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Two Faced Struggle

Far too many are judgmental or prescriptive in their notions of what an authentic Indian American identity is, or ought to be.

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A few months ago, I crossed a major milestone on my Indian American journey. Like many others of the generation that migrated to America in the early 1980s, I have now lived longer in America than I have in India.

To be sure, there have been other transformative markers along the way: marriage to a non Indian U.S. citizen; the birth of children born and brought up as Americans, among others. But there is something distinctive in the framing of your immigrant identity when you cross that midway point.

No, it does not automatically make you more American than Indian. I have friends from the period who discovered their Indianness in Cambridge or Berkeley, fell in love with Jagjit and Chitra Singh for the first time during a cruise along the Caribbean; or traded a frank for papri chaat along the Hudson, many decades after moving to America. 

On the other hand, other friends embraced their American identity long before midlife rolled around, for whom Tom Hanks is much more appealing than Amitabh Bachchan; dorritos are far tastier than samosas; and Jay-Z rocks mightier than Shaan.

 
We have long argued in these pages that Indian Americans have a multiplicity of identities, every one of which is valid and worthy of celebration. In fact, nothing quite gets our goat as much as the criticism that an Indian is too Americanized or too Desi.

Many Indian Americans struggle with their identity. Far too many are judgmental or prescriptive in their notions of what an authentic Indian American identity is, or ought to be. If you wrestle with these anxieties, you are on the wrong track. In the final analysis, the identity you should embrace is the one with which you are most comfortable - whatever that is.

You may well discover that your identity evolves over time and with age. And that is all right too. Displacement grants us the privilege of personal liberation, although it simultaneously imposes upon us the burden of figuring out its dual faced pursuits.

As the legendary Lebanese American poet wrote in The Prophet:

Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape.

These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling.

And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light.

And thus your freedom when it loses its fetters becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom.  

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NRI | Magazine | July 2008

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