This is a letter from an old and close friend of mine. How close you ask. Well, he lives in California, and still calls me friend even though we have not seen each other for years. We used to spend a lot of time together, but that was long time ago. Back then we used to share similar lives and ideas. I would not claim that to be true today. These are his words, his opinions. I told him about the blog, and asked him if he can contribute. He said he would be happy to do it, but on two conditions. I cannot pester him to write regularly, and I have to respect his privacy. So I shall call him J. Here is the letter from J without any edits.
As a favor to your request for me to contribute to your blog, let me start with a topic that I know you have lost interest: politics. I remember those days you were excited about people and politics. I do not know what happen since then, but I have noticed that for a while you have displayed a strong aversion to the subject. So what better way to repay your kindness than talk about a subject that would irritate you? But seriously, your dislike for the topic makes it less likely for me to repeat. Yes, I am yet to read your blog to find out what you normally talk about.
I understand you want it to be India centric. I am not sure I am up to date with today’s India. I hear it is different than the India we grew up with. Our youth and our India are just fading memories now. But I can surely talk about the Indians around me. As you know, Bay Area has a growing Indian population. At certain occasions I tend to forget that I left India. My comments about India would be based on those Indians: those like me left India but still Indian at heart. Or at least that is what we like to think.
As you know we are in the midst of an election year: the presidential primary season is running at fever pitch. I am sure Indian newspapers cover it regularly. When I first got exposed to the two-party system, I was shocked. You can imagine my surprise coming from a land with more political parties than deities. And when it comes to inventing deities, we Indians are prolific. But we are even better and creating political parties. Here the world revolves around two parties: the Republican and Democrats. Well there is a third Independent choice, but no one cares. They are there to fill the “Others” category. At best they are considered crazies, and at worst, spoilers. Remember when in 2000 Al Gore lost to Bush: the independent candidate was the spoiler.
Initially, I thought it was no-brainer that Indians would support democrats by default. Well, only the ones who are citizen counts. It turns out that I was naive. The first prominent Indian American politician in long time is the new governor of Louisiana, a state that is south of Arkansas and east of Taxes. The reason I mention this is you would not find many Indians there. It is different than say NY or Bay area. So that fact alone makes me wonder. Moreover, he is Republican with capital R: right wing religious Republican. He is against all abortion and flag burning. Did I mention that he is a Punjabi? His name is Bobby Jindal. Rush Limbaugh calls him the next Ronald Reagan. There is nothing to take away from his achievement. And there is surely nothing wrong. It is just that I would have never guessed. We all know politics makes strange bedfellows. I did not know house of politics is full of strange beds too.
In general though, Indians here tend to lean Democratic, at least in bay area. That brings me to the current presidential election. We had our primaries this Tuesday, called Super Tuesday. The results from the Republican primary were expected. As per pre-election poll, Clinton was ahead and she won. What got me thinking is the way Indian voted. All most all news media reported that Asian, in general, favored Clinton 3 to 1: she got over 75 percent of the Asian votes. Among Indian voters similar trend is also true.
Asians count for about 12 percent of the voters in California. Indians count about 30 percent of that. So they are not a significant voting block, but in other areas they can make a big difference. For example, when it comes to raising money the CEO’s of the Silicon Valley can be of great help. There are political bundlers who collects donation on behalf of these candidates. There are about 21 such Indian bundlers. More than half of them are supporting Clinton, and promised to raise about a million dollars from their friends and family. Not a small amount when you think about it. In contrast, Barack Obama has only a small number of supporters.
That is what interests me. Why Indian support one candidate over the other. It seems when it comes to young and educated population, Obama is the super star. Indian population here is surely educated, and not too old. They why they do not follow the national trend? Granted, Obama is against outsourcing. Given that Clinton has taken trips to India. But I wonder if decision of Indians here is solely based on how India would be affected by this election.
May be there are bigger force in play: the comfort in status quo and affinity towards assimilation. Clinton surely has the air of been there, done that. She is the establishment candidate. So it is natural to bet on the sure thing. Our culture forbids us to rock the boat. And I understand that. But how deep is the imprint of our culture has to be that we cannot shade it even when you are in a society where rocking the boat is rewarded?
The second possibility is little more involved. We come to this place as immigrants. We carry the immigrant mentality with us. It is a good thing: it forces us not to take things for granted; it makes us work harder; it makes us dream for a better life; it protects us from being lazy. With that comes the urge to assimilate. We do not want to stick out like a sore thumb. Our appearance and accents are bad enough; we do not have to accentuate them. We try to fit in. We want to align ourselves with the main stream mass culture. That too is normal.
But there is a subtext here. To what extent do we absorb it? Do we take only the ones we need to assimilate? Do we take it with all its prejudices and biases? And that is the question I ask. That goes beyond the presidential election. I have noticed that outside India community as well. Every immigrant community wants to assimilate with the main stream. It is survival mechanism. But does it have to come at the cost of another minority group? Why do different minorities feel they are in competition, and threatened by the others just like them?
Which of the American values should we absorb: the one that teaches us about individuality or the one that tells us to accept the existing social biases? Contradiction is core of any advanced culture. There would always be the gap between ideals a society strives for and the ideas that are practiced every day. When we are trying to assimilate a culture, should we not be careful how we handle the contradiction?
We should all choose what is best for us. That is the power of democracy. Even narrow personal interest is an acceptable criterion for choice. What I think is not acceptable is the choice due to misunderstood bias. I hope we all choose with information, choose what is best for us. I have no preference who we pick, just how we pick.
Hope by now you lost interest completely. See what you get for asking me to write. That was your choice. Do not blame me.