Friday, April 9, 2010

The thin ice..

Today afternoon, like most other afternoons, I walked into the coffee shop and saw my favorite table occupied. I almost always sit here because it has room for 6 people and I like to spread out my laptop, books, cell phone, iPod, coffee mug and what have you. Today there were two girls with colored hair(purple streaks, if I may add!) and layers of make-up instead of clothes (second generation Indian American undergrads(read wannabe) -I could tell from my previous experience).
* I normally never comment on appearances, but then again, I have my moments!*
I walked up and put my back-pack on a chair."Do you mind if I sit here?" I asked. They gave me the once-over. Exchanged looks(pbly because of the sindoor-shankha-pola).One of them thus spoke, "Err.. yes we do. We have someone joining us. If you want you can sit for 5 minutes," she cooed and then both of them burst of laughing (?!!).Allison,the girl at the counter, who was privy to the whole scene, insisted on buying me coffee to make up."Its on me," she said as she went around trying to find a seat for me. No one joined the two girls. They left after a while.
I am stunned. But more than that, I am terribly, terribly angry!
What is it with the Indians born and raised in the USA?
No really, what`s with all the cockiness huh?
What about my appearance was so lousy to warrant a filthy stance like that?
I am still fuming.
You can spot them from a mile - second generation Indian Americans(henceforth referred to as SGIA for convenience!), born and raised in the USA.
You can spot them by their outrageously inappropriate clothes(given a particular situation), their reckless attitudes, their strange loud ways and their stranger accents.Gross generalizations, I know( The G has a SGIA undergrad as a student, who is exceptionally brilliant and does excellent research!).But I am feeling mad enough to make an outrageous, sweeping statement like that! What is wrong with them?
The issue here, however, is not that simple. Far from it, in fact.
Yesterday, I was talking to a friend who`s doing research on second-generation Indian American children.She says that as a group, they are typically discriminated against in schools, by their peers. They are frequently referred to as 'Coconuts'(Brown on the outside, white on the inside(?!!). We all know that children can be ruthless that way. The incidence of such alienation, it seems, is alarmingly high! So the SGIA children, born and raised here, find themselves at war. They have to walk the thin line between 'Indian traditions'(their only reference being the occasional trips back home and the wisdom imparted by rigid/insistent parents) and unforgivably savage peers. They are literally at war. With themselves! Which can sometimes manifest in bizarre ways. The inner turmoil they must feel, sometimes get directed at the wrong people at the wrong times! And so, while I have had the good fortune of meeting warm, accepting Americans, my interactions with the Indian counterparts have been grim, at best.
I cant help feeling a little sorry. And I wonder if these children ever grow up to be healthy adults. At some point in life, do they grow up to be comfortable with their own identities as well as those of others? Or is this something that one cannot generalize at all?
Last night we went out for dinner with a bunch of friends. One was an Indian family with a two-year old daughter in tow. The wife is a good friend of mine. And every time I saw her pick up the child, talk to her and answer her myriad questions, I couldn't help but smile. Her was a woman who was content to stay at home and raise her child(as opposed to working, after graduating from a top engineering school in the USA). And what`s more - she is very happy. I cannot imagine the lil one growing up into the stereotype I just mentioned above. Same for my nephew,the little devil growing up here. I cannot imagine him turning into one of the children I just described!
When I was growing up, I didn't dare be disrespectful of anyone. I still remember my mother`s steely looks literally stabbing me to the core, when I made fun of a neighbor`s son who couldn't run as fast as I did. I will never forget the lecture she gave me that day.And then I also remember all those times when I was sassy,rude,impertinent to the point of being nasty - mostly when Ma wasn't around to drive home lessons with a brick bat! And I cant help wondering.
Does the growth of a child into a wholesome adult depend solely on the kind of parenting or are there serious social/environmental influences in the development chart? And if that be so, are the children back home in India really any different?

If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach
Of a million tear stained eyes
Don't be surprised, when a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
With your fear flowing out behind you
As you claw the thin ice

- Pink Floyd


Sagarika said...

I think I can link this to M4's post on Love of language.... somewhere all of us .. no matter where we grow up or live... think tht only people who are 'native' are our own... yes we do accept outsiders n all... but just like a bong growing up outside wb will always be a "probashi bengali' expected not to behave like a true bong... kids growing in other nations no matter how akin they are beyond skin colour wont be a true counter part... it's sad... but then there's a long way to go beofre this battle is won... homground indeed does the intial bit.. but then again when peer resistance builds on somewhere those lessons blur a bit!

Anonymous said...

hello you're doing..been a while since we stopped to say hello :)

read the post but too sleepy to make sense with my views but i's appalling...not just SGIA but most teenagers nowadays...and i've seen this kind in India the end it's the company they keep and the values they grow up with...i guess!

Jira said...

I don't think it is a problem with SGIA alone. I think SG Chinese americans, korean americans etc etc are stereotyped a certain way among their peers. The right kind of parenting can be a major support to a troubled teen growing up here. But no matter what a parents do to protect their wards, the child's environment and social interactions are going to be a major influence.

Teens will always be teens wherever they are. They rebel. They act weird. It takes maturity for anybody to recognize where he/she stands in life, and to think about their actions and their consequences etc. But a land alien to their parental roots, definitely adds to the pressure. They will definitely face that identity crisis, more so than any Caucasian immigrant's children.

But in any case I don't think all SGIAs act like those girls did. Like the G's student, I have seen SGIA teens be calm and cool. They dress like I do(, more towards the desi side!) and attend medical and dental schools! I have also seen an SGIA kid who is caught amidst major identity and cultural crisis because of orthodox parenting!

But I understand why u were so irked :)

Passionate Goof said...

I agree with 'A', teenagers are cocky everywhere. That is the reason there is a special thing called high-school arrogance. Teens are usually quite rude, and insensitive, pretty much everywhere, possibly got to do with the feeling of invincibility and super-cool at that age. As for being made to feel like an outsider, that is the exact feeling with which I have grown up all my life, in Delhi, in one of the most obnoxious schools, coming from a completely Bangali-oriented family. It was frustrating not being a part of my paratha and dry-fruits munching friends, but i have grown over it, as I think do, most people once they are out of their teens.....

Just my two bits, rambling as always.....hope it made sense.

Piper .. said...

Sagarika: In the context I mentioned, I think it is purely an alienation based on skin color, shocking as that may be. However, what you say is also true. We have to learn to step out of our comfort zones and be a little more accepting.

Colormesunshine: Heyyyy! So nice to see you back here again! Long,long time..I left a couple of messages on your blog too. BUt you seemed to have disappeared! I`m so glad you`re back! :):)

Jira: I agree with every single word. Although I do believe that there is an immense amount of stereotyping(seen the movie 'crash'?), I also know that skin color by far outweighs any other reason! So I`m not sure Irish/Italian american children face the same problems as the indian americans.

Goof: You`re right of course. And even as I wrote this post, I realized it. Hence the mention of my own 'cockiness' when I was an adolescent. It`s the hormones, I believe! They make you think that the world spins on your fingertips! :)

Garima said...

Ok, so the post itself is worded correctly: Thin Ice: now, as a mother of a two year old myself. Alebit working full time and managing our household- I do feel a bit cornered when you say: Since the other lady is not working, the child will not be a stereotype: And yes, no offence taken, since I understand your point! :-)
Now, for kids themselves. Luckliy I have across a couple of SGIA's in my recent past who are very well orunded, yes funky accents, but extremly brilliant, well mannered and head on the shoulders type. I remember talking to one of them about 'fitting in issues'. Here is the gist of what she said: Look, i am dusky and proud of it. My gora friends, love to go tanning to get a skin like mine. I am chilling outside though. We have the genes of hard work, and the proof of our parents success motivates to out-do them. So though we will be never one of them: We will be ourselves, Unique and can get best of both worlds.
And the kid is just over 19!
For the kids in the coffeee shop: It can be raging hormones, the age factor as well. Where pushing the limits is their main agenda! Gora, Desi or no, i will give them benefit of doubt for age! Though not justify their actions.
Yes, for us, one look from our parents we knew not to do something. But, I think in addition to parents being responsible with their kids, it is also social environment, friends, school and a whole load of other factors. In our case, we try to speak exclusively in Hindi with V, but thanks to her school she is responding to us in English. So its a combination of stuff! Sadly the SGIA = ABCD (American Born Confused Desi)

Piper .. said...

GNSD: "I do feel a bit cornered when you say: Since the other lady is not working, the child will not be a stereotype"

Oh Good LOrd! Noooo!!! That is just not what I meant! My best friend and some close friends are all working moms! It is not about a working mom or a stay-at-home one! If that`s the impression I gave, I`m very sorry! :9
That said, I agree with every single thing that you said. This particular post was a reactive one - hence the gross generalizations. I dont have anything against ABCDs. Really I dont :)

Garima said...

Piper.... I completely understand.. hence I followed up with No offence taken! I understand your point completely. I am born abd braught up in India, About ABCD's my brother teases me immensly, since my daughter is born here, he calls her 'ABCD' which irritates me to no degree!!! :-D
All is good!

Garima said...

Piper.... I completely understand.. hence I followed up with No offence taken! I understand your point completely. I am born abd braught up in India, About ABCD's my brother teases me immensly, since my daughter is born here, he calls her 'ABCD' which irritates me to no degree!!! :-D
All is good!

Anonymous said...

The teenagers were rude! I have seen such children in India also, it's just some kids, the company they keep, what they are taught at home (I know of parents in India who think being street-smart is a good thing)...

Reminded me of a tweet, 'Rudeness is a result of a superiority complex one is trying to feel.'

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to comment on this post. I think if someone has a bad attitue they carry it over to all other areas of their life as well. Perhaps these girls just have a bad attitude problem, and that is why they were so rude.

As a mother of a two year old "sgia" it is my job as a parent to teach my child good values, morals, manners, etc. and help build good character.

SC said...

Insolent and insensitive adolescents are not really unique to the American culture - in this case, however, there is a real first versus second generation immigrant subtext.

For a mature reflection on the ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) and FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) differences, check this out:

For a more lively conversation amongst young educated desis, FOBs, ABCDs on the subject of dating go to and read the comments. This page presents a fuller picture of the inter-cultural issues at play ... from the inside, so to speak. Dating is a complex social ritual that becomes even more complicated within an inter-cultural international context. The stereotypes are much easier to understand through the dating game.