The first reviews of Governor Bobby Jindal's handling of Hurricane Gustav has been positive [see SAJAforum coverage of his first big test and its connection to the Republican National Convention]. All the attention that Jindal's been getting [see SAJAforum's Bobby Jindal collection] has meant greater scrutiny of his positions and statements, including among South Asians.
TheRoot.com, a site from the Slate group aimed at African-Americans, has an interesting piece by Shiwani Srivastava, a Seattle freelancer that asks a provocative question: "Is Bobby Jindal Indian Enough?"
...the more press Jindal gets, the more he becomes the subject of fierce debate among Indian Americans questioning if he's "Indian enough." Politics aside, the dialogue sounds an awful lot like the growing pains the black community struggled with for generations and still struggles with in many ways. In Indian communities around the country, the pressing questions bubble quickly to the surface. Is it enough to have "one of our own" in a position of power? Does it really achieve anything for our community in a larger, more permanent sense, simply to have this young Republican ascend?
This wrestling with cultural credibility is old-hat for most African Americans. There are go-to columnists and spokespeople for this kind of thing. But Indian Americans have only begun to grapple with this, being relatively new to the national stage. Jesse Jackson might be increasingly irrelevant to post civil rights-generation blacks, but we are still waiting for our Jesse, let alone our Barack.
Maybe that's why Jindal—love him or hate him—means so much to us. Dinner parties erupt into conflict at the mention of his name. There are numerous groups on Facebook both for and against him. Supporters and detractors alike are known to mutter, "Well, at least he has an Indian wife." Ten years ago, we were happy seeing an Indian-American actor play another taxi driver on TV. Most Indian communities were not prepared for the first Indian-American governor or for a strong contender for the vice presidential nomination.
As Indians wait to see if "a skinny guy with a funny name" really can become president, we're watching with a keenness rooted in our own aspirations.
- New York, NY: In your article, you discuss the parallels between Bobby Jindal and the Indian Community and Obama and the Black Community. What impact, if any, do you think the election of Obama will have on the Indian Community?
- Glasgow, Scotland: Is it not true that Hindu Indians are not able to identify with Gov. Jindal because of the simple fact he converted to Catholicism? Is this akin to racism?
- Brooklyn, NY: Within the African American community, particularly in the youth, there is a strong, inverse association between education and "blackness". Basely put, intelligence equals whiteness, and is despised. Do you find that education is a factor in maintaining one's "Indian-ness"?
- San Francisco: Hey Shiwani - I was wondering if you noticed an age-based bias among Indians towards/against Bobby Jindal?
What do you think? Post your comments below.