The fault is not with Bobby Jindal as much as it is with the Indian-American community which is so anxious to hold him up as its golden success story.
Jindal is happy to take the money they raise, be anointed
the India Abroad Person of the Year as he was in 2005, but
then turn around and snub the same community:
‘My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came
to America to be Americans. Not Indian-Americans, simply
Americans. If we wanted to be Indians, we would have
stayed in India.’
To be fair to him he goes on to qualify that statement
before anyone accuses him of being embarrassed about
curry in his lunchbox. On the face of it, there’s nothing
remotely surprising about what he has to say at the Henry
Jackson Society in London:
‘I do not believe in hyphenated Americans. This view gets
me into some trouble with the media back home. They like
to refer to Indian Americans, Irish Americans, African
Americans, Italian Americans, Mexican Americans, and
all the rest.
To be clear — I am not suggesting for one second that people should be shy or embarrassed about their ethnic heritage.
But, I am explicitly saying that it is completely reasonable for nations to discriminate between allowing people
into their country who want to embrace their culture, or
allowing people into their country who want to destroy
their culture, or establish a separate culture within.’
The problem is with the either-or view of immigration
that Jindal seems to hold. Either you are 100 percent
red-blooded American or else you are setting up some
fifth column within the country, a sleeper cell of invaders
rather than immigrants that wants to ‘destroy
But he never clarifies what it means to be American
versus Indian American. Could you not like your dal-
chawal and still root for the San Francisco Giants and
grill hamburgers on July 4? Are those things mutually
No matter how he tries to qualify it, Jindal implies that a
hyphenated identity is tantamount to some kind of dual
loyalty and therefore suspect.
‘I find people who care about skin pigmentation to be the
most dimwitted lot around,’ protests Jindal, not realizing
that in his adamant rejection of the hyphen he too is
demonstrating how much he cares about how he is perceived because of his pigmentation.
He misses the basic point that to be Indian American
does not mean he needs to only care about desi voters,
watch Bollywood and eat curry. The left side of the hyphen
does not need to overpower the right side. The hyphen can
actually be a mark of strength not a weak link. It strengthens America’s sense of itself joining so many ethnic groups
to an American core.
And that hyphenated identity is a basic building block of
America where almost everyone other than Native
Americans are descended from fairly recent immigrants in
a way that is not true of India.
Many feel that Jindal’s protestations are cynical, part of
a grand strategy to sell himself to voters as he eyes a presidential run. Even Obama dialed down his ‘blackness’
when he ran for office. There were embarrassing stories
about African Americans being moved out of photo-ops
so that it did not look too black. But at no point did he try
to disown his origins in order to be American. He knew
that he would be the first African-American President
and that was historical and while he needed to show no
special favors to his community there was no need to
whitewash himself. He ran for election as Barack Obama
not Barry Obama.
‘I think people forget that we’ve lived in the White House
for six years,’ Michelle Obama told People magazine. ‘Before
that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the
South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catch-
Obama tried to emphasize after the recent police killings
of black men that it was ‘not a black problem’ but an
‘American problem’ when anybody in the country is not
treated equally under the law.
Obama is not denying race might have something to do
with those lopsided police violence statistics but he is saying it’s a problem the country as a whole needs to confront,
not something that only black groups should care about.
Jindal is suggesting almost the reverse, implying that by
eliminating the hyphen, Americans can wish away the
complexity of race and ethnicity in his country.
As I have written before, Jindal and fellow Governor
Nikki Haley are perfect examples of politicians who have
used their brown-ness to sidestep the loaded black and
white race politics of their home states. Their skin color
gives the Republican party the tan that it desperately needs
so that it does not increasingly look like a party of grumpy
white men. But as governors, their politics, on issues like
immigration, have never given their very conservative base
the slightest pause.
Bobby Jindal became only the second Indian American to
be a US Congressman and that was decades after the first.
It could actually be an inspirational story precisely because
there are so few other Indian Americans who have achieved
that. But it can only be inspirational if Bobby Jindal recognizes that he is Indian American and that his story is exceptional because not many Piyushes in Louisiana think they
can become governors of their state.
Meanwhile Indian Americans had better get over their
pride in apna Bobby. That bird has long flown the coop.
This article first appeared on Firstpost.com. Reprinted
with Sandip Roy’s kind permission
a mark of
a weak link The fault is not with the governor as much as it is with the community so anxious to hold him up as its golden success story, says Sandip Roy
US Representative Ami Bera lights the ceremonial lamp at the first Congressional Diwali celebration on Capitol Hill in November 2013.