I mentioned back in Episode 0 that I sometimes tell people I’m “Indian” because it’s “just easier.”
Given that I’m actually of Pakistani origin, I know undoubtedly that some people would be horrified by that. I also know that there are a larger number of people who don’t understand the significance of it.
It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try.
Growing up in a culturally homogeneous place (read: white American) as I did, I interacted with a great deal of people who had never heard of Pakistan. I still live in a place where most people’s experience of Pakistan boils down to a five minute snippet from CNN or FOXNews.
Some people have assumptions about the place, others have questions.
Sometimes, I feel like answering questions and addressing assumptions and sometimes I don’t. My choice to identify as Indian is actually directly proportional to how many questions I feel like answering about my identity. It’s been my experience that assumptions about Indians are far more accurate than ones being made about Pakistanis.
It also depends on who I am talking to. A sort of intellectual or social relativism occurs, if you will. I don’t hesitate to identify myself as being of Pakistani origin to those who display an awareness of the fact that similar does not equate to the same.
I do realize that’s not exactly noble, and that I’m taking away learning opportunities from people by doing that. But, you know what? It’s not always my responsibility to be anybody’s token.
I don’t have to if I don’t wanna.
Is it this sentiment that may lie at the heart of the reason for the prevalent use of the term “Asian” in various discourses in this country?
I suppose it was hypocritical of me in this past week’s episode to be irate over Alexandra Wallace’s repeated use of the word “Asian” when I so carelessly navigate the waters of being Indian or Pakistani. And, yet, I am angry.
I’m disgusted not just by the racism in the video, but also the casual grouping of a continent as one people.
A few hundred years ago, Asia was known as the Orient.
The Orient… stretching over the vastness of Central Asia, China, India, Japan, and even into some areas of the Middle East.
For the English and French, the Orient was more than a word. It was an instrument, you see, aimed at diminishing the individuality and sovereignty of that region. It was a way to transform real people and places into a vast, uncharted Other. A group of “Others,” actually, which weren’t as important or capable as the people who had coined general terms to describe them.
Of course, I know that there are Chinese, Korean, Japanese and other folks from the continent that will call themselves “Asian Americans” and that those same people wouldn’t even consider me to be among their ranks. Barring the fact that Pakistan and India both occupy Asia as well, it’s incredible to me that anyone would willingly shed a unique culture, language and identity for one that is a giant blob of high math grades, technical mindedness and dutiful children.
But, then, of course, I remember all the times that I’ve said I was Indian.
Because it was easier.
Because I didn’t care enough to correct people.
Because, if I’m completely honest, I tend to think most people don’t care to be corrected and even if they are corrected, it may not change much, anyway.
All that said, on the subject of Alexandra Wallace and her Asian rant video, of which I care never to speak of or write about ever again, I will admit here that perhaps my co-host may have been right.
Perhaps the reactions to her were stronger than they should have been.
Then again, there’s a lot of history of not wanting to make waves, of keeping our heads down, keeping to ourselves, working hard and not bothering to correct erroneous assumptions that we’re just sort of fine with being othered by the word “Asian.”
And maybe all that not caring and not being bothered crashed down on the head of a thoughtless young woman with extraordinarily bad judgment.
On a completely unrelated note, if you have time and aren’t suffering from UCLA video burnout, please watch this incredibly brilliant and thoughtful response to Wallace’s rant. I have to say, I became a slightly different human being afterward.
Special thanks to my friend Kailyn for e-mailing me this video!