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Wednesday
Dec082010

ABCD & FOB / Really You're Not That Different To Me...

I got an interesting e-mail from a reader the other day.  "N.A." is a Bangladeshi American and somehow we arrived on the topic of marriage.  I gather that, like me, N.A. is married to someone who didn't grow up here.  She writes:
There is one thing that I think desi people don't really talk about. It's how abcds (I know it's not the best term:)) feel about fobs. ... I really wish people would just understand that we are all human.

It's like they think they are better than those who are immigrating from the subcontinent. The first thing the girls ask when trying to find a suitor is whether or not they grew up here. I understand that people feel that if both people grow up in the states they will have a better understanding of each other. That doesn't mean that people from India/Pakistan/Bangladesh are unmarriageable.

If you don't know what "desi" means or "ABCD," feel free to read this post to catch up.

When I was growing up, I knew one thing: I would never, ever marry an immigrant from the subcontinent.

Seriously, it's true.

I think I felt that way because there were so many times in my life when my parents treated my American-ness as a liability.  We will ignore the irony, for the sake of discussion, that they traveled thousands of miles from their homes to get to America and then spent the next several decades worrying that their kids might actually turn out, gasp, American.

I guess they saw my brother's and my growing up here as a direct obstacle to their ability to transmit their values and heritage.  As if somehow eating peanut butter and watching MTV were in complete opposition to Pakistani values.

Maybe my parents were motivated by a deep fear that on one of our many visits to Pakistan, we'd get off the plane smacking our gum too loud, wearing a pair of ripped jeans and a T Shirt that read, "Shit Happens," and thrust an open palm in the faces of one of our grandparents and and say, "How's it hangin', Gramps?"

All that fear of us being too American translated into me thinking that "desis," a term used for people from the Asian subcontinent, were totally lame.  It's true.  I'm not embarrassed to admit it.

Okay, I'm a little embarrassed to admit it.

I think I felt that way because the only way "desi" culture was presented to me was in the context of superiority.  See, we're family oriented, our parents would say... we have better morals, we have better manners, we work harder, we are less entitled... and, we definitely have better food.

It wasn't a deep love for all things American that prompted me to reject immigrants as social peers or potential spouses when I was younger, either.  It was that I hated that thing... that thing where you make someone else's stuff look bad in order to make yourself look good.  I imagined being married to some desi guy and having him drone on about... "Well, in Pakistan it's like this and that's so much better because..."

Of course, the central part of becoming an adult is realizing what a moron you were when you were a kid.

Also, for me at least, it was realizing the ugly truth that most people do that thing... the thing where they make other people's choices and values bad in order to make themselves look good.  You know and I know that my parents weren't alone.  I'd say, in fact, that they're representative of most people who are placed in cross cultural situations.

Just think about the last time you spoke with someone who visited a foreign country.  My favorite example is the one about my friend who visited Paris and all she could come up with was how much it smelled, how stupid it was that they asked whether you wanted your water with gas or not and how much NOT like New York City it was.  Hello.  It's Paris, not New York City.  Interestingly, I believe that's why they, in fact, call it "Paris" and not "New York City."

So here I am, well into my thirties, and married to an immigrant from the subcontinent.

To a fob.

And, he, too, is married to an ABCD.

A hyphen.

He could probably write a post similar to this if he was so inclined.  Something about how he never thought he would marry one of those girls who grew up in America, smacking their gum, wearing T shirts, faintly smelling of peanut butter and constantly high five-ing at the most inappropriate of times.

I think deep down, it's not about being an immigrant or not, about being born here or being born there.  It's about who you are, as a person.

Are you the kind of person who knows that there is value to be found in everyone, in every place or in every culture?  And are you willing to see that value?

Or are you a person who is so afraid of "different" that you would close yourself off from other people in order to preserve a sense of security about how you think the world is?

I know lots of people who have been all over the world, yet because of their way of thinking, they have never really left home.  They experience the world and the people in it within a very narrow and specific frame of reference.  They never let go enough of what they think the world should be like or what people should be like.  As a result, they will never experience the pleasure of being proven so entirely wrong that they find themselves head over heels in love with the very thing they thought they would never want any part of.  This is not the domain of immigrants or natives, it is simply the domain of people who are unwilling to see past their own noses.

So, N.A., what do I think of "ABCDs" who don't want anything to do with "fobs"?

I think they're not much different than most people who have resigned themselves to never wanting to find out what else is out there.

I think they suffer from the worst kind of limitations that any human can suffer... the ones we impose on ourselves.

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Reader Comments (43)

I really, really try to see the value in everyone, even when I feel like slapping them across their freaking faces.
You know who I ended up marrying? A version of my dad, which I never in my fricking life thought I would do (both get married and marry a guy like my dad).

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSybil Law

I didn't bother to look up the term "ABCD" as I figured it was similar to the "ABC" label a family friend whose parents were from Hong Kong used. And I had friends in college who created their own "fraternity" complete with sweatshirts called Phi Omega Beta.

The first time I really traveled outside of the US was to go to a summer school program in England. It took only a few days of my hearing my American classmates complaining about how things weren't like how they were at home before I distanced myself from them. Instead I got to know local folks. Because isn't that the reason for travel? To allow yourself to experience something different?

I still cringe today when I hear someone saying what was wrong with whatever place they went to because it wasn't enough like home. I guess I'm just a naturally curious person who finds other people fascinating -- the similarities and the differences.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

Truth! No parent wants their child to end up a gum-smacking whore! Kudos to yours for knowing what's important!

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave2

I'd totally hit it with a chick who's fresh off the boat.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

I use "fresh off the boat" with all immigrants, from all times. When I talk about my grandfather from Ireland, my friend from Russia - and it's not designating anything about them, other than they are the first of their line to immigrate to America (although, I will probably use that term for me when I move to Florence - and it's not likely that I will travel by boat). Have I been offensive with my language?

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllyson

You know, I actually never thought of it from this angle. My reasons for asking whether a guy grew up here or not are completely different. I need to prepare myself for a certain amount of disappointment. But wait! Let me explain.

I'm in my 20s. I can say that most girls my age are not wary of desi guys b/c they're afraid of "different." They're wary of desi guys b/c they're protective of their independence, and are afraid of not being treated with a certain level of respect. I wish, so wish, that that wasn't such a stereotypical statement, but the desi men I've met have not yet managed to prove themselves to be different. I'm still looking for one to break the trend. I actually WANT to marry a desi man, and make sure that desi culture is part of my life, that my future children are going to be exposed to it, but I am absolutely not willing to turn into my husband's mother, nor am I willing to have a husband who expects that he will never have to contribute to the household.

When I hear that a boy grew up in the sub-continent, I know that the chances are good that he will have "expectations." I just got out of a relationship with an Indian boy because I could not *stand* his attitude towards women, and that's the problem I have with many Indian men. You, Faiqa, married the exception. I actually *want* to marry an Indian man, for many reasons, but I CANNOT find one who shares anything resembling my values, and I actually am willing to compromise on many things. I STILL remember that beautiful post you wrote ages ago, about all that Tariq does to help maintain the household. I have yet to meet an Indian boy in my own life who would be willing to do *anything* around the house. (The one I broke up with had a mother who was married by 18, pregnant by 19, never completed her education, never worked a day in her life, and was quite literally on an allowance, financially. He expected me to be like Mother Part II for him, and do the same things for him his mother did for his family. I refused. I'm sorry, I just can't take on that role. Thus we made each other miserable. He actually explicitly said once that he thought men should just be able to come home and sit on the couch and have dinner served to them. I literally could not form the words to respond to that.)

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKarishma

"They never let go enough of what they think the world should be like or what people should be like. As a result, they will never experience the pleasure of being proven so entirely wrong that they find themselves head over heels in love with the very thing they thought they would never want any part of." I loved this! This is why I love traveling, living and exploring new cultures! And this statement in its very essence has become my life. And I'm lovin every minute :)

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShabina

I don't know if it's a Canadian/American thing, or an South Asia/European thing, but I've never had anyone specify a preference either way as far as immigrant or not. I grew up in a neighbourhood where about half the kids were first generation Canadian (i.e. parents were immigrants) and the only inclination I saw was some people (mostly parents) wanted to marry within their own nationality.

There were things my father longed for in Italy, that he told us about wistfully, but there were other things here, in Canada, that he deemed preferable too.

Like I said, I cannot relate to this; I don't know why though.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSciFi Dad

First of all - I have just spent a very, very long time perusing MyMomIsAFob.com. OHHHH the hilarity!

And also:

"the pleasure of being proven so entirely wrong that they find themselves head over heels in love with the very thing they thought they would never want any part of."

Love that.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

Hello all,

I wrote this email to Faiqa because it is a subject that is out there but hardly discussed.

I also married a "fob". We've been happily married for over 6 years now. When I first met him I never thought about him being a fob or that playing any part in us dating.

It wasn't until my "abcd" friends found out we were dating. They would say things like "how do you speak to him". I was like "what do you mean"? "I speak to him in both English and Bengali". I kept thinking about how ridiculous this question was. He's not from another planet.

It's just this stereotype that I see more amongst South Asians. I'm not sure how common it is for Europeans or other groups.

Faiqa really brought out some valid points in this post. It's very interesting to see all the comments.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterN.A

@Kailyn,
We lived for 4 years in Germany, two years on a Canadian Air Base and 2 years at Ramstein, USAF. Oh the whining and complaining of those who wanted to go home to the "Country of Round Door Knobs!" Imagine! Both Canadians and Americans critical of the country where we were guests!
I will always remember the day, on the playground, where I overheard a service wife in Ramstein AFB call a German national a "Stupid Foreigner"

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMomma

This is a subject that comes from all immigrants in what I'll call the "modern era," and I wish I knew how the change happened.

My ancestors came from Europe at the turn of the century, the nineteenth century. They were dirt poor. They were mostly uneducated. They took menial jobs and formed associations of mutual benefit to pool resources when they needed. There wasn't much going on in Europe for them except servitude and a lifetime of going no where. You know - peasants. When they came to America they immediately demanded that their children (my parents' generation) learn and speak English, go out and play baseball, speak the mother tongue only in the house, fit in, assimilate, be an American. My grandparents didn't like the hyphenated version of themselves. They were Americans and that was that. They kept their traditions in their homes and in their neighborhoods and churches, but when out in the general public they're all Yankee Doodle this and that.

At some point along the way, in time, immigrants from that same country - recent ones (like the guy I work for currently) - have almost little to no desire to assimilate to the same degree. They get their citizenship but outside of a handful of things they remain Polish and that's that. The game is soccer. Baseball and American football suck. They hire Americans like me to be the public face of their companies and stay in their own small circles. They like the idea of America but even if citizens they identify themselves more as the first part of their hyphen.

Plus they are more educated and - somehow - much more affluent than the 19th century stock that spawned anti-social recidivists like me.

So, see, when "Americans" look at immigrants and complain about they don't want to assimilate it isn't just people from "not-Europe", like they may think it is. It's the 20th century immigrant; who are maybe a little more cynical about all "the promised land" stuff, who bring more resources and don't have to "dig ditches" like my ancestors did, and are prone to flying the flag of the country they came from over and above the US flag on holidays.

I'm drawing these parallels because we're in an age of a rebirth from our anti-immigration heyday, yet under the skin the same stuff happens to everybody.

But here's the thing - I think it is an immutable law that the general American culture will, in time, seduce all the intentions of the first arrivals to heavily maintain their "other" identity first and foremost. By the second generation (that would be me, and therefore your kids right now) the point of reference will be America and the bonds of the old country will be more ceremonial and a matter of comfort than anything else. No matter what the original generation tries.

As a side note, an 88 year old uncle of mine (1st generation American born) went to a function at a hall that has been traditionally hiring Poles to get them started ever since I can remember, and he heard two young people (recent arrivals) speaking the native tongue. He grew up speaking the language in the house as a boy but he didn't understand 85% of what they were saying. And recent arrivals I talk to on the job here tell me that "other wave" of immigrants from before them talk a kind of Polish they can best describe by saying "it would be like if you heard people talking Shakespearean English." Modern Poles look at the elders from that other time dancing a "Polka" and have no idea what the hell they're doing. Because the culture the first group brought just froze and never progressed from 1900.

What was I saying? OMG...

I'm out of time, took up too much of your space, and used too many air quotes. Sorry...

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRW

@RW, When I referenced your kids as "1st generation" I was referencing the fact that Tariq was not born in the US, because I know you're an AB... er... American. Hence the title of your blog. :-)

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRW

@RW, lolwut? nevermind...

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRW

One of the things I appreciate about my FOB husband and our marriage, is that we just take whatever is the best from either culture, ala carte. Mostly, Manoj is not very derisive towards American Desis, but sometimes, he can't help but snort. Say, for example, at an AD cousin who basically throws a tantrum over an un-airconditioned car arriving to pick them up at the airport this past January when they had arrived in Kerala. However, it has to be fairly egregious behavior to get Manoj to roll his eyes, in his defense.

But we also pick on Americans, too. We are equal opportunity like that. Manoj has a saying where he'll say sadly, shaking his head "Only in America" in reference to certain things that go on here. I had this saying inscribed on his wedding ring! ;-)

Also, I've NEVER understood people who travel to other countries and spend their time complaining about the differences. Why leave your home at all? What's the point?

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercagey

"I know lots of people who have been all over the world, yet because of their way of thinking, they have never really left home."

This ... this is the most perfect sentence I have read this week. You nailed it so perfectly.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate

@Sybil Law, I'm pretty sure I married a version of my mother. A very manly version, of course...

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Kailyn, ABC means American Born Chinese, right? ABCD means American Born CONFUSED Desi. I really dislike that term for reasons I think are obvious.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Dave2, Hahaha.... I know. They're good people.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Avitable, I think it's safe to say "I'd totally hit it with a chick..." is probably accurate. Slut.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Allyson, Um, I don't think so. I think it's offensive if you attribute some type of negative behavior to their being a fob? That said, I know a few immigrants that don't care for that term at all.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Karishma,

He expected me to be like Mother Part II for him, and do the same things for him his mother did for his family.

Actually, I think that (and it still is) the expectation on his *parent's* part. I guess the big difference between the man you describe and Tariq is that Tariq was willing to grow up? I think when we first met he may have had those expectations to an extent. I will also add that when we visit my parents or his, he is always lavishly praised for doing simple things like changing diapers or feeding one of the kids. The expectations are on me to do these things, if he does them, it's like it's a favor.

That's not his fault, but, man, is it ANNOYING. For ten years, I tried to live up to the expectations of his parents and mine (they're a little less demanding) until just recently I was like, Why am I doing all this? This is stupid... I have value BEYOND these things and it's on them to see that. Tariq's reaction? Yes. Why ARE you trying to meet their expectations? That's not why I married you...
In my case, I put those expectations on myself... I wanted to please his parents. I didn't realize that they love their son enough to put up with a lazy American girl . heh.

In the original draft of this post, I touched on what you describe in your comment. I removed it, because, wow, that post got LONG.

My intent here was less about marriage and more about interaction. I will tell you this, even in terms of socialization, I remember that kids who grew up here where less likely to socialize with someone who had just gotten here... unless they were VERY cool. You know what I mean? Like their accent wasn't very thick, they dressed well, they listened to the right kind of music, etc. That's really what I meant here. I don't know, maybe I just associated with some damned superficial people? :-)

Also, I know quite a few American Desi guys who imported their wives from "back home." Some of those women have embraced the "American" way, but some of them are still making tea while their husband sits on the couch even though BOTH of them have been at work all day. I agree with you that men straight from the subcontinent have more of a tendency to have those expectations, but I think many of their American counterparts are that way, too.

This sounds like I don't agree with you... I actually do. I completely do. Sorry for the confusion. It's that time of day. ;-)

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Shabina, I think this world would be so much more peaceful if people just did that... just went places with an open mind and an understanding heart. It's hard to hate someone when you've seen where they live.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@SciFi Dad, I think RW explained it fairly well... scroll down. Also, I suspect that your comment was another one of your subtle attempts at asserting Canadian superiority. You Canadians think you're so much better than everyone else. Sigh.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Miss Britt, I was driving my dad to the airport once and we were running late, so I was zipping in and out of lanes... he told me to stop driving so "erotically." He meant "erratically." I should post that on there.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@N.A, I just don't know how to say this diplomatically, but, wow... those people do not sound like "friends," at all. They sound like "jerks."

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@RW, Yes. I agree with all of that. You know you're welcome to hijack these comments any time you like. There's no sense in your acting apologetic THIS late in the game. ;-)

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@cagey, We do that here, too. Because it's funny, yo.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Kate, hey, thanks, I appreciate that. Any time the word "perfect" is used in reference to me, an angel gets its wings. ;-)

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Faiqa, I wish you hadn't taken out that part, it would have been interesting to hear what you think about the "entitlement" issue!

I think my generation is improving. Slightly. Maybe. I would probably categorize you as somewhere in between my generation and my parent's generation, and I think things are starting to change. I do agree with what you say here - I definitely know people who have these attitudes towards immigrants. But at the same time, there are so many other social issues at play that *make* people think in that way, and contribute to the stereotypes. (i.e. a propensity for gender roles.) Indian culture has a lot to offer, but on certain social fronts, it desperately needs to make it to the 21st century in order to break down some of the barriers around.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKarishma

@Faiqa, Not better, per se. Just different. And RW's description of his grandparent's generation fits well with the melting pot/mosaic contrast I made previously.

There are things I appreciate about Americanism over Canadianism too.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSciFi Dad

@Faiqa, Not better, per se. Just different. And RW's description of his grandparent's generation fits well with the melting pot/mosaic contrast I made previously.

There are things I appreciate about Americanism over Canadianism too.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSciFi Dad

i worked with a woman who won a vip trip to spend new year's eve 1999 -> new year 2000 in paris. i was so insanely jealous, it was all i could do not to kill her and steal the trip. when she got back, she told me that they had a horrible time - the people were rude, only spoke french and they only ate at mcdonald's. seriously. the turn of the millenium (= best excuse to party for 1000 years) in PARIS and she's p*ssed about them speaking french. it gave me a new appreciation of the term "ugly american."

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEricka

@Ericka, and i still kind of regret not killing her and taking the trip.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEricka

That's true lol. I've stopped hanging out with them since then. It can be tough, because we are from a really large but tight community. The one thing I learned, is that everyone does not think like them. There are others in our community who are open minded. Unfortunately I grew with ones that weren't.

December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterN.A

@Faiqa,
Heh heh... so you heard the wikileaks of the American diplomat who wrote of Canada's "habitual inferiority complex" to America, did you? :o)

December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMomma

I know someone who grew up in Puerto Rico, who immigrated here and raised her children here, but doesn't want them to become American. I will never know what it's like to feel this way, but it seems strange to me.

I wish I knew what it was like to feel like I'm half in one culture, half in the other, and fit nowhere at times. I feel so ignorant when people talk about things related to this. I mean, yes, I was raised heavily immersed in Italian culture, but it didn't ever make me feel different, at least not any further than having to explain to other kids that I call my grandmother Noni and my grandfather Popi because it's an Italian thing. (They're bastardized nicknames of the Italian words for grandmother and grandfather, but still. They're words for my grandparents, when most other kids I knew growing up called theirs Grandma and Grandpa.)

As I grow older, I'm learning more and more about the price many people pay when they immigrate. I wish they didn't have to feel stuck in the middle, or like they had to give up part of themselves. The woman's daughter that I mentioned above refuses to speak Spanish, because she wants to be American. Now who said speaking Spanish made someone un-American? And then I think about how I've said I wish some people would bother to learn English, or that I wish our country would choose an official language or two already, and I have to wonder: Is that part of the reason?

Thank you, Faiqa, for all of the posts you linked to in this and for this post. As usual, you've enlightened me and have made me realize that I need to do some serious thinking.

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Kaylene

@Momma, After I finished school that summer, I went to visit relatives who were stationed in England. They had been stationed overseas for 11 years and I hadn't seen them in all that time. Their housing was off base and many of their friends were locals. They took pleasure in showing me the local countryside and trying to explain local customs to me. Before England, they lived in Japan. Now their daughter is married to a career military man. They are currently trying to get transferred to Germany. I look forward to visiting when they do especially since I missed out when they were in Italy.

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

@Momma, After I finished school that summer, I went to visit relatives who were stationed in England. They had been stationed overseas for 11 years and I hadn't seen them in all that time. Their housing was off base and many of their friends were locals. They took pleasure in showing me the local countryside and trying to explain local customs to me. Before England, they lived in Japan. Now their daughter is married to a career military man. They are currently trying to get transferred to Germany. I look forward to visiting when they do especially since I missed out when they were in Italy.

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

@Faiqa, Silly me had decided that the C in your acronym stood for Culturally. I think we should go with my interpretation.

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

Won't it be a wonderful, beautiful, and perfect world when everyone can just marry anyone they want? I mean, like, ... you know, like ... man. yeah, beautiful world, like the one Faiqa dreams of ... like ... man. I think that someday, I will want to like ... get married, and if I decide to marry ... like a man, I will ask the Imam at Faiqa's mosque to marry us. Like ... man. That would be ... like ... waaay cool for Faiqa and her beautiful world. Like ... man.

July 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFakir

I just happend to read this just now, and it's funny as I"m going on a date today with a very pretty "ABCD". I've never dated an ABCD before. I'm a fob came here 4yrs ago, and I think I'm mature enough to judge/understand a person without brining their nationality as a factor. But not sure how would an ABCD girl gonna tkae this. I mean she barely speaks hindi, all her friends/coworkers are either American or other ABCDs. We both are dating for a reason - we both are single ! She's cure and pretty, and I really hope she's not on of those narrow minded ABCDs. Because no matter how perfect she would be, one thing I won't be able to tolerate is any kind of disrespectful intent towards my people, my country and my culture. Let's see how it going tonight.

October 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNow You Dont

*goes

October 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNow You Dont

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