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What are you? I am Indo-Carribean

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Photo: richardkwolf.com

By Vicki Soogrim

“Complacency is a far more dangerous attitude than outrage.” —Naomi Littlebear

In thinking about this quote, I’m reminded of the instances and ways in which I’ve been complacent. “Yo fuck being Trinidadian, you’re so Indian.” Silence. “So you’re basically Indian.” “No…” “But you look so Indian.” “I know.” I sit and think about how I’ve buried my cultural identity by my silence and let others brand me with their assumptions.

Out of fear and embarrassment for being looked down upon as having a less valuable and “fake” heritage, I have suppressed my culture entirely. “What are you?” These three simple words manage to seize me for a moment, so I default with my usual response: “Indo-Caribbean.”

I’ve grown familiar with the judgement, confusion, and indifference that often follow my response. “What the fuck is that?” “Wait, but why do you look Indian if you’re from the Caribbean?” “But you’re not Black or Latino.” Then there’s my personal favorite: the nod with feigned knowledge, and then the look away.

How do I explain that I have quite literally been robbed of my own history by colonizers who transported my ancestors from India to the Caribbean as indentured servants? That because of forced migration, so much of my ancestors’ culture was lost and changed? And that because of this loss, I now long to connect with the culture that both is and isn’t mine?

This is a historic 100-year-old mud temple in Exchange Village, Couva, Trinidad.  NewsGram thanks  Dr. Kumar Mahabir for providing the picture.
This is a historic 100-year-old mud temple in Exchange Village, Couva, Trinidad. NewsGram thanks Dr. Kumar Mahabir for providing the picture.

West Indian heritage is derived from Indian culture, but the traditions, language, religion, and cuisine changed greatly over time. It is because of this that I listen to so much Hindi music—from Mohammed Rafi to Arjit Singh—in the hopes that the language could somewhat help repair the bridge that has been destroyed between my foreparents and me. And yet while songs like “Yeh Ansoo Mere” and “Tere Bina” still stir deep emotions within me, I realize that the songs express a culture that I will never truly know.

My complacency has disappeared only to be replaced by something else entirely: anger. I’m mad as hell.

I’m outraged because I was taught to despise my Indo-Caribbean identity. For my entire life, I have been told that my identity is flawed, and I have been ostracized because of it. For example, in middle school, I could never fit in with my Dominican classmates, no matter how thick I layered my tongue with a Dominican accent nor how hard I tried to learn Spanish. A cultural barrier always existed that prevented us from being friends.

In high school, I was surrounded by white people who thought of me as an exotic Caribbean-American girl: “So like do you just have coconut trees and beaches? Can you speak other languages?” Even within the general population of people who seem to think they know Caribbean culture, they would continue to perpetuate the stereotype by being hypersexualized: “If you’re Trinidadian, where’s your body? Can you whine and dagger?”

Even at Columbia, many Indian students suffocate me with their superiority and continue to make assumptions: “Yeah, you look pretty Punjabi.” “Indo-Caribbean culture seems so fake.”

I thought coming to college would help me find a cultural community. I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong. Within Columbia’s South Asian community there exists certain cultural politics (“I’m Indian,” “I’m half Sindhi and Gujarati,” etc.) that tend to leave out other groups not in the normative South Asian diaspora. These feelings of exclusion manifest in small ways—when I’m in a group of people connecting over food, for example, and I’m expected to know what they’re talking about.

For so long I’ve clung to Indian culture. From Bollywood music and movies to classical Indian dancing, I’ve tried to adopt a culture that was once my ancestors’ in hopes that I could claim it as my own and finally be accepted. With this in mind, I thought that if I put in the effort to embrace South Asian culture, I could be somewhat accepted into the Brown community.

But, of course, this was easier said than done. I do not speak any language other than English; I am not from the Indian subcontinent; my ancestors were probably from the lowest caste. Oftentimes, the effort to understand my Indo-Caribbean heritage is simply not reciprocated by people who identify as South Asian.

Where does this leave me in terms of cultural identity? In the Caribbean diaspora, there exists a very distinct divide between the Afro- and Indo-Caribbeans. Although both cultures are considered West Indian, they are immensely different, because the histories of African slaves and Indian indentured servants are not the same.

While I am still figuring out what it means to be Indo-Caribbean, one thing I have realized during my time at Barnard is that I can no longer be ashamed of my heritage. Yes, it is different from Indian culture, and yes, it is a confluence of African, Indian, and Native cultures, but that doesn’t make it tainted and dirty. I love feeling the rhythm of chutney and Soca music flow through me, and feeling the sudden flash of heat on my tongue from the pepper in doubles. Trinidadian-West Indian culture is an incredible and unique hybrid of histories and cultures that I am proud to embody.

I know that I will have to keep reclaiming my culture to undo years of rejection and hatred, which have been especially amplified at Columbia. To other students with the same or similar situation, my advice is to keep reminding yourself that your heritage is unique and important, and to find whatever method you can—whether it be through music, food, religion—to keep fighting against the structures in place telling you otherwise.

The author is a Barnard College first-year with a prospective major in biology and minor in women’s studies. The story originally appeared in the Columbia Spectator.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

(IANS)