Monday, May the 1st, 2006

My beef with all of this exists on so many levels, but on the most primal, selfish level: I’m almost resentful that my parents hadn’t gone through this transition, allowing me to be born and raised with a silver spoon. I know this sounds self-centred, but I’m only bringing all of this up now because of a conversation I had with my mom yesterday.

Out of nowhere, we began talking about the (now in)famous Kaavya Viswanathan, who I’d only heard-of after the plagiarism stuff popped-up on google news. Yes, I admit that chancing upon one relatively cute picture of her had something to do with me being aware of the sequence of events. Anyway, in a sort of self-congratulatory elitist statement, my mom was all, “You know, when the [good] news about her first broke out, we were all singing praises as to her Brahmin buddhi” (supposed intellect of the “Brahmin class”), “How a kid so young could be in Harvard and an established author.”

You know what? Newsflash—She isn’t particularly anything. She didn’t even need to try. Any kid in a half-decent household from that part of the world with a modicum of intelligence can achieve all this, without plagiarism, because consciously or unconsciously, Indian kids will be nudged by their parents to do well in the intellectual realm. In comparison to what’s deemed important in the average household here, Indian homes just have a different priority structure.

During all of this, I had to distract myself to keep from screaming, “Don’t you see that the stories she wrote were about a kid who’d made it into a top school but was unhappy socially? That her dad had to invent a social life and they lied on the admissions forms to get her admitted in the first place?”

That’s—unfortunately or otherwise—just the way it is. These kids aren’t confused; they’re extremely fortunate. They don’t have to be a freaking geniuses. Just freaking born here, after their parents have done all the hard work.

Postscript: Notice how, in a single article, I expressed both resentment toward my parents’ choices and jealously toward my unborn kids. Pretty daedal, if I do say so myself.

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5 Responses to “First generation woes – II/II”

  1. pUl| says:

    “Notice how, in a single article, I expressed both resentment toward my parents’ choices and jealously toward my unborn kids. Pretty daedal, if I do say so myself.”

    Yes, so you’ve made the choice to stay here then.

  2. pundit says:

    No? It’s all a careful selection of words attempting to point out my beef with what’s deemed a “success.”

    An ivy league education? A fancy ride and a summer-home in the south of France? Lots of money and power? A fabulous social life and a gorgeous, loving partner? …

    If you’re going to set-up arbitrary standards, you have to provide necessary stepping-stones to get there. You can’t start-off one person disadvantaged, and then coo over someone else for crossing your hypothetical bar—when they clearly had a head-start. Rephrased, if I’m going to instill in my kids that something like the above is what they must shoot for, it’s my duty to provide them with every possible benefit and an easy route to get there.

    Either way, I will have to make my decision on these things… eventually.

  3. Bhavya says:

    My family moved to the States when I was 3 years old. I don’t know if that counts as second generation immigrant, but I think its pretty close. My brother however, was born there a few months after our arrival. So although I remember how it felt to leave India and go abroad as an immigrant, I was young enough to quickly pick up an accent (which I had to work very hard to lose after I came back to India!).

    Both my brother and I found it quite difficult, even as the second generation to fit into society, by which I mean school. One section of people (the whites), not all of them but some, would subject me to some amount of racist sentiments, making fun of the fact that I was ‘Indian’. Some they would mistake me for a Native American, and say I was ‘tribal’. Then of course there were African Americans who would have a problem with the fact that we were ‘coloured’ but still did really well in school. And if an Indian kid brought Indian food to school for lunch…ooooo….you don’t even want to go there.

    After dealing with shit like that in school, I would come home, and be read the Bhagavat Gita, and learn Carnatic Music, and Dance, and all the other things a good little tam-bram girl should know. We were taken to the temple at least once a week, where we met other confused second generation immigrant kids.

    Its possible that I was a rare case that had an exceptionally difficult time fitting in to school and American society as such, but the point I was trying to make here is that its not really all that easy, even if your parents already went through the process of moving there for you.

  4. anita says:

    i agree with Bhavya. i was lucky i didn’t have to put up with any racist remarks, because i was in a pretty diverse neighborhood to begin with, but i still had trouble fitting in (and still do).

    i think the third generation will have it much, much easier.

  5. pundit says:

    Bhavya: I took quite some time to think over it, and am still at a loss for words. What you’ve described sounds totally horrible, and kids, or anyone, ought not to be put through that.

    I obviously lack all perspective from the point of view you describe: That of an Indian immigrant kid having to deal with school in a region that’s not really exposed to, and is ignorant about, other cultures. If it ever comes down to it, I do plan on fixing the second part of your tale by not bothering to force my kids into things like the Gita or Bharatanatyam, because I don’t believe that these are things that a ‘good Indian kid’ ought to know. I have a huge issue with culture retention for culture retention’s sake, and while I am not advocating actively forgetting one’s heritage, if it happens to fade away in time, just let it go.

    The point about it not being a piece of cake just because you’re born somewhere is well noted. But the issue is, is it easier? Because the sorts of things you’re describing can (and does) happen outside school too, and the first generation folk are even less equipped to handle it/even more easy to pick on; because on whatever metric of ‘fitting-in’ you choose, aren’t they still ‘less fit-in’ than the kid who’s been there for a long time?

    I could be very wrong. Maybe everyone should agree on all of this being a big “grass is greener” thing, and just envy the third gen folk instead like Anita said. :)

    (I still don’t understand the whole anti-intellectual vibe this society seems to possess as a whole (as exemplified by your African American kids anecdote), but that is another rant for another day.)

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