A good friend of mine from India, now living abroad, remarked that he just can’t stand the “Yank accent.” And it made my hackles rise. My defensiveness astonished me. It exposed an Americanness in me that I had no idea existed.
It seems like it was just the other day I was marching down Market Street in San Francisco protesting the Iraq war. I seem to find few American policies I can be proud of these days—from Afghanistan to Iraq to the never-ending war on terror and its misbegotten offspring—the Patriot Act already hinting at a sequel.
But somewhere amidst all that, despite my Indian passport, I have become American. I have realized it is futile to flinch every time someone in India comments on the fact that I sound more Americanized these days. They tell me in their best Jesuit-school clipped BBC English that the American accents are grating. And now I want to say: “What’s wrong with anyone’s accent? Why is it the end of civilization if I spell colour ‘color’ now?”
What I am really trying to say is that I care about America. It had seemed an act of betrayal to admit that—like having a wife and a mistress. In some of my protesting friends’ circle it’s not cool to admit caring about America. It’s much more fashionable to paint it Imperialist Bully No. 1. Which it may well be, but I realize that I stay here not just because of the dollars or electricity but because I enjoy it.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to gripe about it or protest the Patriot Act. Some people always claim that if any immigrant has any complaint they should just go back to wherever they came from. After all, no one asked you to come here. So why sit in San Francisco and complain about what the U.S. is vetoing at the UN?
I complain because it matters to me how the U.S. looks to the rest of the world. I complain because I am more American than I care to admit. My Indian nationality was a matter of chance. But I had a choice in where I lived and I chose to stay in America.
And I learned to like my Diet Coke with ice. And dammit, I refuse to be ashamed of that. If that makes me an American, so be it.
Sandip Roy-Chowdhury is on the editorial board of India Currents.