Friday, July 15, 2011

Day 289: America

OYLPA Day 289: America by klodhie
OYLPA Day 289: America, a photo by klodhie on Flickr.
If a person were to ask me what I think America looks like, I might say it looks something like today, and perhaps even something like this image and the particular gathering it is a piece from. On a day when Buddhists and Hindus traditionally pay respect as students/disciples to their spiritual guides, friends of different faiths, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and friends of different ethnicities (happily too many to name them all), gathered once again in a show of good will, friendship, and respect. Regardless of each of our individual life paths, (non)religious or otherwise, we enjoyed yet another special moment together (including the sharing of aloo samosas and gooey bright orange jalebees after of course).

But as peachy and multicultural as this may all be, today encompassed more than just this gathering, and the second part of today also represents the reality of our America. After this gathering a few of us went out for dinner: most in our casual desi attire, some in nicer kurtas and saris, some with traditional bindis, and one in jeans and a t-shirt. We decided to go to a local BJs Restaurant, where casual attire is the norm, and crowds are generally of highly mixed demographics. Whether it was the fact that we ourselves felt self-conscious or not, we did feel the extra-long glances and stares, the way the waiter suddenly felt like he couldn't understand what we were saying, even though most of us have clear Californian English accents. On our way out, a group of teenage guys, who appeared to be Caucasian, turned and yelled in our general direction, "Hey! Are you f**king Indian [or 'English', we are unsure]?!" One of the young women in our group replied in haste, "NO! We're not 'f**king' Indian! We're from here!..." The guy replied with a "Woah, calm down!" or some line of that sort.

The guys, with cigarettes in hand, were clearly high, and the guy who yelled his remark may have been English himself, as his "f**king" sounded like it contained an "o" rather than a "u" (and perhaps this is me being my own bit of racist I suppose). That would explain why we may have heard him ask if we were "English." Racism against South Asians in England is severe, unlike anything we have experienced in California, at least - Pakistani family and friends of mine have been physically assaulted by groups of white male racists in England, and the verbal and emotional assaults against desis there are commonplace.

So even though this little racist exchange, which was a bit frightening, I'd have to admit, occurred smack in the middle of multicultural Southern California, the perpetrator was almost quite certainly not someone who had spent the majority of his life in America. While I can say that thankfully I have not experienced overt racism like this before, I know that I have been lucky in being able to say so, and that this multicultural, tolerant America still has a ways to go in becoming so.

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