherhood is a place where it is okay to throw on your most unattractive pregnancy shorts as your breasts leak with the milk your son is too weak to drink. A place where you have to rush from your home just an hour earlier, leaving behind your two year old daughter in the hands of your parents and niece.

Motherhood is rich in natural resources, including guilt. It’s a place where guilt is more abundant than even water. It’s a place that most mothers know well because we manage to banish ourselves there for all sorts of inadequacies that taunt us most days. We build massive dependencies on the abundant guilt resources which are hard to break and actually threaten our very infrastructure at times. We try to build dams around guilt so it won’t flood the rest of us, but they rarely work.

Maybe the reason I wasn’t as ok with that question I get asked so frequently, is because that day, I JUST wanted to be a mother. Lord knows most days I define myself as a mother, a professional, a daughter, a writer, a singer, a wife, a friend. An Indian.

An American.

But that day, I was just a mother caring for my sick son. And it didn’t matter where I was from. It just mattered where I was.



Dip Your Toes in the Water

I remember going to the ocean as a kid and feeling like I was home. At that moment, it didn’t matter that I was an Indian kid growing up in America who never felt quite like I fit in. It didn’t matter that I was an American who would never quite fit in on the many trips I took to India – back to the country my parents had come from.

At the beach, the ocean seemed so much larger than anything running through my little head. Because even as a kid, my mind could not just sit the hell down. And I don’t mean that in a – oh I was always just thinking about so many great ideas, in my pursuit for intellectual nirvana.

I mean it in the way that I wasn’t sure where I belonged. Looking back I recognize it for what would be a lifelong journey with insecurity that many people struggle with.

I tell myself that others feel this so I don’t feel quite so alone. (Or so crazy).

Things I think a lot of kids like me might have thought – Why don’t I look like my friends? Why does my family seem so different from everyone else’s? Why are my parents fighting, AGAIN?

You know, the normal shit most kids think about. Apparently, I was starting my lifelong questo to always ask “why?” for things I would never be able to answer, or were, in fact, quite obvious.

When I was at the beach, all of that went away. I smelled the salt water from miles away as we drove in caravans to the crowded shores of New Jersey. I didn’t know yet that the rest of the country didn’t always hold New Jersey in the highest esteem and had not yet been exposed to a lifetime of “Oh yeah? What exit?” type questions.

Yeah, so cute. And very original.

(Though I have to admit, at least you can get a geographical sense of where one lived in the often misunderstood Garden State. Let’s remember that it IS called that, either because there ARE in fact, many gardens there. Or maybe just because we all have complexes about our garden free exits).

The anticipation would course right through me as I would wait. It was a whole lot of waiting, I can remember. Waiting for my parents to meet up with our uncles and aunties in our separate cars so we could caravan to the beach. Waiting for us to haul our station wagons through the Jersey traffic to the ocean. Waiting for the drawbridge that just HAD to pick that moment to be up.

Oh god someone has to pee.

Waiting to find a bathroom. Waiting for us to find a spot where we could lay out the colorful sheets and for the aunties to start arranging the coolers full of roti and sabji. God forbid we ate any of the food from the boardwalk or bologna sandwiches like the family next to us.

In retrospect, all ok – but I don’t know. At the time, I just felt so darn strange.

And then finally, FINALLY!!, the waiting was over. I was free. The ocean was right there.

As the crispness of the wind coming off the ocean and the massaging feel of the sand soothed every inch of my being, I felt whole. The “crazy” was still there, but slightly muted in the unmitigated joy I felt, knowing that I would be running into that water in just a few minutes.

And I would remember running up to the water’s edge, surrounded by my siblings and cousins, ready to run right in.

But I would stop.

Because the ocean, no matter how much it called to me like it was exactly where I needed to be – was cold. Sometimes colder than I could handle. And I wasn’t always ready to be caught in the undertow. The few times that I had gotten caught in a wave still scared me, scared me the way I would never eat my mom’s fish curry for fear of that time I got a bone stuck in my throat.

For you see, when you are 5, these things kind of stick with you.

But no matter what – no matter how much I still could hear the thoughts in my head asking why does nobody look like me, why can’t I be like everyone else, why do I feel like my family is so broken, why am I surrounded by so much shouting all the time, why, Why, WHY?! - kind of way – I was finally home.

And as I would walk towards the small waves breaking on shore and put my little toes in while the water rushing back to the ocean pulled the ground away from under my feet, I came to realize that for me, life would always be a little of wanting to run towards what I know I couldn’t control. That I would want to be in situations where the ground was never quite stable under my feet and where it was okay if things got messy.

The loud crash of the ocean was louder than the clashing voices raised in anger at home, the tears and the heartache I seemed to know too well at the age of 5.

This was the time, MY time, where I was just a normal kid, eating a roti with bhaigan bharta at the beach.

And eventually, once my toes were in the water, I would rejoice in something bigger than me, bigger than I could comprehend and surrender to what I knew I would always have to surrender to.