Tag Archives: ethnicity

Decoding the Significance of Indian-American Heritage

One of our seven beloved grandchildren asked the other day, “How do you say ‘reception’ in Indian?” She needed the information for her school paper, Growing up in a Multicultural Family.

A few months ago, another granddaughter had asked, “Has anyone in our family invented something?” for her high school paper.

The significance of Indian American heritage can be decoded through an understanding of “reason” and its limitations.

The renowned eighteenth-century philosopher, Immanuel Kant would say, “All knowledge flows from the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.

The world continues to subscribe to the philosophy of Kant.

Science, six sigma, policies, laws & regulations, and the like are products of reason. America excels in the products of reason. Most Nobel prizes go to Americans and America is home to top-notch technologies, products, and services.

In spite of these incredible accomplishments, why then has America not been able to tackle racial disharmony for over a century?

The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery in 1865 and a host of newer laws, policies, rules, and regulations have been adopted since then, including the 1965 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.

Racism persists because the nation is limiting its pursuits to the products of reason, but the solution is not to be found there.

Swami Vivekananda was an Indian monk revered in his native land and widely respected in the United States. Asserts Vivekananda, “Indian thought dares to seek, and successfully finds, something higher than reason.”

Swami Vivekananda’s wisdom can be proved.

Intuition is immediate cognition without the benefit of the five senses and the rational mind. Perfect intuition translates into the capacity to discern truth from falsehood. We all have a certain level of intuition, but the accuracy is generally too low to be of any practical value.

How does one discover something higher than reason? Obviously, one cannot use reason itself for such an inquiry.

Seers have left behind clues in the form of discoveries over millennia that couldn’t have been sourced from previous knowledge, and in every case, the process used is meditation, known for thousands of years.

As an example, the four Vedas are the most ancient scriptures of humanity. Their knowledge and wisdom couldn’t have been sourced from previous knowledge as there was none. This is why they are referred to as “revealed” (Shruti).

Another example, physics realizes that the universe came into existence pursuant to a big bang moment 13.8 billion years ago when it was an incredibly small energy phase (10-33 cm in diameter), unbelievably hot and immensely dense. Physics realizes too that on the other side of the big bang, there was absolutely nothing, a void.

How did “nothing” transform into the energy phase of the big bang? No product of reason has an explanation, and the explanation they do have is fraught with inconsistencies and paradoxes.

Inspired by Indian wisdom, my friend and associate physician turned theoretical physicist, Jim Kowall found the answer: “Consciousness of the void created the universe”.

How did seers know that meditation is the route to progress? They cite their Guru as their source, but how did their Guru know it? If you keep going back, you will eventually run out of Gurus, and then the question is, where did the first sage get the knowledge?

This is where the inquiry comes to an end, and the belief in God exponentially increases.

Meditation also brings about a rise in internal excellence, inducing positive changes from within. And this hypothesis can be tested as internal excellence can be measured.

Internal excellence has nothing to do with race, religion, gender, political affiliation, or national origin.

A rise in internal excellence is accompanied by a rise in positive emotions (love, kindness, empathy, compassion) and a fall in negative emotions (anger, hatred, hostility, resentment, frustration, jealousy, anxiety, despair, fear, sorrow, and the like).

So, society needs to do meditation to bring about a rise in racial harmony and a fall in societal discord. Who would have thought? 

Relatedly, the best performance results when the best products of reason are combined with a program to enhance internal excellence

The ancient contributions notwithstanding, science is the appropriate body of knowledge to use when the system fundamentals are well understood. When they are not, but measurements are available, data-driven methodologies such as six sigma are appropriate. When system fundamentals are not well understood and measurements are not available, then enhancing one’s focus of attention as with meditation, remains the only route to new discoveries. Take care though, discoveries made this way must nonetheless meet the rigor of logical scrutiny.

Remember, transcending reason may well produce new knowledge, but once produced, it is subject to all the constraints reason imposes on all knowledge.

This in a nutshell is the significance of Indian American heritage. American heritage provides the best products of reason, while Indian heritage suggests that transcending the bondage of reason is the only route to further progress and teaches how.

Indian American heritage has the capacity to make a substantial contribution toward a better and more peaceful nation and world. These ideas should be front-and-center in the conversations to further strengthen US-India strategic partnership.


Pradeep B. Deshpande is an Indian-American academic in America for fifty-five years. He has interacted with Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and P. V. Narasimha Rao, a friend and associate of his late father in the freedom struggle.

Acknowledgments. This article is written with the blessings of H. H. Gurumahan, Founder, Universal Peace Foundation, Thirumoorthy Hills, Tamil Nadu, India.


 

An Inauguration That Awoke My Ancestors

(Featured Image: Screenshot from CNBC coverage of the 2021 Inauguration)

I was pouring my coffee and almost spilled it when I heard Senator Amy Klobuchar’s words, “Our first African American, our first Asian American, our first woman Vice President, Kamala Harris” waft from my TV. As nonchalantly as I had been watching the inauguration, that moment – those words violently ran through my body, as though all my ancestors were asking me to listen. 

Kamala Devi Harris.

I was happy to hear of the Democratic shift in our Executive and Legislative branches of government and had voted accordingly, yet I remained skeptical. Skeptical if the words matched the vision. 

I accepted Vice President Kamala Harris as a person of color, but I’m not sure why, I hadn’t rationalized the identities she presented. Her Indian-American identity was one she had disengaged from early in her career, rightfully so, only to reach out conveniently when she needed votes. I still voted for her, advocated for her. Not because of her Indian heritage but because of her qualifications, her recent policies, her passion, her willingness to adapt, change, and grow. She was a powerhouse and deserved a position that matched her abilities. This was the narrative I spun for myself and others. 

But…it wasn’t until those words were uttered at the inauguration that I felt myself shudder. Shudder in disbelief. Shudder at the significance. Shudder at the thought of my connection to her.

A Lotus Goddess. 

And there she was…like Lakshmi Devi, ready to sit upon her throne. Her purple garments, vibrant like the purple lotus. Rooted in America in the most American way – a child of immigrants from two spaces and places. I could not will that away and neither could she. 

For so long, I denied seeing myself in Kamala in the interest of seeming impartial; to not be criticized for voting based on resemblance. I cannot deny it any longer. Our Vice President, Kamala Devi Harris is an Indian-American and I love her for it. I love myself for it. She will be a part of my history and I, hers.


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Census 2020: Which Race and Ethnic Card to Play? Census Identities Still Confound

Everyone in the United States plays a race or ethnic card some time, or at least everyone responding to the census. Despite the scientific view that race is an artificial social construct, unmoored from biological reality, is there a box that best describes you?
Whether you plan to respond to the census online, in writing, or by telephone, one question you’ll have to answer will be how you self-identify.
FAQ: What are the race and ethnic categories on the census form?
Answer: Your racial choices are: (1) White; (2) Black or African American; (3) American Indian or Alaskan Native; (4) Asian – with numerous boxes as subsets; and (5) Some other race. The questionnaire also asks, separately, if the respondent is “of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin,” but instructs that, “for this census, Hispanic origins are not races.”
FAQ: What if I’m not White or Black? I’m Egyptian and my neighbor is from Iran. What are our options and who determines the categories?
Answer: You and your neighbor fall into what is called the MENA classification: Middle Eastern and North African. There was a proposal to add MENA to the 2020 form, but the Office of Management and Budget, which makes the assigned identity group determinations about the census, decided to keep the same basic categories that were on the 2010 census form.
FAQ: So, if I’m MENA, what box best describes me?
Answer: That’s a personal choice. Many MENA residents, and others, end up checking “Some other race,” the third-largest race category after White and Black or African American.
FAQ: But I thought Hispanics and Latinos were now the second-largest racial group in the United States according to their population. So how do you get “Some other race” as the third-largest group?
Answer: As far as the census is concerned, Hispanics and Latinos are ethnic classifications not racial classifications. Some will check the “White” box and some will check the “Black” box or write in Afro Latino, for example, as an addition. Many will check the “Some other race” box. MENA respondents also frequently check the “Some other race” box as well. They don’t see themselves as Black or White, and in most cases, they are not of Hispanic or Latino origin.
FAQ: Have census categories changed over time?
Answer: Yes. Mulatto, octoroon or quadroon once were options on the census form to describe African Americans of mixed heritage. One estimate calculates that 500,000 of these individuals checked the “White” box on the 1920 form. In later years, public demand and pressure resulted in the OMB removing “Negro” as an option for American-born residents of African descent. The term still appeared on the 2010 decennial census, but on the 2020 form the choices are “Black” or “African American.”
FAQ: What if I was born here, but my parents are from Africa?
Answer: There is a lot of subjectivity involved in making these choices. For some, Black has come to mean anyone who is a descendant of the African diaspora, regardless of where they were born or live. One Somali man, a longtime resident and U.S. citizen, married an American woman who identified as Black. When asked how he describes his U.S.-born children, he said, “Well, now that I think about it, I guess they are African American.”
FAQ: What if I am of mixed heritage? My parents are African American, but I know some of their ancestors were from Europe. They were Irish, for example, Dutch or German. Other ancestors, we think, were Native American.
Answer: The questionnaire is set up so that you can “Mark one or more boxes AND print origins.” We know America has had a complicated history (https://tinyurl.com/EMS-FAQ), as more people are discovering through genomic testing. One adult census respondent recalls discouraging his mother, who identifies as Black, from checking every major race category box on the form.
FAQ: Why would it have mattered if she had? What difference does the box I check make or any information I may add?
Answer: For one, you have a better chance of “owning” who you are. Therefore, you are less likely to be misrepresented by a census employee who, without that information, would make a determination about your identity. So, in that sense, checking every box would be a more accurate contribution to understanding our country’s history. Individual census data is sealed for 72 years, but in the future your descendants or distant relatives will be able to look you up by name on the census form you respond to this year. In fact, the census is among the primary tools genealogists and researchers use to trace family histories. You might also reflect on that first constitutionally mandated census in 1790. To achieve a political compromise, those held in bondage were counted only as three-fifths of a person, and their names were not recorded on the census. Even as late as 1860, the last census before the Civil War, some owners reported the age and sex of their captives, but not their names.
FAQ: But how does filling out the census or not filling out the census affect my immediate financial or economic condition?
Answer: For practical purposes, as a measure of population, census data is used to determine how the federal and state governments allocate funds and resources, in addition to determining the number of seats states get in the U.S. House of Representatives. Data can be a double-edged sword. Some data are critical to attempts to address structural disparities among America’s peoples, but data also can be used as a guide to steer resources away from those deemed political adversaries. How and why data are used is an important conversation, but it’s a different conversation from whether it is in your interest to respond to the census. However, unless you are clear about who you are by identity, you may be grouped with a different race than your preference. That was why the individual discouraged his mother from checking every box. He wanted to make sure that if there were resources linked to her identity, those resources would be allocated to and benefit the community with which she primarily identified.
This article is a monthly column by Ethnic Media Services aimed to educate about the need to respond to the 2020 U. S. Census. 

Which Race and Ethnic Card to Play: Census Identities Still Confound

Everyone in the United States plays a race or ethnic card some time, or at least everyone responding to the census. Despite the scientific view that race is an artificial social construct, unmoored from biological reality, is there a box that best describes you? Whether you plan to respond to the census online, in writing or by telephone, one question you’ll have to answer will be how you self-identify.

FAQ:​ What are the race and ethnic categories on the census form?

A:​ Your racial choices are: (1) White; (2) Black or African American; (3) American Indian or Alaskan Native; (4) Asian – with numerous boxes as subsets; and (5) Some other race. The questionnaire also asks, separately, if the respondent is “of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin,” but instructs that, “for this census, Hispanic origins are not races.”

FAQ:​ What if I’m not white or black? I’m Egyptian and my neighbor is from Iran. What are our options and who determines the categories?

A:​ You and your neighbor fall into what is called the MENA classification: Middle Eastern and North African. There was a proposal to add MENA to the 2020 form, but the Office of Management and Budget, which makes the assigned identity group determinations about the census, decided to keep the same basic categories that were on the 2010 census form.

FAQ:​ So, if I’m MENA, what box best describes me?
A:​ That’s a personal choice. Many MENA residents, and others, end up checking “Some other race,” the

third-largest race category after white and black or African American.

FAQ​: But I thought Hispanics and Latinos were now the second-largest racial group in the United States according to their population. So how do you get “Some other race” as the third-largest group?

A:​ As far as the census is concerned, Hispanics and Latinos are ethnic classifications not racial classifications. Some will check the “White” box and some will check the “Black” box or write in Afro Latino, for example, as an addition. Many will check the “Some other race” box. MENA respondents also frequently check the “Some other race” box as well. They don’t see themselves as black or white, and in most cases, they are not of Hispanic or Latino origin.

FAQ:​ Have census categories changed over time?

A:​ Yes. Mulatto, octoroon or quadroon once were options on the census form to describe African Americans of mixed heritage. One estimate calculates that 500,000 of these individuals checked the “White” box on the 1920 form. In later years, public demand and pressure resulted in the OMB removing “Negro” as an option for American-born residents of African descent. The term still appeared on the 2010 decennial census, but on the 2020 form the choices are “Black” or “African American.”

FAQ:​ What if I was born here, but my parents are from Africa?

A: ​There is a lot of subjectivity involved in making these choices. For some, black has come to mean anyone who is a descendant of the African diaspora, regardless of where they were born or live. One Somali man, a longtime resident and U.S. citizen, married an American woman who identified as black. When asked how he describes his U.S.-born children, he said, “Well, now that I think about it, I guess they are African American.”

FAQ:​ What if I am of mixed heritage? My parents are African American, but I know some of their ancestors were from Europe. They were Irish, for example, Dutch or German. Other ancestors, we think, were Native American.

A:​ The questionnaire is set up so that you can “Mark one or more boxes AND print origins.” We know America has had a ​complicated history​ (​https://tinyurl.com/EMS-FAQ​), as more people are discovering through genomic testing. One adult census respondent recalls discouraging his mother, who identifies as black, from checking every major race category box on the form.

FAQ:​ Why would it have mattered if she had? What difference does the box I check make or any information I may add?

A:​ For one, you have a better chance of “owning” who you are. Therefore, you are less likely to be misrepresented by a census employee who, without that information, would make a determination about your identity. So, in that sense, checking every box would be a more accurate contribution to understanding our country’s history.

Individual census data is sealed for 72 years, but in the future your descendants or distant relatives will be able to look you up by name on the census form you respond to this year. In fact, the census is among the primary tools genealogists and researchers use to trace family histories.

You might also reflect on that first constitutionally mandated census in 1790. To achieve a political compromise, those held in bondage were counted only as three-fifths of a person, and their names were not recorded on the census. Even as late as 1860, the last census before the Civil War, some owners reported the age and sex of their captives, but not their names.

FAQ:​ But how does filling out the census or not affect my immediate financial or economic condition?

A:​ For practical purposes, as a measure of population, census data is used to determine how the federal and state governments allocate funds and resources, in addition to determining the number of seats states get in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Data can be a double-edged sword. Some data are critical to attempts to address structural disparities among America’s peoples, but data also can used as a guide to steer resources away from those deemed political adversaries. How and why data are used is an important conversation, but it’s a different conversation from whether it is in your interest to respond to the census.

However, unless you are clear about who you are by identity, you may be grouped with a different race than your preference. That was why the individual discouraged his mother from checking every box. He wanted to make sure that if there were resources linked to her identity, those resources would be allocated to and benefit the community with which she primarily identified.

Capturing the Face of Multi-Ethnic America

1. Can I identify my race in the census?

Yes.

Census 2020 collects data on race and ethnicity to capture the face of multi-ethnic America. 

The Asian race category which was added to the census in 2000, offers an option to mark national origin  as ‘Asian Indian’

Asian refers to people originating from the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. An ‘other Asian’ option is available for subgroups from the Asian diaspora such as Pakistan and Cambodia.

The term ‘race’ was first introduced in the 1890  census which distinguished between East Asian subgroups  – Chinese, Japanese and Indian (Asian) while the 1930 census actually had a color category  for Hindus.

The race question and heritage is based upon self-identification which means you can choose more than one option to describe your racial identity. 


2. Will I become a target for ethnic discrimination if I disclose my national origin as Asian Indian?

No.

Some Asian Americans fear that marking their race or national origin  on the census will lead to racial profiling and make them targets of ethnic discrimination.

But the census format only reflects how classifications of race and ethnicity have changed in society since the first census in1790.

Data collected on race informs federal policy decisions on civil rights, educational opportunities, promoting equal opportunities ,and assessing environmental risks and racial disparities in health care access, housing, income and poverty.

 

3. Is the census available in any Indian languages?

No. 

Paper census forms will only be available in English and Spanish and people can respond to census questions online or over the phone in 12 other languages.

However the Census Bureau will provide guides, glossaries, and a language identification card for ‘limited English speaking households’ for a total of 59 languages that include Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Nepali, Urdu, Telugu, Punjabi, Tamil, Malayalam and Marathi.

Since 1890 the Census has collected data on English-speaking ability and languages spoken at home to help determine bilingual election requirements under the Voting Rights Act.

 

4. Does my information remain confidential?

Yes. 

Census information is PRIVATE. The Census Bureau values the trust respondents place in them to be ‘caretakers’ of the data they collect. Information is used only to produce statistics of the US economy and population for federal programs.

Individuals are never identified.

Strict confidentiality laws prohibit the Census from sharing information it collects from respondents. Your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Your data is protected by Title 13 of the US Code.

 

5. Is this information distributed to ICE and other government agencies?

No.

The Census Bureau does not share respondent information with immigration, law enforcement, tax collection agencies or any other organization. Security measures are in place to ensure that any census data released to federal agencies or organizations, are carefully reviewed to avoid disclosing individual information

Surveys are mailed to addresses, rather than to specific individuals, to protect the confidentiality of participating households.

So, it is safe, especially for immigrant families with children – a group that is traditionally undercounted – to participate in the census.


6. Will I have to disclose my citizenship?

No.

The Census is a count of everyone living in the US including citizens, non-citizens, undocumented immigrants, non-citizen legal residents and non-citizen long term visitors. 

The Constitution “does not say citizen, it does not say legal resident, it says the census must count all persons in the 50 states and the primary constitutional purpose is apportionment.” says Terri Ann Lowenthal, a Census Expert.

The addition of the citizenship question made people wary about participating in the census for fear it would expose non-citizens to ICE interrogations. But the Supreme Court BLOCKED its inclusion in Census 2020 so immigrants (legal and undocumented), refugees, minorities and their families are not deterred from participating in the census, and the population count is more accurate.  

What’s at stake? An accurate count ensures that each state gets the right number of congressional seats to represent its population and receives its share of $900 billion each year in federal funding to support communities, families and infrastructures.

Remember – you don’t count if you’re not counted!

 

7. I’m on an H1B visa and my spouse is on H4 visa.  Will participation in the census affect our status?

No.

The H1B visa is issued to foreign-born workers and skilled professionals who account for a significant proportion of IT occupations in states like California and Texas.

In 2018, USCIS reported that Indians accounted for 73.9 percent of total H1B visa holders in the USA and that  93% of H4 dependent spouses were from India.

Though the census includes all foreign-born non-immigrants in its population count, it does not collect data on their legal status. The law ensures that personal information is not shared with any agency, including law enforcement. All data at the Census Bureau is kept confidential and protected from disclosure.

 

8. How many questions does the Census have?

Nine. 

Each household will receive a form that asks about basic demographic and housing information that covers:

  • The number of people living or staying in your household as of April 1, 2020.
  • If your home is owned with or without a mortgage, rented or occupied without rent.
  • A phone number of someone living in your home.
  • The name, sex, age, race and date of birth of each person living in your home.
  • Whether anyone is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish descent
  • The relationship of each person to a central person in the home.
  • Data collected on age for example, helps local officials plan program funding for health and assistance to seniors and children.

9. How do I respond to the Census?

You can respond online, by mail or by phone. 

Between March and April 2020, Most households will receive an online invitation to participate in Census 2020. Areas less likely to respond online will receive a paper invitation. Reminders will be sent out and if people do not respond they will receive additional reminders and a paper questionnaire, or an in-person follow up.

For questions about the census call 301-763-INFO (4636) or 800-923-8282 or go to ask.census.gov

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor to India Currents

All Media Assets: U.S. Census Bureau