Monthly Archives: August 2011

Confessions and Questions of a New Blogger

I feel pretty new to the world of blogging, and still find myself having to google and wikipedia unfamiliar terms. Just for laughs, I thought I’d share some of the more obvious terms which baffled me when I first started:

Bangla

How could I not pick the meaning of this one right? It came up in one of the first comments on my blog. I considered answering with the question “what’s bangla?”, but decided I better google it first in case the answer was really obvious and I came across as the most ignorant intercultural blogger in the virtual universe.

Am hoping I have enough virtual street cred now to admit to this without it destroying my rep 🙂 I AM culturally aware, I swear I am!!

Desi

I’ve never heard/seen the word ‘desi’ used outside the online world. Before I started reading Desi-Link blogs, I’d only ever heard the word ‘bidesi/videsi’, which means ‘foreigner’ in my parents’ language. But as it’s not an everyday word, and hardly holds any currency when you’re living in bedesh itself (unless you want to go around calling everything and everyone bedesi), my parents never used this word at home and I heard it for the first time in South Asia. It never occurred to me that it might be linked to the word desi when I first saw desi online. Thank goodness Google is around to tell me what desi means, hey?

Still, even after I knew the meaning of both terms, it took a few months for the link between ‘desi’ and ‘bedesi’ to click, which actually happened very recently (hence this post). I’m comfortable with the knowledge that I’m not the most linguistically talented individual, but c’mon brain…it’s such an obvious connection. (Indeed, despite knowing ‘desi’ and ‘bidesi’, I still had to google ‘pardesi’ when I first came across it a couple of months ago).

Ironically, just like the word ‘bedesi’ (foreigner) seems to have more meaning and use in one’s home country, I get the feeling ‘desi’ is a word used more outside of South Asian than inside it…? Given the region is so linguistically, culturally and religiously diverse (not to mention politically fraught), this pan-subcontinental identity doesn’t really make sense until you’re taken right out of context, and commonalities take on more meaning than differences (at least for some) as you try to make yourself feel at home in bedesh. (…?)

I’m not sure how widely desi is used in Australia. I’ve certainly never heard it used amongst my family or friends. Those friends who do identify strongly with their South Asian heritage are more likely to come out and say “I’m India” or “I’m Fijian-India” (etc.). So I’m curious to know…does anybody actually use this term in conversation in Australia or elsewhere? Or is it a word that tends to be thrown around more online, where we do need shorthands for defining identity, blogging context, subject matter and so on?

ABCD

I never paid much attention to this term, assuming it was a variant of ABC – Australian Born Chinese – when I first saw it. But it kept coming up in the intercultural blogging sphere, even when no ABCs were involved, and imagine my shock when I discovered it stands for Australian (or American) Born Confused Desi. I mean, why are you automatically labelled as confused if your parents are South Asian, but not if your parents are East Asian? or white? I was as confused as any teen growing up, but I never linked it to my parents’ cultural background. Because that’s what growing up and life and existence is all about, for anyone, from anywhere – sorting out who you are. (In fact, some would say this existential and self-reflexive aspect to human existence is what distinguishes us from animals, at least to our knowledge…confusion regarding identity is hardly exclusive to South Asians, it’s a distinguishing factor of our humanity).

That said, I do understand the need to identify with others like you, to find a community for yourself (because we are social beings, and community is central way of finding ourselves), and to have a language which lets you readily share you pain and your joys to somebody who immediately understands, because they too have South Asian parents, what you’re going through.

Again I am curious – does anybody out there actually consider themselves to be an ABCD? Is there something about having South Asian parents that gives a distinctively desi spin on existential confusion?

And a shout-out to a reader -The Ideal Indian Woman?

Until a reader commented on this blog under the name Bharatiya Nari, I’d never heard this phrase. Initally I thought it was your actual name! Then I saw a few unseemly google searches referencing the ‘name’ (nothing unusual – most of the search hits this blog gets are from unseemly search terms), and I realised there was much more meaning to it than I’d first assumed. After a brief stint on Google, I’ve come up with “woman”, “good Indian wife”, even some articles about feminism and hardcore rightwing Hindu mens’ rights stuff. Is ‘woman’ just synonymous with ‘good wife’ in India? Is this phrase/ideal common in most Indian languages? I should probably do my research but I’m gonna be lazy and ask if somebody knows what this phrase means (or at least what it means to you), and why it appears in such wide-ranging subject matter? Your thoughts are much appreciated!

At the end of the day…

I’m hoping I’m not alone in this, and I’d love to know what ‘new’ terms you guys have come across in your blogging adventures (including reading and commenting). There’s this entire vocabulary out there to help frame certain experiences through the lens of culture (especially when it comes to migrant/intercultural/second gen stuff). And as I’ve already said, having a language which helps express your experiences in a shared idiom goes a long way in doubling the joy, halving the pain and feeling less isolated when things seem tough.

I can’t say I will ever own the term desi myself though…it seems to confer this really strong sense of identity which I can’t/don’t/won’t relate to. The phrase South Asian (which I prefer and use in this blog) is just as generalising, but in my mind it points more to heritage than identity, and is less prescriptive and presumptive. At the very least, saying “I have South Asian parents” doesn’t automatically imply that I’m confused!

I am not confused thank you very much…only when it comes to desi words and phrases 😉

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Filed under Adolescence, Blogging, Cultural Difference

You are in Australia yaar, why don’t you get with a white girl?

Ok, so maybe the Indian guy on the bus didn’t put it that bluntly to L.

But he did put it pretty bluntly.

L and I started going out towards the end of 2007. NYE o7 was one of our first ‘proper’ dates. That morning I’d missed a flight from interstate back to our home city. Catching the late plane instead, I rushed from the airport to meet L around 10 pm. Now I usually feel very uncomfortable in make-up and jewellery, but those first few dates I did make the effort to look nice and dress up (a bit). So that night, running from the plane to the train to the bus in my jeans, red hoodie and old sneakers, I wasn’t feeling particularly glamorous.

As it was too late to find a quiet, romantic hideaway by the time we met up, L and I crammed into a bus heading towards the waterfront for a view of the fireworks. An Indian guy was sitting in front of us and he struck up a conversation. We started with the usual questions: “Where are you from?”, “How long have you been here?” etc.

One thing that always alarms me when speaking to South Asians – despite having a South Asian family myself – is how quickly a ‘general’ conversation becomes inundated by questions that are considered highly personal by  western standards. To give this guy some justice, he had very recently moved from India and I know over there it’s not necessarily rude to ask questions like, “what visa do you have”, “how old are you”, “are your parents strict with you?” This last one always irks me when I’m with L because we are obviously a couple and the underlying question really seems to be, “because if they’d raise you as a good Indian girl you wouldn’t be traipsing around with a black guy”.

Or with a white guy. I’ve had hotel staff in India directly ask me if my parents raised me strictly and – grrr – whether I’m a virgin (!!) when I’ve checked in with white male friends. Obviously no good unmarried Indian girl would go to a hotel with a white guy and therefore I’m a whore. I’m not ok with this, but at least when it comes to comments with white guys the insult’s on me. With L, with a black guy, there’s the added, “how can you even stand being with this guy” attitude. L and I once had a south Indian man, at a church BBQ, ask us whether we’re going out, ask if my parents are strict, and then say proceed to tell us that his daughters are ‘good girls’ who will only marry Indian men, “not from Africa or anywhere else”. Geez what a way to be insulting and racist. (Fortunately L is not as sensitive as I am to such South Asian comments, otherwise I doubt he could stand being with me).

But I’m ranting and digressing. Back to the guy on the bus. There I am trying to have a romantic NYE with L, not feeling my best-looking, when this guy asks L with a smirk and head waggle, “Have you ever slept with a white girl?”

Mate, I’m right here.

Clearly I don’t fit the ‘hot’ white beauty ideal (an ideal so impossible most women – black, brown, Asian, white and beautiful – struggle to meet) but can’t you hold your tongue? Firstly, it is insulting and makes me feel completely inadequate. Secondly, seeing you’ve just implied I’m a whore for being with L, it goes beyond double-standards to ask if L has slept with a white girl, and then tell us victoriously that yes, he has claimed the prize. Shut up.

As we’d just started dating and were kind of nervous around each other, L and I never spoke about it at the time. But lately I’ve been thinking more and more about beauty standards, probably because I’m on a bit of a downer with my self-esteem and most days feel puffy-eyed, grumpy and ugly. So I asked L last week what he’d really thought about that guy on the bus. It took a bit to prod his memory – L didn’t react to the guy as harshly as I did. But he admitted that when he first moved to Australia, he also found white women desirable. “If you’re from Africa, or India, or anywhere really, you’re taught to find white women attractive. They’re all over tv, in the media, in the magazine. It’s not unusual he thought like that. I wouldn’t take it personally” – easy for a guy to say – “And it’s not just men. Even women in those places are taught to strive for white features. Look at all the skin whitening creams all over Asia and all the hair straightening products in Africa”.

It’s the mainstream beauty ideal men are taught to desire and women are taught to emulate.

There are obviously all sorts of beauty ideals and fetishes out there, all kinds of things we’re taught about desiring the exotic other. L’s line is, “maybe migrant men are excited to be in a country with heaps of white women when the first come, just like white guys might be excited to be in Thailand or Latin America or somewhere, but I think everyone gets over it pretty quickly. You realise people are just the same”.

I’ll just go with that then.

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Filed under Beauty, Feminism, Interracial Relationships, Race, Racism, Western Privilege