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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
What is the point of an ethnic enclave like Chinatown, Koreatown, and of course, Little India?
A sociologist would tell you that Little Indias — with their colorfully-festooned saree shops, gold gleaming from jewelry stores, threading salons, and the familiar aromas wafting from restaurants — stem from migrant networks: a support system for new immigrants. An ethnic enclave can be a source of jobs and salary without the hindrance of racism.
But there’s another, more apparent, reason we make these enclaves. It’s a reminder of India, of home, especially for immigrants.
Of course, it’s not the real thing. In the end, when you step out of the Bharat Desi Bazaar, with basmati rice and achaar in hand, you’re still in San José, California. It’s basically a facade of India itself.
What Defines India?
I am not an immigrant. I was born here in the great U.S of A, Fremont, California. (For a town with so many immigrants, it is fitting that Fremont is named for an explorer.) I am what is affectionately called an ABCD. Much has been said and written about our experiences. Heck, they made a TV show about one of us.
Despite being as Indian as Gandhi by blood, most of us haven’t really seen India. Sure, you might go once a year, watch the elders joyously reunite while you stand sheepishly on the side, forever the American. Maybe you speak Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, or… the list goes on. It certainly helps, but maybe you don’t. Of course your parents are happy to visit: they likely grew up in India.
Can A Facade Substitute For The Real Thing?
What does the second generation Indian-American recognize, then, as Indian? It probably isn’t India itself. Rather, it’s the India we see more often: the Little Indias, the Indian stores. What was meant to be a facade, an imitation, is the closest we will get to India.
The noisy, lively streets and the stalls on the road are not things I’ll ever truly experience as part of my life. It’s the imitation of India; the stores, the restaurants, and Bollywood that will forever be what I think of when someone says “Indian.”