Tuesday October 17, 2017
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Feeling ‘Othered’ in a Guatemalan Hostel

Photo: www.insurancehotline.com

An account of how people of non-white cultures are made to feel ‘othered’ in the West

By Ankur Singh

International traveler’s hostels are generally known for catering to young twenty-somethings seeking an authentic travel experience as opposed to the commercialization and fakeness of popular tourism.

It was only after my friend and I spent a night at a hostel in San Pedro, Guatemala, when I realized that hostels are concentrated cesspools of people who pride themselves on the “Othering” of cultures, which has very negative consequences.

As we wait to check in to the hostel we strike up a conversation with a young traveler behind us in line. He says he just spent the past two months teaching yoga in Mexico and starts telling stories of life changing ten day long silent retreats as I commence my personal eye roll Olympics.

When we get into a room there’s a really large guy sleeping on the bottom bunk with his stuff all over the floor. He groggily gets up and it’s clear he’s very hungover. The yoga teacher leaves to take a shower, my friend steps outside to make a phone call, leaving me alone in the room with this person.

“What time is it?” he asks.


“Where are you from?”

“I’m from the US. And you?”

“Israel. Are you originally from India?

I never know how to answer this question, but rather than going on a long tirade about my insecurities and constant identity crisis of not really being Indian enough to be Indian and not being American enough to be American I simply reply, “Yes.” Also, I’m a little surprised he hasn’t asked what my name is, but of course at hostels where you’re from is more important than your name or who you are.

“Where about in India?”

“From Uttar-Pradesh.”

He gives me a confused look. He clearly has never heard of it.

“Is that near Punjab?”

“A bit, yeah.”

I actually have no idea if Punjab is close to Uttar-Pradesh and am totally making up my answer, but it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t know where it is either. It is only while writing this that I look at a map and learn that my total guess was not false.

“I just spent six months in India. Man, I love your country, beautiful people, beautiful culture, great food and scenery.”

Is it my country? And I’m sure he does love it considering the shenanigans young Israelis are up to in India. In addition to the fact that Israeli security companies such as Elbit Systems, Verint Systems, and Magal are partnering with and being awarded contracts with the Indian Government who will then use this Israeli technology to continue oppressing Muslims in the most densely-militarized area of the world in Kashmir, many of whom don’t consider themselves to be Indian but are lumped together with us anyways.

“What were you doing there?” I ask.

“Traveling. I spent six months driving a motorcycle around the country.”

My new yoga teacher acquaintance comes back from his shower with a towel wrapped around his waist and his shirt off. He has a large “Om” tattoo on his chest. During my entire life I’ve only met one Indian person with the “Om” symbol tattooed on their body, meanwhile I’ve lost count of all the white people I’ve seen with “Om” tattoos.

Later that night at the hostel bar a guy walks up to us and starts flirting with my friend.

“Are you a yoga teacher?” he asks my friend.

“No, I’m an architect.” she replies.

“Aw that used to be up there like ten years ago man. Yoga teachers are where it’s at now!”

He leaves, because apparently yoga teachers now have more cultural capital than architects.

I never expected to be so “Othered” while traveling outside the U.S. I then thought about what I might say to people about Guatemala when I go back home. I could tell them about its beautiful people, scenery, culture, and food.

Or I could tell them that the government is currently involved in the biggest corruption scandal in Guatemala’s history which led to the arrest of over 20 government officials including former president Perez Molina and vice president Roxana Baldetti. I could portray Guatemala as a violent place full of corruption, poverty, genocide and drug cartels.

Or could it be possible to have a more nuanced perception of the world and be able to critique and protest a place you know and love?

Ankur Singh is a student at Prescott College, in Prescott, Arizona, where he is the only South Asian student at a very hippy place. He is a filmmaker and the director of the documentary film LISTEN about education from the students’ perspective. Follow him on twitter @ankrsingh.

Source: http://theaerogram.com

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Recent Trends among the Indian Diaspora and its Increasing Significance

As the Indian diaspora is increasingly organizing itself in the host countries by accumulating the resources, it may have potential impact on the economic, social and political landscape in India.

Indian Diaspora
Indian Diaspora organizing community identity in the host country


What is Indian Diaspora:

The Indian diaspora is a generic term representing the people who migrated from the Indian territories to the other parts of the world. It includes the descendants of these groups. Today, over twenty million Indians which include Non Resident Indians and People of Indian Origin are residing outside the Indian territory as Indian diaspora. According to a UN survey report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world. In 2005, Indians formed the world’s third largest diaspora. The Indians who settled overseas in 1960s for more developed countries such as US, UK, Canada, Australia and Western Europe formulate the category of the New Diaspora.

What are the popular host countries for the Indian Diaspora:

The 2010 estimates of Census data of US, UK and Canada suggest that Indian diaspora constitutes three million people in US, 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom and one million in Canada. Indians are the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States. Also, five million emigrants from India reside in the Gulf region at present.

The History of Indian Diaspora:

A brief overview of the history of Indian diaspora suggests that the first group of Indians immigrated to Eastern Europe in the 1st century AD from Rajasthan during the reign of Kanishka. Yet another evidence of migration was witnessed in 500 AD when a group immigrated to Southeast Asia as the Cholas extended their empire to Indonesia and Malaysia thereby spreading the Indian culture in these states. Thus the early evidences of diaspora were found during ancient times. The medieval period witnessed the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism during the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms. Mughals took Indians as traders, scholars, artists, musicians and emissaries to the other parts of the country.

Old Diaspora:

The first wave of the Modern Indian Diaspora, also called the Old Diaspora, began in the early 19th century and continued until the end of the British rule. The Dutch and French colonizers followed the suit. Indians were sent in large numbers to become the bonded labourers for sugar and rubber plantation in their colonies.

Indians in Caribbean, Africa and Asia:

By the end of World War 1, there were 1.5 million Indian labourers in the colonies in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. At present, around 60% of Indian diaspora is constituted of this Old Diaspora.

Impact of Immigration policies on Migration from India:

After the Indian independence, a large number of unskilled and some skilled Punjabi male Sikhs migrated to UK from India due to favorable immigration policies in the United Kingdom. Similarly, 1990s onwards, due to software boom and its rising economy, H-1B was introduced in the US immigration policy that allowed the entry of highly skilled IT specialists, doctors, scientists and engineers in the US. Further, 1970s witnessed oil boom in the Middle East that led to significant growth of Indian diaspora in the Gulf region.

While the low skilled and semi skilled workers are moving to the Gulf region for better economic opportunities, highly skilled labour is moving from India to US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Has Indian Diaspora started impacting the economies and societies:

With the growing rate of international migration since the beginning of millennia, there is a significant impact of diaspora on the economies and societies of the world. In recent years, diaspora is influencing the economic, political and cultural affairs in their homeland. It is so because the influence of the diaspora communities increases as they organize themselves and accumulate resources in their host countries for several years. The mobilized diaspora are now influencing the affairs of the homeland countries. A common form of exchange is the financial remittances provided to the relatives by the diaspora community. Overseas family networks of the political elites in India are shaping the political landscape as well. Culturally, diaspora is influencing the music and literature trends in India as the content is consciously structured to cater to the tastes of the diaspora.

What actions have been taken by the government of India to tap the potential of Indian Diaspora:

The first Pravasi Bhartiya Divas was organized in 2003 by the Government of India to expand and reshape the state of India’s economy by the use of the potential human capital which the Indian diaspora reflects. Clearly, Indian diaspora has a larger role to play in the Indian economy over the coming years as the efforts to mobilize them increase in the homeland.

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Diwali Preparations Grow in US, from Disney to Times Square

Diyas adorn every corner of the house on the celebration day of Diwali. pixabay

The holiday of Diwali in the US is starting to light up mainstream America. Diwali, a festival of lights celebrated by Indians all over the world, has long been observed in immigrant communities around the U.S.

But now public celebrations of the holiday are starting to pop up in places ranging from Disneyland and Times Square to parks and museums.

The Times Square event is the brainchild of Neeta Bhasin, who says that while many Indian immigrants have found great success in the U.S., “still people don’t know much about India. I felt it’s about time that we should take India to mainstream America and showcase India’s rich culture, heritage, arts and diversity to the world. And I couldn’t find a better place than the center of the universe: Times Square.”

Places in America where Diwali Celebrations will take place.

Bhasin, who came to the United States from India 40 years ago, is president of ASB Communications, the marketing firm behind Diwali at Times Square. The event, now in its fourth year, has drawn tens of thousands of people in the past. It’s scheduled for Oct. 7, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., with dance performances, Bollywood singers, a bazaar of food, saris and other goods, and a lighting ceremony.

While Diwali celebrations are held throughout the fall, the holiday’s actual date is Oct. 19. Also called Deepavali, it’s an autumn harvest festival held just before the Hindu new year. Celebrations include lighting oil lamp called diyas and candles to symbolize “a victory of knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, good over evil,” said Bhasin.

The Diwali celebration at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California, includes performances of traditional Indian dances and a Bollywood dance party for guests. It’s part of a festival of holidays at the theme park reflecting cultural traditions from around the world. The Disney festival begins Nov. 10 and runs through Jan. 7.

San Antonio, Texas, has one of the nation’s largest city-sponsored celebrations of Diwali, drawing more than 15,000 people each year. The 2017 event, scheduled for Nov. 4 at La Villita, a historic arts village, will be its ninth annual Diwali celebration with Indian dance, entertainment, food, crafts, fireworks and the release of lighted candles into the San Antonio River along the city’s River Walk.

New York City’s Rubin Museum will mark Diwali with an overnight Ragas Live Festival featuring more than 50 Indian classical musicians performing amid the museum’s collection of sacred Himalayan art. The event begins Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. and continues all day and night through Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. Chai and mango lassis will be served, visitors will have access to all the galleries and pop-up events like meditation and sunrise prayer will be offered. Special tickets will be sold for the opportunity to sleep beneath the artwork.

Other places hosting Diwali celebrations include Cary, North Carolina, in Regency Park, Oct. 14; Flushing Town Hall, Queens, New York, Oct. 29; the Seattle Center, Oct. 21; the Dulles Expo center in Chantilly, Virginia, Oct. 7-8; and Memorial Park in Cupertino, California, Sept. 30. In Columbus, Ohio, the Ohio History Center is hosting a photo exhibit about the city’s fast-growing population of immigrants from Nepal, Bhutan and India, with a Diwali event Oct. 8.

Bhasin said Diwali’s message is particularly timely now. “It is extremely important to be together and showcase to the world, not only Indians, but the entire immigrant community, to be together with Americans and to show the world we are one, we are all the same human beings,” she said.(VOA)

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Build on Indian Diaspora to Bolster Relation: US Diplomat

Indian Diaspora
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs President Donald Trump as Modi departs the White House, June 26, 2017. VOA

Kolkata, Sep 23, 2017: American diplomat Jeffrey Sexton on Friday batted for building on the Indian diaspora in the US to bolster relations, noting it is becoming more and more active in promoting cross cultural ties.

“The biggest connection that we have now is the size of the Indian diaspora in the US. All of the Indians who have connections with the US now… relatives, friends studying in the US and if we just keep building on this wonderful positive connection between the two countries, it adds such an important dimension to our relationship,” Sexton, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in New Delhi, said on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Badamtola Ashar Sangha Durga puja and the Great Kolkata Autumn Heritage Festival.

Also Read: Indian Travellers Emerging as Key Market for America: Brand USA 

The pandal (marquee) represents a slice of America in Kolkata.

“The diaspora is becoming more and more active in the US in promoting these kind of connections (cross-cultural connections)… it is becoming more politically involved in the US… you see many of our politicians … United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley… the high profile just highlights once again the diversity of the US as a country and its connections to South Asia and India…,” Sexton told IANS.

The U.S. Embassy and consulates in India are celebrating the US-India Cultural Connections and #USIndiaDosti this month through several engagements.