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Desi Roots, Global Wings

“Ethnic Pride” is defined as the positive feeling that fills a person’s heart because of her being a member of a particular ethnic group. Even while members of certain groups and cultures are exuberant in expression of their ethnic pride, a case could be made for a diametrically opposite concept as well: universal human potential and the impulse to celebrate it, regardless of one’s ethnic identity. This happened when, for example, people all over the world celebrated the achievement of Neil Armstrong as he became the first man to walk on the moon. 

I have been trying to understand the pride I feel when I become aware of the achievements of certain Indians or Indian-Americans. I lean in the direction of celebrating each person regardless of their demographics, be it region of origin, language, religion, or even citizenship. Yet, there are three individuals in particular who challenge my preference to not confine myself to a narrow ethnic box. 

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Atul Gawande

Anand Giridharadas is a writer. He is a former columnist for The New York Times and an editor-at-large for Time magazine. His latest book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,  is a groundbreaking investigation of how the global elite’s efforts to “change the world” actually manage to do the opposite. he book offers a bold and unapologetic challenge to the elite who pay lip service to “doing good” while primarily doing everything possible to undermine public good in their desire to amass wealth and power. 

Atul Gawande is a surgeon, writer, and public health researcher. His articles (published in the New Yorker) were instrumental in helping people think clearly about the fraught topic of healthcare in this country. His books and articles are apolitical and impartial; at the same time they are backed by solid evidence and clear thinking. They are a reasoned exposition of what needs to happen, and what is possible, if we want to improve access to healthcare for all Americans.  

Preet Bharara is a lawyer who served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017. In that role, he earned a reputation as a “crusader” prosecutor. According to The New York Times, during his tenure, he was one of “the nation’s most aggressive and outspoken prosecutors of public corruption and Wall Street crime.”

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I would admire any person who persevered and succeeded in the manner these men have. And yet, I feel an extra sliver of joy and pride about these three men. And so I ask, is it okay for me to feel this pride?

 Should I then also feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment if another person with whom I share ethnic roots acts in an unethical or dishonorable manner? My response to this latter question is an emphatic “No!”

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These three individuals have Indian parentage and grew up in the United States. As a person who walked their parents’ path, albeit several years after them, I instinctively understand the worldviews, energy, and hopes with which the parents made a life for themselves and their children in America. I understand and, therefore, sympathize with the risks and challenges that their families likely faced. Maybe what I am feeling is not “pride,” as much as a feeling of fellowship or empathy. 

The scarcity of opportunities and resources in one’s own country of birth is sometimes the impetus to leave. Arising out of this experience is the desire to make the most of the opportunities that result from the risky move and to reach for even more social development and personal achievement. In this sense, my “pride” may actually be a desire to applaud their success in turning “lemons into lemonade.”  

Another factor is the awareness of the many losses endured by parents and children alike. There is the enigma of arrival and the pressing need to decode and master a new society. There is the trauma of relationships and connections torn asunder. There is the challenge of being alone, lonely, and unsupported, new, temporary, and outsider. So, what I recognize as “pride” is actually sympathy.

To paraphrase a quote from the movie  My Big Fat Greek Wedding, these three individuals and their families practised the old adage:

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I see a parallel between these three individuals (and other successful immigrants) and the Parsis who blended into the Indian culture “as sugar in milk.” Just like the Parsis, they are energetically and unapologetically helping to improve the society in important and tangible ways. 

I acknowledge a feeling of pride in Americans, not as “they, but as “us.” Unlike earlier waves of immigrants such as the Italians, Irish, and Jewish Eastern Europeans, today’s Indian immigrants possess educational and cultural capital. However, this capital does not always pay the same dividends as it might have in the countries of origin. And yet, for the most part, this welcoming society offers opportunities to contribute and participate. So there is pride—or maybe I mean gratitude—in being part of this grand experiment that is America. There is pride of membership in a society that not only makes such transitions possible, but celebrates them.

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There is a sense not so much of pride, as of triumph, for the birth story and the coming of age story—of these individuals as well as of others who are walking the same path. It is a way to feel exalted and to pay homage to the Matrubhumi (Motherland) as well as the Karmabhumi (Locus of action).  In their triumph is my triumph and if you are wondering if I am a convert –  Yes I am!

Desi Roots, Global Wings is a Column inspired by: Roots hold a person close. Wings set the person free.  We need both to live fully with confidence, thoughtfulness, and intention. In that spirit, Ranjani Rao and Nandini Patwardhan, co-founders of Story Artisan Press, explore what it means to be open-minded and curious global Indians.

Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, and on Slate.com, Alternet.org, Khabar.com, TheHindu.com, and IndiaCurrents.com. Her biography of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor, will be published in November 2019.

   

 

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