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Call Me an ABCD at Your Own Peril

Vocabulary Terms for this Post:

  • Desi (pronounced) day-cee: A person or thing having its origin in the Asian subcontinent

  • ABCD (Acronym for "American Born Confused Desi"): Referring to the American born children of desi people.  Confused because we obviously have no idea who we are due to the terrible tension caused by two completely oppositional cultures.  Whatever.

Now, that the lesser mortals have clicked away from the gripping fear of a post of vocabulary words...

I hate the term ABCDHate. It.

American Born...Okay, I'm cool with that.  I was, after all, born in America.

Confused...How could anyone not be pissed off at that?

Desi...Pfft, whatever.

A good majority of the people who use the term ABCD don't mean for it to be a slur.  It got a lot of play about ten years ago, but has now been modified to "ABD" (American Born Desi), which isn't much better.  Actually, you know, I don't have a big problem with the term ABD in the context of general conversations and gross exaggerations such as:

"ABD's tend to major in engineering, IT or the medical field."

"A lot of ABD's like reggae island beat hip hop crap."  (Unfortunately).

"ABD's are generally self righteous when condemning the use of inaccurate and demeaning monikers."

Terms like this, in my opinion, prove useless when used to assess an individual, though.  They should be reserved strictly for those parts of our discourse meant to uncover trends, assess patterns, or pontificate about useless crap aimed at understanding diverse (air quotes) groups of people.

My problem arises when someone says, "Oh, you're an ABD."

ABD dismisses the nuance of me and the diversity of my own unique individual personality.  It, methinks, presumes too much.

Some might argue that the dropping of the term "Confused" from American Born Confused Desi in the last ten years renders it benign.

American Born Desi.  It's beniiiiiine, really, it is.

No, it really isn't.

The term desi could mean that a person's origins lie in any of the following countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and even Malaysia or Indonesia.  So, when a person calls me a desi, American born or not, they, once again, are generalizing about me.  Me, the person whose parents have never even been to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Nepal, let alone have "origins" there.

They also assume that I'm OK with being called a desi.  I am not OK with it.  I'm an American who is highly informed by Pakistani and Indian culture.  Not a desi who is informed by American culture.  There's a distinct difference. Discounting that difference discounts me.

Oh, and, yes, I have used the term ABD to describe myself.  The same way I describe myself to my daughter as "Mommy."  In general, my daughter doesn't yet have the capacity to discern who "Mommy" is outside of being Mommy.  Did I mention she's three years old?  Yeah, exactly.

So, if I describe myself as an ABD in a conversation, it's because I've figured out that the person I'm talking to has no other interest in me outside of this particular context.  They don't want to know about how I love baseball, how I don't think table tennis is a sport or why I'd rather take a nap than watch anything with Salman Khan (Indian actor) in it. They don't want to know that I cry when I hear the Pakistani national anthem, that I love the crispness of a New Delhi winter morning or that I would have Pani Puri water hooked up to me intravenously if I could.  They just want things to be simple.  Stratified.  Boxed.

ABCD, ABD and all the terms like it reflect intellectual laziness on the part of people who use them, specifically when the terms are used in the context of an individual.

((Big eye roll)) "Fine.  What are we supposed to call you, then?"

Call me Faiqa.  Because that's who I am.

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  • Response
    Good Site, Keep up the good job. Thanks!

Reader Comments (17)

Who uses these terms?

I think you and I must hang out in different circles. I've never even HEARD of an ABCD or an ABD. Or a desi, for that matter.

Then again, I just recently learned how to pronounce Pakistan.

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

I have similar issues with the term 'FOB'. I've never condoned the use of the term, but it had marginal amusement value a few years ago. Now it's become hackneyed and tired.

Anyone using the term today to deride others is clearly talking about themselves.

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSalman

I've never heard those terms, either. However, I definitely like the lesson!
So you hear this a lot?! That's bizarre.
I like Faiqa, thanks.
Oooh - what does Faiqa mean?! Just curious... ")

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSybil Law

I've never heard of that term either - who exactly uses it?

I'll just call you an Ayrab.

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

Needs more desu...

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRW

You couldn't be THAT opposed to it...I called you ABCD in college and you still married me. :) Seriously though, I have 'evolved' over the years and I correct people when they use that term now. Damn...I've become so boring :(

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTariq

Britt, Sybil & Avi:

I can't BELIEVE I forgot to clarify usage for you guys. These terms are actually used by people of "desi" origins to describe each other. So, yeah, you wouldn't be familiar with these terms unless, perhaps, someone very close to you was of this ethnic origin.

I've most often heard it from people who have not been in this country very long. But, I don't hear it very much since I make a point of publicly berating anyone in my circle that I hear use the terms to describe a specific person. Oh, yeah, I'm popular and well loved.

See, how I gave you a sneak peek into the world of American brown people?

Anyway, my point was that labels are terms of developing personal relationships.

And, Avitable, you can call me an Ayrab as long as you promise that I'll make it into the "superior race" gene pool in Aviland. Avitistan. The Republic of Avitablania.

Sybil: Faiqa means "superior" or "of a superior quality." My parents are big believers in underachievement and non-competitiveness. (Sarcasm).

Salman: I find FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) offensive, too. I have to admit that I used it a couple of times when it gained currency in the early 90s (no accounting for being young & stupid), but the people I addressed with that name never really seemed to find it funny for obvious reasons.

And, of course, the fact that I married a "FOB" probably contributed to the dismissal of that term from my vocab. Unless, he makes me really, really, really mad. :)

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Tariq: If you mean by "boring" that you're amazing, genius, and stunningly handsome, then, yes, you are very boring. Plus, if our decision to get married rested solely on things you said to me in college, our prospects for happiness would have been slim. Hmm, new blog post idea: "The Top 10 No Game Havingest Things My Husband Said to Me Before We Got Married."

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Faiqa - I am stealing your post idea! lol

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

My Pakistani friend's name is Fazeelat Monsour. There was another Pakistani who said that was a funny name for a guy. What the heck was he talking about??

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRW

Well, I'm not sure. The only person I've ever heard about with the name 'Fazeelat' was a woman. But, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a girl's name. Anyway, Fazeelat is a pretty unusual name even in Pakistan, as far as I know.

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

[...] closing, let me leave you with a quote from my original desi homie, M.K. Gandhi (yes, the Gandhi, as in [...]

November 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNative Born » Blog Archi

I have your site bookmarked and your feed link saved. I should be good to go now.

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDaggerin

@Daggerin, Great! Looking forward to hearing from you in the future. :)

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

[...] “Five Movies that Will NOT Completely Embarrass You In Front of Your Non-Desi [...]

[...] If you don’t know what “desi” means or “ABCD,” feel free to read this post to catch up. [...]

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterABCD & FOB / Really You&#8

Taking the word "confused" out of ABCD is about as benign as black people referring to each other as the N word spelled with "as" at the end of it instead of "ers." I could never imagine using that word because of its negative connotation, especially when many people still use it as a derogatory slur. Just thinking about it makes me feel like a dirtbag.

I wish we could stop referring to each other with generalizations, bad names, etc. Call me Liz, or "that girl with the blue shirt," instead of "that white girl." I dislike referring to other people as "that black guy" or anything like that.

I like how you put it: "Call me Faiqa. Because that's who I am."

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Kaylene

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