When cultures collide… you get the stories of an American Born Confused Desi

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Since 1993

What is an American Born Confused Desi?
        1st Generation children of Immigrants from the South Asian region consisting mainly of the following countries: India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
        For so long, there were so few of us that our shared cultures allowed us to connect as one here in America. This was certainly not the case back in the homeland as many of our parents experienced war and discrimination first hand.
       Even though on the outside we looked the same, we have our own languages and come from different religious backgrounds. The South Asian Desi community tends to be very community based. It's hard not to be when you come from a country where the population is so dense you are literally on top of each other. Bangladesh is the size of New York approximately with 161 million people! New York has around 19 million.

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While there were previous migrants from that region, they were so far and few that they were already immersed into other cultures. During the late 1970's and early 80's there was a new wave of immigrants looking for a better opportunity for their children.
        Oh, what a drastic change it was!! A new country, a new language, new customs, and access to things you've never seen or heard of before. And to top it all off, you are brown, you have a heavy thick accent and the clothes you wear makes you stand out like a flag on a 10 foot pole. And for the most part, for the first time you are alone.
        If you are lucky, you came here with your spouse (or they meet you soon after) and you start your family. Then you have a new generation of people with their own obstacles and experiences growing up. Assimilating to the American culture while keeping a semblance of your previous culture. This is the beginning of the ABCD generation. This is where our story starts.


henna hand

Mistaken Identity

            Growing up in a community where you do not share a similar background with others can be taxing. Based on physical appearance alone, you stand out. When your parents come to pick you up in traditional attire or cook different foods, you know you are different. There is nothing wrong with being different. What was difficult growing up (and even somewhat now) is always having to explain who you are and what you are.
            Actually, I didn't mind that either. But it was irksome that most times people still had no clue what you are speaking of. Granted, the country was still kind of brand new only being liberated in 1971. But as a representative of my people and the desire to be understood, I did my diligent duty in explaining who I am as best as I could.

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Sometimes, it was just plain comical. I will never forget the time I was in Atlanta, Georgia. My friend and I were in town exploring while our parents were off at some conference. As we walked downtown in the year 2000, the number of curious looks and questions we got was quite interesting. Many have never seen anyone that looked like us. Which exotic land were we from?

            One gentleman decided to break out into a song about us... he just had to know where we were from. So we obliged him by starting a conversation (after all he dedicated a whole song about us!). Where we from? Bangladesh. Where's that? Next to India. Where's that? In Asia. Is that like China and stuff? Yes, yes. We are Chinese. Of course this conversation is paraphrased 20 years later but that was the closest I could get him to understand.
          No we are not from China. No we are not all Indians. No we do not follow the same religion. However, we are Asian. While there may be cultural similarities, we are wide and vast as a people.




      Such an interesting word. What exactly is privilege? The Websters dictionary definition is: "a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a specific group of people".

In this day and age, this word means so much more. There are varying levels of privilege that comes from a myriad of things such as race, religion, wealth, skin color, and education level.

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      As a minority woman from a Muslim religious background, I am certainly not from the most privileged of groups. However, in my own right I have many advantages over others. As an American Born Confused Desi, I have privilege over my brethren that were not born here or are not a U.S. Citizen. I can  travel in and out of the country freely (especially relevant in this current political state). Born here, I was privileged with the opportunity to receive a stellar education. From elementary school, I was only in the best schools and programs. That and all the extra homework my parents made up for me just to sharpen my brain even more.

I'm Privileged in my exposure to many groups of people. I have friends of all backgrounds. I love all types of cuisines. My traveling has been extensive. My English is pretty much perfect minus a slight New Yorker twang.

I have privilege based on my Anglo Saxon features. My long flowing hair. You know I've been told that I don't look like your average Desi. I knew I had privilege over my sisters that looked so much like me but I happened to be the light skinned sister. I knew it the moment this little girl came up to us to ask me why my sisters were darker than me, or by the number of compliments I received even they are so much more beautiful.

Privileged to have been born to a family that is considered higher in the totem pole of social standing. I knew that it meant something when a personal family friend held up a plane just so we could finish eating dinner in enjoyment. All of these privileges have granted me a special, unique experience that others have not received.

Sure, my name still throws off many employers. The typical job search can sometimes be fruitless despite by stellar resume and background. Once I land the interview, I'm usually golden. But getting there? That proves more difficult.

In my home city, I don't get the surprised looks of my perfect English. When I go elsewhere, they always wonder how I speak such perfect English?

Many stereotypes work against me. But there are many things that also work for me. I have the ability to flow in and out of different circles with ease, since I am not too much of just one thing.

      What is for sure though, my special circumstances, my privileges, the pitfalls they all make me who I am today. It has afforded me the opportunity of exposure. I have reaped the rewards of the more privileged. But I have also gained a particular understanding of those who are less so. And I feel your pain.