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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

This Fourth of July, the hyphenated identity is being discussed everywhere. Immigration – the benefits and demerits of the system – who gets to be included and why is being discussed in newspaper columns, on TV channels, and at family cookouts. 

As a first-generation immigrant with a hyphenated identity who celebrates my religious and cultural identity, comes the question of assimilation. In which spheres do I assimilate and where do I stand apart? How do I talk about my immigrant experience? This question came to the fore for me because of a recent discussion on the popular forum for neighbors – Nextdoor.com

On a protracted discussion amongst neighbors on Nextdoor.com, came a discussion about increasing the salaries of public school teachers in Fremont. When a neighbor with an Indian name posted saying that he was not for increasing teacher salaries, there started a spirited discussion of the role of public schools, the entitlement fueled by monetary success within the Asian-American community, and more.

When prompted, he finally admitted that he sent his children to private schools because he wanted them to garner Ivy League degrees and successful careers after that. This admission of strong views on the wasteful spending on public education and draining high taxes combined with a belief in ‘superior’ private school education resulted in a furor online. Long posts started flooding the forum with some revealing racial bias against immigrants, particularly those who originally entered the country on H-1Bs.

As I read the posts, I was tempted to write about the positive impact of public school education on my sons who attended the Fremont public schools. I wanted to write a note praising the dedication of teachers who truly cared. I wanted to write about how my involvement in the PTA helped me personally.

I also wanted to bust the myth that neighbors might have that Indian-Americans cared only about science and technology education to share that I was largely instrumental in introducing and shepherding an award-winning poetry program in my local elementary school. And, then, I stopped myself. Here’s why.

Every compulsion I had to “prove” myself in this forum was rooted in trying to project myself as a “good” immigrant – someone who played by the rules, someone who was involved in supporting public education, someone who was interested in giving back, not involved in merely extracting from the system.

This need is similar to what is referred to in academic circles as “overcompensation.” Minorities from gays to blacks to Hispanics to Asians have long tried to be “good” in the eyes of the majority. And, I balked at doing that – projecting “goodness.” Of trying to be counted as one of the “good” immigrants.

I needed to not pander to be counted as one of the “good” ones – I didn’t see a need to “explain” myself in that forum. I should not feel the need to be somehow better, smarter, or more meritorious. I own my hyphenated identity and I should not have to “explain” that on the fourth of July or any day thereafter.

Happy Fourth of July to you and yours!

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Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is a multifaceted artist - a dancer, writer, storyteller, and educator. She founded the Sankalpa School of dance, where she trains the next generation of committed dancers to pursue...