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Entries in Amreeka (1)

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.