Monday, May 09, 2005

Three kinds of Indians

A couple of weeks ago I took my sister to Whole Foods in Berkeley for dinner. I ordered a burrito and didn't quite like the way the guy was making it so I started complaining to my sister in Hindi. We always use Hindi for such things. It's great to have a secret language that no one understands; that's one thing I really miss when I'm in India. Anyhow, a middle aged Indian lady was standing nearby. On hearing us speak in Hindi she turned around and gave us a huge smile. It threw me off for a minute, but then I smiled back. She kept glancing at us the whole time we were in the store. I remember acting the same way when I first came to the US and didn't have any Indian friends here. I used to not be able to stop staring at any group of Indians I heard speaking in Hindi. Maybe because I missed speaking in Hindi so much.

It is rare to see another Indian woman in San Francisco/Berkeley smile at me. I was talking to some friends about how other Indian women I see walking on the road always give me a weird look and hardly smile at me. I'm not sure if I smile at other Indian men/women anymore. My friend mentioned that there were strange dynamics between Indians living here. She categorized the Indians living here in 3 buckets -

1. Indians who came from India couple of years ago like me
2. Indians who lived in another country then came here
3. Indians who were born here

According to many people who have gone to school in the States, including my brother and sister, these different "categories" of Indians don't like to interact with each other. In fact, the ones who were born here think they are somewhat superior than the ones who came here a couple of years ago, and those in this category consider themselves superior to the ones who just got here. I read about the same phenomena occuring with students from other Asian cultures such as Japanese and Chinese students.

According to my own observations, this behavior seems to disappear as these people age. In their late twenties, Indians from all categories seem to be more open to mingling with each other. I am friends with Indians who were born here, Indians from other countries, Indians who came here in late 90s, and Indians who have recently come here. However, my closest friends still remain the ones who came here when I did.

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