desi

Discriminating from within

When I wrote a post a while back on racism, some pointed out that desis can’t exactly sit on a pedestal like angelic little angels upon poofy clouds singing sad harps songs about discrimination as though we ourselves don’t discriminate at all. Perhaps some of the cruelest discrimination is the kind we inflict upon each other.

You’d think living in the US, we wouldn’t discriminate each other based on caste or clan or which part of the motherland you happened to have been arbitrarily plopped into at birth but judgment calls based on these are ingrained in the lives of many to such a degree that even thousands of miles away the beliefs remain strongly implanted like the roots of an old oak tree attached firmly to our feet oceans apart.

I’m quite familiar with the discrimination and stereotypes by desis against desis. Since I fancy myself a writer and not a research scientist presenting you statistical data, I share insight into my experience of intradesi discrimination through example.

Incident 1: Ten years earlier, instant messaging a friend, I see its 4am. Quickly type Oh man I think my dad just got up, its so late!! He’s gonna kill me! I log off. The next day I get ten missed calls from said friend, when I call her back she asks me in a voice filled with concern Are you okay. I assure her I am but am confused, Why wouldn’t I be? Luckily my friend explained, Well, you said your dad was going to kill you. Silence on my end, Does my dad seem the dangerous sort? She sighs, laughing nervously “Well, you know, you’re punjabi… you know how violent Punjabis are…

Incident two:*walking to class with a friend in college*
Bobeena: You mean you’re… punjabi?
Me: Uh huh *continuing to walk and notice I’m now walking alone*
Bobeena: *stopped in her tracks, eyes agape* Wow.
Me: What?
Bobeena: Well…. how are you so…. civilized?
I’m sorry to say but the rest of the conversation involved me convincing her my parents and I did not sit around cursing all day while cracking peanuts with our toes.

And the others? Let’s run through the list…
Pathans are violent, emotional hot heads.
Memons are stingy businessmen.
Urdu speakers are sophisticated, slightly snobby, but ever so cultured and refined.
Punjabi’s (raises hand from back of class) are crude, unsophisticated, loud, obnoxious and apparently like to crack peanuts with their toes.

These stereotypes aren’t silly jabs without consequences. They can break friendships, prevent marriages, and tear families apart. It sounds so dramatic but its true.

I know too many who refused to allow their children to marry because one was Indian and the other Pakistani. Or even if both were Pakistani, one was of one caste, and the other a different lesser one. (Speaking of clans/castes, have you ever noticed how many desis are Syed’s and so proud of this ‘fact’, refusing to marry outside themselves as though they somehow are better than others because of this alleged link? I find it fascinating that roughly half of all desis are direct descendants of the Prophet pbuh, and the other half are all of some other ancestry than actually having roots in the region of their ancestors, if I had a nickel for every desi who is actually a descendant of some Arab prince or Syrian big shot.. I’d have my beach house in Fiji and then some) You would think that this mentality would change with this generation yet people still ask me what my father’s tribe is and nod approvingly or shake their head sadly depending on where on the rankings they themselves fall.

When my parents first came to the US, in they city they lived in, the amount of desis could be counted on two hands so they stuck together and ignored the ethnic divides. Indian? Bengali? Pakistani? Come one come all. I remember attending parties as a child with people from all different regions of the subcontinent. Yet as more immigrated, the lines began to be drawn in the ethnic sand. Urdu speakers found compatriots, the Bombay folks closed ranks, the Hyderabadi’s only inviting each other. Slowly my parents were no longer invited to parties simply because they were Punjabi and thus born in a region a few hundred miles from that of the people they currently lived 2 miles from in the US.

On the upside, I believe perceptions are changing. The community my parents now live in is certainly not as self-dividing, however there are still many communities that believe whole heartedly in these divisions and will uphold them to their last breath. Perhaps in the parents generation this is understandable, but to tolerate such prejudice in our own generation, is shameful.

Jokes touching on racial issues are the stuff that stand up comics rely upon to make a living. But its a fine line when you are treading the ethnic waters. Its okay to tease a Punjabi on their bhangra skills, but is it okay to believe us crude and uncultured? Its when it moves from playful jest to actual belief in the inferiority of another because of their region or caste or skin color that the joke just isn’t funny anymore. Racism, prejudice and bigotry is wrong no matter who is doing it, and who they’re doing it to.

For the post that inspired this one please see this post by Mezba on the same topic.

On a side note, I do realize this post is rather heated but its a topic that vexes me greatly. When responding please be respectful, this is a very touchy topic.

64 thoughts on “Discriminating from within”

  1. Hey Aishai lived in pakistan (karachi) since birth for 12 years. then we moved to the uae. the thing about stereotypes about memons is i faced them only after we moved and never before that. people actually doubt that i’m a memon, one coz i dont speak the language, memoni, neither of my parents do, two coz we dont look like memons. what ever that means! and tht i speak without an accent, big deal! funny thing, i understand punjabi and can speak i bit too, cant understand all of what you have written, but got enyur’s reply 😀a punjabi understanding/speaking memonp.s. do u think we can the comments to a hundred again? 🙂

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  2. Hi Aisha,When I was growing up in the US, I lived in a small town in the Midwest. There, ALL the Indians were together; Gujus, Southies, Punjabis, etc… we (the parents) would make fun of each other’s descendency (word?) and/or cultural habits based on what part of India they were from, but all in all, good times. And I thought it was this way everywhere in the States. But then as I got older and made desi friends in other states, larger cities; I realized that in these larger communities, the Indians would segregate off into their own communities. There was no intradesi hangouts; there was the Punjabi Diwali function, or the Guju Holi, but nothing with the whole community. So I wonder if things like this only happen in larger desi communities, such as Chicago, SF, and NYC. One thing I have noticed though, even in the smaller communities, as Desis become a stronger foothold in the US, we are less likely to latch on to whatever “looks like us” and be more discriminating. A consequence of power? Perhaps.One last thought, everything I spoke about above refers to mainly Hindus and Jains, as that is all my family exposed me to growing up. In our small community, it was religion that divided the desis. I assume this to be true in the larger communities as well.

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  3. Hain? Gujrati? (I just remembered that song from Kal Ho Na Ho “G-u-j-j-u. GUJJU!”) Sowwy!So you’re ancestors were from India Gujrat? I’m not sure where mine are from. I have heard that I have some Turkish blood (dad’s side) and Arab blood (mom’s side – I think we link back to Hazrat Abu Bakar Siddiq?). Although I’d really like to know more about my ‘blood line’ but I don’t want to confuse myself anymore than I am. So I just stick to my Punjabi roots 😀I don’t know what her dad would say about a Punjabi-Gujrati. All I know is that if his daughter gets married to the Gujrati guy…his grandchildren will be Gujrati-Punjabi hee hee!

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  4. Wow, you had quite a large response on this one too! I find the whole discrimination within a culture puzzling and incomprehensible. I am of Norweigan descent but don’t feel superior or less than the Austrians or Bulgarians or other white folk. I don’t know of anyone who thinks that way. Discrimination based on obvious differences like race or religion or wealth is a bit more understandable. What an odd phenomena. What is this racism based on? How can you tell a Punjabi from a Memon? Is there really such a difference? I find this very strange.

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  5. I’m shocked that you got hate mail? WTF?! Ok so people may not agree with somethings you say, that’s fine, but to take the time and send hate mail? These people just need to let others believe what they want, and they can think what they want. Anyways, back to the topic about discriminating from within, I’ve noticed that Pakistani Muslims and Indian Muslims usually have different circles. I mean the Karachites Lahoris and Islamabad set are often seen mingling, but rarely are the Indian Muslims mingling with the Pakistanis. And don’t get me started on the religious divides. Growing up, desi parties for me were always (Pakistani) muslim people, a few indian muslim families used to mingle with us, but once more Indian Muslims moved here, then they kinda formed their own set. But even among the Indians, it was always a purely Muslim set. I rarely see aunties/uncles have friends who are Hindu, Sikh, Jain…etc. I wonder why in a foreign land, these people still choose to isolate themselves from their own? SO what if you don’t speak the same dialect.Or if you have different religious beliefs. They are still desis, still people from “back home.”

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  6. aka, welcome to the blog and thanks for your comment I share your sentiments exactly.Rasha, I have no idea why I always thought you were desi. Your sentiments are very very well said. I hope to direct The Friendly Lion to your comment. I feel its different for her to have certain assumptions than it is for ME who grew up in the US who lived door to door with all sortsw of people to decide to pick apart my own people. I can understand to some extent as you decribe the parenst, but their offspring… its harder for me to understand… though we are a product of our parents… I’ve seen that many chidlren change their views when they start college and meet all sorts of different people including different desis/arabs, etc that they once held strongly held stereotypes about.Myabubakar, thanks for dropping by and commenting. I appreciate that you found my reviwes of some some use 🙂 And I dont always write about pakistani issues, lol, but I ddo write about whats on my mind. I guess I have desi on my mind these days 🙂Frenchita, oh yes.. if only we would remember!Brown Girl, I find your comment soo interesting. I wish I was younger when the eastern craze began because like you said… its nice to know that where you come from is acknowledged here too. I find your SN Brown Girl ironic in some ways in light of the story you told in your comment 🙂Smee, I was not offended at all by your comment. You were very respectful in your difference in opinion on the manner of presentation 🙂TFL, I think the Punjabi I wrote, llooking back… *I* couldn’t understand it. LOL. Look at Rasha’s comment when yo get a chance. I think in your case its different. In Pakistan such things are I think inevitable since everyone subscribes to it.

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  7. Ma, welcome to the blog. Thanks for your insight on desis from a different religious perspective. I agree religion does divide desis. That is a pretty standard thing though I have seen in extraordinarliy small towns, religion does not so divide. I dont know what to make of it.Enyur, I think my dad’s side can be traced to Gujrat… my mom’s have some Turkish ancesterage. But I’m not 100% sure. 🙂Jane, hmmmm I guess its because perhaps dividing and classifying ourselves is a human phenomenen even if race is not present… we will make different races out of the same people? Pakistan is pretty uniformly one race unlike the US. So I wonder if they then went on to be prejudiced on other factors considering each region as a different entity unto itself. I wonder if in Norway, within the people there if there are stereotypes about the different ones from different regions. I’d be curius to know since you brought up a point I havent fully consideredABCD Law, yeah, It wasn’t a lot of it, but I got a couple…. it takes all types is all I can say. You raise SUCH an interesting point about the hindus and Muslim divide. I have seen perfectly frendly desi woman embrace me and be so nice to me, and then leraning my name back away visibly b/c im muslim. Im sure the vice versa has happened too. But to be honest as far as a kinship, I have to admit that religion transcends country for most people including myself. I find myself able to connect with a Syrian Arab girl than a Hindu desi girl. I find it soooo strange though b/c we are of the same skin, same heritage yet religion puts a divide there. I think a lot of that has to do with the hundrds if not thousands of years of tension between hindus and muslims in India before the partition, and then the partition itself which caused a lot of friction. I think hurt feelings and animosity still lingers. I’ve noticied that Hindus dont frequent Pakistani’s stores and restaurants, and to the extent its possible, vice versa. Though I do remmeber the indian grocer we went to growing up in South Florida when he learned we were moving, he broke down into tears calling us his favorite customers….. the only ones who didnt try to haggle :). He seemed to not care about the divide and mingled with people of all religions. He was Hindu. So its possible for us to connect… but the disconnect in this arena is a bit more understandable to me particularly considered our very friction-filled past and present.

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  8. yeah, i think as a punjabi i’ve become one of a minority since immigrating to the US. i keep finding myself in groups of muhajirs – close friends of mine – agreeing with each other about how screwed up punjabis and punjabi families are. and i’m like ulp. nope. i’m no punjabi.

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  9. oh wow, I am so very late, and anything that I would like to say has already been said! BTW, I am a pathan! And some of the informational comments about the Pathans are, wow, eye-opening, to say the least. Hotheaded pathan, haha!I don’t think the post was heated at all. It’s a big problem that actually encompasses all of humanity, in every single culture. Arabs have it, South Asians have it, even the Americans have it! There is a reason why even after 400 years or so, black people are still called the minority and they still couldn’t integrate with the mainstram American, (aka the white folks). And even within the African culture, the North-Africans are deemed superior. And it goes on and on. We will just have to live with it and make sure our children learn better than this. it’s an awesome post.

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  10. You wrote an eloquently sad reality about our culture. It also coincides with the political realities I’ve been learning about in DC. There is a former (or maybe current) ambassador from Pakistan, Hussain Haqqani, who said that Pakistan has so many inter-provincial rivalries, that they have to rely on “Islam” to pull them together, rather than pluralism or civic institutions. (He’s “secular). In a way I wonder, what is wrong with that? I guess what is wrong with it is when one group dominates what Islam is, when people are in denial about any racial tensions, or blind to intercultural differences.

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  11. By the way, I’ve also seen commercial campaigns here that advocate the division of Pakistan into separate countries based on provinces, in order to reduce terrorism. Can you believe that?

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  12. Aisha:I am sorry but I have to vehemently disagree with you about religious divide, especially Muslims and Hindus. I am an Indian Muslim and count a few Hindus, Sikhs and Christians as my closest friends. If I need a friend at 3:00 AM, my phone will ring in a Hindu home !!! I find myself connecting to an Indian (Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist or Sikh or Jain or Christian or Jewish) much more than say a Jordanian or a Saudi or a Kuwaiti… I will connect with a Pakistani much more easily than Jordanian, Saudi,… and that is purely because of culture, language…religion has nothing to do with it, in my opinion. Yuo also talk about “hundreds if not thousands of years of tension between the two communities”. Actually, the “tension” was created by British in their quest to retain power over India. The dirty politicians continued that strategy in post-independence India and Pakistan. I go to places like Trinidad and Guyana and Surinam and see how the Muslims and Hindus coexist and integrate within each other so seamlessly. That is beacuse their forefathers left India (then united India) way before the British polluted the mindsets there.And yes, there are a few Hindus of orthodox mindset who will not visit Pakistani stores but that is beacuse they are vegetarians and believe food will be “corrupted”. They will equally strongly not visit a sikh-owned or Hindu-owned non-vegetarian restaurant for the same reason !!!I now live in the US and my closest friend is still the same Hindu friend from my college days who FORTUNATELY, lives in the same city here as I do. In my upcoming wedding, he will be my best man. I am sorry if I offended you but I cannot simply relate to your experience of connecting with a Syrian arab girl before a non-muslim Desi. I believe you need to look into your subconcious being and eradicate some latent biases.Again, apologies if I have offended you.Zulfiyou wrote:“ABCD Law, yeah, It wasn’t a lot of it, but I got a couple…. it takes all types is all I can say. You raise SUCH an interesting point about the hindus and Muslim divide. I have seen perfectly frendly desi woman embrace me and be so nice to me, and then leraning my name back away visibly b/c im muslim. Im sure the vice versa has happened too. But to be honest as far as a kinship, I have to admit that religion transcends country for most people including myself. I find myself able to connect with a Syrian Arab girl than a Hindu desi girl. I find it soooo strange though b/c we are of the same skin, same heritage yet religion puts a divide there. I think a lot of that has to do with the hundrds if not thousands of years of tension between hindus and muslims in India before the partition, and then the partition itself which caused a lot of friction. I think hurt feelings and animosity still lingers. I’ve noticied that Hindus dont frequent Pakistani’s stores and restaurants, and to the extent its possible, vice versa. Though I do remmeber the indian grocer……

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