Jul 24, 2006

Atlantic City.

I was in Atlantic City this weekend for a whirlwind tour of the sights and depravities. I hadn't been there for years, and while much has changed about the physical "look" of the strip, a lot remains the same. One thing that I was really surprised about, however, concerned the make-up of the brown folks there. I knew, from parents, family, and friends, that Atlantic City was a choice destination for many older generation desi folks - it was just a getaway that they liked to take, getting away from the kids most of the time.

Atlantic City, the one of dreams and not the spare Springsteen song that looks at the flip side of a decaying urban beach front, plugs right into the "American Dream" mythology that is so often tied up with immigrants and their paths of migration to the States. What is more of the American Dream than getting incredibly rich instantly, by chance, (or fate, depending on your perspective), and without having to work your whole life for some taskmaster. So Atlantic City could represent that side of the American Dream.

Or, you can dig further below the surface of all the uncles and aunties chasing their dreams at the incredibly unsubtle Taj Mahal (easily their favorite place to be), to see the desi yuppies in fancy threads, emoting a different level of guido cool or newlyweds from India taking in a peculiar variety of Americana and living out their private versions of Bollywood uber-schmaltz.

If you keep digging below, however, you start to see how much of the service industry is now occupied by brown faces. The human pushcart rickshaws, operated almost entirely by immigrants, have many, many South Asians toiling them. A picture of a typical young desi couple taking advantage of their service, complete with the worker pushing them, would have been right at home in a photo album from Mumbai. Many of the low-level security, and even dealers and other casino floor workers were desi. You start to connect the availability of jobs in NJ where English isn't always needed, the turn-over is high, and the demand is higher with the eligible workforce, and you start to realize that there are a lot of opportunities for abuse, violation of rights, and isolation. And while Vegas is starting to make a dent in the way that people think about Asian America, who thinks of Atlantic City as a place to organize desis?

Though I remember hearing that there is a desi organizer working to reach into these populations now. More on this as I find out about it...

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