May 16, 2005

ABC(D)... FOB... RAJ... SOS

Here's a novel idea. Let's make fun of the Gujaratis, easy targets that they are. I just saw this stupid post under the listing for ABCD in the Wikipedia:

A full term using all letters of the alphabet was devised c. 1998 by Varun Nangia and Syed Zain Hoda as follows:

American Born Confused Desi Emigrated From Gujarat, Housed In Jersey, Keeping Lotsa Motels, Named Often Patel, Quickly Reaches Success Through Underhanded Viscious (sic) Ways; Xenophobic, Yet Zealous.
Uh, okay. How many ways can we cut this that make it any less offensive? And it's always the Gujaratis who seem to get the short end of the joke schtick. Well, that's not true. If I hear another stupid, offensive Sardar joke, I'm going to strangle a relative or an uncle.

So anyway, I took matters into my own hands and edited the ABCD definition in Wikipedia, drawing the parallels between the FOB/RAJ backlash towards American-born Chinese (calling them Jook-Sing) and what happens with American-born desis who are considered "confused" because they don't have a lifetime of brainwashing to lead them to believe that there is some cogent, codified "indian" way of being.

It's interesting how each group, the immigrants and the second generation, square off on matters of authenticity, culture, assimilation, and their ability to highlight the very personal, very sensitive things that make us all vulnerable. Each group represents a series of threats to the other. On the one hand, the well-assimilated American-born child of hard-working immigrants stands to the side, angry because he can't speak with his parents in their mother tongue with anything resembling an adult vocabulary, while the recent immigrant suddenly comes alive with these strangers, and they are excited as they find some connection with one another. On the other, the same immigrant struggles through the trials and tribulations of the assimilation expectations of the United States, watching as those who share their faces seem to fall into stride with the white, and black, and other students, converse with their teachers, take part in students activities, and seem embarrassed to have them around, or to be confused with those "FOBs". And so the animosity continues, the separate cliques and organizations form, and the lines continue to harden between our ever-fragmented communities.


However, on a completely unrelated note, I have to say, I think that Wikipedia is awesome. It's useful, and also uber-democratic, since you can edit a post to update/augment it if you feel that it's not particularly fair on a specific issue. Makes me feel like learning all over again (sort of like when I used to open up an encyclopedia just to see what I could find of interest on that page... what a childhood).


michael said...
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Ms. World said...

I'm going to look up ABCD in Wilkie. I thought your post perfectly stated the complexity of the immigrant vs. second generation conflict. Do the FOBs & ABCDs ever find a mutual ground? I noticed when I was in graduate school that the Indians from India seemed to stick in their own cliques (India only) or hang with people in their area of study. My Puerto Rican from Puerto Rico friends had similar FOB vs. ABCD issues with the Puerto Ricans raised in the U.S. (or the New York Ricans as they called them).

I hope you guys are well!

Rage said...

I don't think that it's quite so stark a distance, and I think that it's part of our challenge - if we want to truly build a movement - to cut across issues of generation (along with gender, class, orientation, ability, language, etc).

Zain Hoda said...

It wasn't intended to be offensive to Gujaratis. Varun (the other guy who came up with the full alphabet term) is Gujarati.

Also, we just inherited the term up to G from whoever first invented it. We came up with F onwards.

Rage said...

Come to think of it - don't "American Born" and "Emigrated From" create a nice internal paradox in this exaggerated extrapolation of humor?

Regardless - I must thank Zain for posting to clarify, but I find the response more problematic. "Varun is Gujarati" isn't good enough - after all, Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, and at least some of the artistic directors at BET are African American - but does that make what they do any better?

Regardless, a joke is a joke is a joke, right? But sometimes that cigar should be looked at with a different lense. And stereotyping Gujaratis as underhanded, vicious, etc is pretty offensive, even if it were meant to be funny.