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Will The Real Indian Stand Up

If you are sweating over your Indian identity, don’t. You are liberated from its search. You can find it in what you already are.

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At community events and more privately in Indian American homes there is much hand-wringing over the Indian American identity. Little India devoted a whole conference to explore the subject at Rutgers University almost 16 years ago.

We have long argued in these pages that the Indian American identity is actually a multiplicity of identities. Which is as it should be. India is itself a very diverse country and we come from diverse states, each with it own language, vibrant culture and cuisine. We have arrived here under different circumstances and in distinct time periods. Inevitably, therefore, our trajectories vary.

The most compelling evidence of the community’s incredible diversity emerges from Little India’s analysis of the 2012 American Community Survey and the 2010 Census Data. As we have reported elsewhere in this issue and last month, although the proportion of multiracial Indians is only marginally higher than the national average of 10 percent, in scores of U.S. counties it is greater than 33 percent and in at least three counties in Hawaii the majority of the Indian population is multiracial.

Likewise, although Indians constitute under 1 percent of the U.S. population, in at least six places they have nudged past a third of the total. In two counties — Middlesex in New Jersey and Sutter in California — they exceed 10 percent of the total population.

The Indian population is youngest in Muskegon County, Michigan, and oldest in Rock Island, Illinois. It is almost entirely male in Pearsall City and Frio County in Texas and predominantly female in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Six counties in Puerto Rico reported more than 60 percent women in their Indian population.

Our economic profile varies dramatically too. Home ownership ranges from almost 100 percent in some places to virtually zero in others. Median household income runs from a high of $116,000 in Virginia to a low of $67,000 in Florida. Per capita income covers the whole gamut — from $46,000 in Virginia to just $32,000 in Georgia. Frio County and its county seat Pearsall have incarcerated almost their entire Indian population, which is almost exclusively male.

Considering the range of our individual circumstances, where we are geographically dispersed, our individual identities — and more significantly that of our children — are not likely to be shaped in language classes and cultural programs in the basements of temples — although they will draw inspiration from them.

Ultimately, your identity is what you can most comfortably wear. If you struggle with it, it is not authentic. You can find your identity as effortlessly singing bhajans as humming Lady Gaga tunes. It may come as comfortably to you in your fondness for chole bhaturae as in steak. It could reside as easily in cheering on the Indian cricket team as in rooting for the Giants in American football. Or, better yet, it could emerge from a mish mash of all these things.

If you are sweating over your Indian identity, don’t. You are liberated from its search. You can find it in what you already are.

We are all our colors.

 

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NRI | Commentary | January 2014

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