by Aditya Desai
In America, there are Chinatowns, Koreatowns, Little Italys, Little Havanas, and so much more.
What to do about the Indian Brown Town?
One of the largest is located in Edison, New Jersey. Recently, it was the subject of a travelogue entry by TIME Magazine writer Joel Stein as a humor piece. It was not met with all laughs, and caused quite a bit of fervor in the Indian American community.
Regardless of Stein’s intent, what’s more important is that he spotlights what has forever been an issue with immigrant communities—how to integrate with American society. In Edison, the streets are lined with countless Indian shops and restaurants, along with many more American franchises managed by Indians.
Indians are no longer on the fringes of American society. Now, Kal Penn has been in the White House and Jay Sean is on the airwaves. But, on Main Street America, what is the next step for growing Indian American communities like Edison?
In his article, Stein labels the homogenized second-generation Indian-American teenagers as, appropriately enough given recent MTV-reality trends, “Guindians”—brown kids with slicked up hair and red dots on their forehead. It is certainly not the most flattering term to be given, especially by a non-Indian. Combined with phrases in the article alluding to oddities of Hinduism or Stein’s crying for his long gone childhood stores and eateries, the article is reasonably perceived as offensive. Although used as humor in his piece, the term “Guidians” nevertheless hits on the idea of the blended and melded “third culture” being created. A town like Edison operates somewhat differently from a Chinatown or Little Italy. The Indian population isn’t relegated to a certain area, and as a result the rift between cultures is less insular.
Whenever I go to Edison to meet my family, I’m bewildered just by how many Indians are actually there. They are from every part of India, from every religion and sub-culture. Like any immigrant population, the support system is nice to have, but at some point the integration should occur.
And that is where it gets exciting, folks. There is so much opportunity for cross-culture and new mixes of Indian-American sub culture. After all, Indians bring the world masala, a mix of different spices that intensify heat and flavor, each blend different according to the part of the country the cook (or mom) comes from.
What’s important though, is not simply permeating society with Indian shops and restaurants, but rather finding some kind of cooperation with American society. It’s not simply transposing Indian culture into this country, but also adopting what’s American. Chinese takeout is not very authentic, and Tex-Mex is, well, certainly very Tex over Mex. Likewise, the curry burger should be, I think, the point where Indian-Americans can say, “we’ve made it.”
Stein’s article may have been a misfire, but if it gets the Indian-Americans talking about their community and it’s place in mainstream America, perhaps we should cut down on the angry emails and digital riot-groups. It is the country of Mahatma Gandhi. Fight not, but instead make the potentially racist or discriminatory man understand Indians are here to grow with the rest of the country, and not against it.