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% red-blooded American or else you are setting up some fifth column within the country, a sleeper cell of invaders rather than immigrants which wants to “destroy (American) culture.”
But he never clarifies what it means to be American vs Indian-American. Could you not like your dal-chawal and still root for the San Francisco Giants and grill hamburgers on the fourth of July? Are those things mutually incompatible?
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 dim-witted 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 catching cabs.”
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 side step 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.