This letter was written as a response to Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s recent comments about his notion of not believing in hyphenated identities. According to the Times of India, he said his parents came to the U.S. from India four decades ago to become Americans and not Indian-Americans.
My parents came in search of the American Dream, and they caught it. To them, America was not so much a place, it was an idea. My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans. Not Indian-Americans, simply Americans.”
Dear Gov. Bobby Jindal,
Do correct me if I’m wrong, but, I bet you have had all kinds of labels and insults hurled at you over the years. You have probably been called a Twinkie and a sell-out amongst other things. I bet that stuff gets tiring. I can relate on some level. I was called a terrorist when I was simply bringing home groceries just last week which, I won’t lie to you, kinda sucked.
Anyway, just so we are clear, you will not find any name calling in this letter. We will leave that to the rest of the country. The spirit of this letter is more along the lines of wanting to understand you, not as one brown person to another, but more so as one “American” to another. American is in quotations because I am a tad confused at your notion of what it means to be American. Hyphens. Quotations. Shit, Governor, you make me question my use of punctuation on so many levels! But I digress.
So, let’s put everything out in the open. I want you to know that I do not want to understand you better because I feel any sense of loyalty to you just because you are brown. I do not support every brown person out there simply because of similar pigmentation or a shared heritage. Actually, I have been asked before if I like any/every public figure because they are Indian and my retort is usually something like: You are brown and I’m neither enthused about nor supportive of your climb up the political ladder, so see, no skin color bias here.
I do not say that to be snarky. Well, not entirely. I say this to communicate that I understand you, Bobby. To be fair, I certainly do not expect you to support every Indian-American person because of ideology or simply because they are brown. Many have said that you diss Indian-Americans in this country and I have defended you. I always say, “Bobby does not owe us anything because we are brown,” just like we don’t owe him support just because he is brown. Fair enough, right? Great. Still, I have a bone to pick with you.
I’m so very tired of the social and political climate in this country. So when I read what you wrote about assimilation and how sub-cultures are undermining American unity, I felt even more tired. And then it dawned on me that maybe I am not understanding you correctly. Maybe you are offering progressive ideas on how to strengthen America. But try as I may, I could not find any guidance in your suggestions that pointed towards a better America. So I am requesting you or someone from your camp to write me and explain this to me like I’m a friggin’ toddler.
I mean, break it down in simpleton terms because I am feeling challenged in wrapping my mind around your words. And I NEED to understand where you are coming from because I know you represent a segment of the population that believe my hyphenated identity is deterring this nation from being fabulous. So Bobby, help me out, make me see how I am eroding the perfect union, domestic tranquility, and common defense of my nation by my hyphenation. Tell me why I am ridiculous, please, as I certainly plan to tell you.
My umbrage with your recent sentiments on immigration assimilation is that you gave half-assed, half-baked (ugh, more hyphens, sorry, I know you hate those) ideas, something that is irresponsible since you are a man in power. That you just happen to be brown adds a bit of sensationalism for good measure, but hey bro, even if you were purple, I would still think your request for amputating one’s ethnicity from their identity is not only a lofty but ridiculous.
So real talk Bobby, isn’t this nation kinda’ based on a buncha’ hyphenated identities? Blah, blah, melting pot, blah. Everyone was a foreigner (I mean besides the Native Americans, who, well, oh Bob, I don’t even know who to direct THAT letter to) when they first came to this country argument, factual as it may be, is kinda trite at this point, right? So help me look at this with fresh eyes. Allow me to state what I think is the takeaway from your sentiments and correct me as needed.
If I understand you correctly, you are saying that by identifying with hyphenated identities we are creating sub-cultures thus depriving the country from a singular national identity, which is weakening us as a nation, right?
Man, that’s heavy, and kinda puts the responsibility square on the shoulders of the hyphenators, huh?
But here is the thing, what if we are not the ones creating the division? What if other Americans want to keep us separate? So then what? Do we still rally for acceptance with steadfast determination and if so, what does that mean, I mean really mean?
And what if I am not always thinking of my skin color yet the rest of the nation won’t let me forget it? What if I find I have to constantly prove that hey, I’m not an Indian-terrorist, I’m just an Indian-American because some people do not think I’m deserving of the title “American” by itself. What about having to constantly tick off boxes that ask me what I am because that information will be disseminated for various, nuanced reasons?
You said, “If we wanted to be Indians, we would have stayed in India.” But what about those people who want to be Americans and go through all the proper and legal channels of becoming American yet still don’t enjoy the same opportunities? What about Americans who were born and raised in this country, but that do not receive the same freedoms as other Americans? I mean Bob, do I really have to go there? Do I need to remind you of things that keep happening in this country by law enforcers and fellow citizens that keep this country divided?
But no, I do not want to complain, I do not want to be a tattle-tale and further perpetuate my lethargy. Besides, I know you know what is really going on.
If you could give me a more practical framework, I would be more inclined to give your remarks serious thought. Let’s say we go along with your plan and I drop the hyphen and I simply go as American. What does that mean in my practical day-to-day? Could you please walk me through it?
Does that mean I trade in the comfort of chaa for a chai tea latte? No, that seems pretty superficial, right? Or do I stop watching any movies directed by Raj Kumar Hirani and only watch Clint Eastwood directed movies? Do I no longer partake in FaceTime calls with my cousins in India? Do I replace saying Sat Sri Akal with a simple hello when greeting my in-laws? Oooh and Bobby, boy, I don’t think I could give up samosas. Have you?
But no, wait, you could not possibly recommend I stop doing those things as you even said yourself that you don’t suggest “people should be shy or embarrassed about their ethnic heritage.”
And codifying how I speak, dress, and act would surely be encroaching upon my constitutional rights and I know you’re not going there… I mean…are you? Real talk, Bob, is that what you are suggesting?
Look, I am not asking this to be glib or funny. I am seriously asking you what it means to be your version of American or “American” or whatever. And while we are at it, could you just tell me once and for all, how I am any less American by being Indian-American? What is it about my hyphenated identity that is diluting the notion of Americanness?
What are you suggesting I use as a point of reference for being American? And if there is not a reference point I can readily avail myself to and we are making up an identity as we go along, could you give me context clues? What is THE master culture you recommend I assimilate to? Is it White America? Christian America? Southern America? Anglo, straight, Christian gun-toting America? I dunno, Costco card-holding America? What arbitrary metrics are we using to determine my Americanness? Is this as dizzying for you as it is for me? Throw me a bone here, Bob, who is it I’m supposed to be that I’m not being when I moved to this country, MY country, as an Indian-American?!?!?
You cannot get around these hyphenated identities. They exist. They are real, Bobby, whether you wish to acknowledge them or not, they ARE real. They are the very backbone of this country. Democratic-Americans versus Republican. Blue states versus red states. Hell, you are in an office that reinforces a hyphenated culture, are you not? Sure you may not identify as being an Indian-American, but you are a Republican-American, right?
So my take away from your remarks is this: You are not asking us to denounce a hyphenated identity. What you are asking us to do is replace it with another hyphenated identity. Alls’ I’m saying is be upfront – tell me in no uncertain terms which hyphenated identity you are really suggesting I adopt. I think I have an idea, but I always like things spelled out. You know being Indian-American and all, we are all about some spelling, are we not?
One more thing, Bobby, just out of curiosity, did you ever think maybe, just maybe, you are asking the wrong group of people to disengage from their identities?
So here’s a thought: Instead of asking Indian-Americans to denounce their hyphenated identities, why not ask political parties to do so? Why not ask our legal, political, economic, educational systems of power to quit serving one particular hyphenated identity? What say you? Could you, would you, stop being a Republican-American for the greater good? I’m not even asking you to be a Democrat. I’m just suggesting you be an American and, you know, screw the hyphens.
But see, here is the thing, if I ask you to denounce your identity for a mythical greater good then you and I become quite similar, don’t we, Bobby? And not just because we are both brown, but because we want to see change, a change that serves our own agendas.
I have no wish to be like you, so I will not make such suggestions.
I hope I hear back from you.
P.S. Check out my business, Sketchydesi.com. I am pretty sure you will hate it; it’s all about hyphenated identities. Maybe it will provide you fodder for your rants like you have done for me.
Soni Satpathy-Singh is a recipe writer and developer who resides in Manhattan. She is either always cooking or eating be it for work or simply because she loves to! She is working on her own cookbook and also recently created “Sketchy Desi” which provides daily humor, greeting cards, and apparel that celebrate brown culture. To see more of Sketchy Desi’s work, visit SketchyDesi.com or stay tuned to upcoming posts on Brown Girl Magazine.
Social media has stretched a number of news headlines:
“Social media rots kids’ brains.”
“Social media is polarizing.”
Yet those most affected by social media ideals are the teenage users. Apps like Instagram and TikTok perpetuate an image of perfection that is captured in pictures and 30-second videos. As a result, many young women chase this expectation endlessly. “Her” personifies this perfection in an unattainable figure the narrator has always wished to be. These ideals deteriorate mental health, create body dysmorphia, promote a lack of self-esteem, and much more. Even so, social media is plagued by filters and editing—much of what we hope to achieve isn’t even real. Therefore, young women, much like the narrator of “Her,” strive for a reality that doesn’t even exist.
When she walked into my life
Her smile took up two pages of description
In a YA novel.
My arms could wrap around her waist twice
If she ever let anyone get that close
Her hair whipped winds with effortless beach waves
And a hint of natural coconut
Clothing brands were created around her
“One Size Fits All” one size to fit the girl who has it all
With comments swarning in hourglasses
But when sharp teeth nip at her collar,
She could bite back biting back
And simply smirked with juicy apple lips
Red hearts and sympathy masking condescension
“My body doesn’t take away from the beauty of yours”
“We are all equal, we are all beautiful”
A sword she wields expertly
Aphrodite in consistent perfection
Cutting remarks with sickly sweet syrup
And an innocent, lethal wink
When she walked into my life
She led my life.
My wardrobe winter trees
Barren, chopped in half
Unsuited for the holidays
Mirrors were refracted under in my gaze
Misaligned glass was the only explanation
For unsymmetrical features
And broken hands
Still I taped them fixed
Over and over
Hoping to mold stomach fat like wet clay
Move it upward
Instead of sagging beneath a belt on the last hole
In the spring
She would stir me awake at 2 AM
“You need to be me”
Lies spilled from her tongue but
Fabrication spelled dichotomy
And I drifted farther out to sea
When she walked out of my life,
I was drowning.
Reliance had me capsized
Furrowed brows and glances away
Like spectators of a shark attack
They can watch but the damage is done
They clung to my mangled pieces
But I was mourning too
Today I looked back at my mirror
But glass turned into prism
Broken pieces rainbow
Colors coating clothes
She didn’t pick
She wasn’t perfect
Just lost at sea
The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.
Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.
I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.
A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.
It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.
Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.
I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.
I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.
She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.
I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.
I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.
Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.
In celebration of Kirthana Ramisetthi’s second novel “Advika and the Hollywood Wives,” BGM literary editor Nimarta Narang is publishing this short story by the acclaimed author. This piece chronicles the evolution of a writer’s life through their ever-changing author’s bio. In the details, from the change in last name to the new address, we observe how Gigi grows into Genevieve and the life events that make her into the writer she becomes.
“My Picnic,” published in the Oakwood Elementary Storytime Scrapbook
Gigi Maguire loves strawberries, “Smurfs,” and being a first grader. Her favorite word is ‘hooray.’ This is her first short story.
“Sunshine Day,”published in Oakwood Elementary KidTale
Gigi Maguire is a fifth grader in Ms. Troll’s class. She loves writing stories more than anything in the whole world, except for peanut butter.
“What Rhymes with Witch?,” published in BeezKneez.com
Gigi Maguire is a high school junior living in the Bay Area. Her favorite writers are Sylvia Plath and J.K. Rowling. If she can’t attend Hogwarts, she’ll settle for Sarah Lawrence or NYU.
“On Her 21st Birthday,” published in LitEnds
Gigi Laurene Maguire is a writer and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College. Her favorite writers are Sylvia Plath, Alice Munro, and Mahatma Gandhi. She is making her big move to New York City in the fall.
“Valentine’s Day in a Can,” published in Writerly
Gigi Laurene Maguire is a freelance writer who loves the written word, Ireland in springtime, and “La Vie En Rose.” She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“Unspoken Ballads of Literal Heartbreak,” published in Weau Dunque Review
Gigi Laurene Maguire is an assistant editor at ScienceLife.com. Her work has appeared in Writerly and is forthcoming in Pancake House and Schooner’s Weekly. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“The Mistress of Self-Loathing,” published in Story Day
Gigi L. Maguire is the editor-in-chief of Small Business Weekly. Her work has appeared Writerly, Story Day, Pancake House, and Schooner’s Weekly. She’s currently working on a novel about witches. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her tabby cat Sabrina.
“The Distance in Your Eyes,” published in The Canton Review
Gigi L. Maguire is a freelance writer and digital marketing specialist. Her work has appeared in Writerly, Story Day, and is forthcoming in Idaho Centennial. She’s working on a novel and a short story collection. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“Auspicious,” published in BookWorks
Genevieve L. Maguire’s work appears or will appear in The Canton Review, Mark’s End, Bishop Quarterly, and Idaho Centennial. A second runner-up for the Imelda Granteaux Award for Fiction, she is writing a novel and a memoir. Genevieve lives in Brooklyn.
“Meditate, Mediate,” published in Ripcord
Genevieve L. Maguire’s fiction appears or will appear in BookWorks, The Canton Review, Berkeley Standard, and elsewhere. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she is an MFA candidate at New York University. She lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend and their two cats.
“Chaat & Chew,” published in The Carnegie Review
Genevieve L. Maguire’s fiction appears in Ploughshares, Ripcord, The Cambridge Review, and elsewhere. She received her master’s in creative writing from New York University. Her short story “Meditate, Mediate” has been optioned by Academy Award nominee Janet De La Mer’s production company, Femme! Productions. She lives in Brooklyn with her fiancé, their three cats, and a non-singing canary.
“Urdhva Hastasana Under a Banyan Tree” published in The Paris Review
Genevieve Maguire-Mehta’s fiction has been hailed as “breathtakingly lyrical” by Margaret Atwood. She is the recipient of the Whiting Prize for Short Fiction and an Ivy Fellow. Her fiction has appeared in The Carnegie Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband Manoj in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“Reaching New (Jackson) Heights,” performed by Lana Del Rey on NPR’s “Shorts” series
Genevieve Maguire-Mehta’s fiction has been hailed as “effervescent” by Alice Munro and “breathtakingly lyrical” by Margaret Atwood. She is the recipient of the Whiting Prize for Short Fiction and an Ivy Fellow. Her work appears or has appeared in The Paris Review,Elle, The Carnegie Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband in Park Slope, Brooklyn with their feisty menagerie of animals.
“The Bhagavad Gina,” published in The New Yorker
Genevieve Maguire-Mehta is the recipient of the Whiting Prize of Short Fiction and is a McClennen Arts Colony scholar. Her work appears or has appeared in The Paris Review,Elle, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel. She lives with her husband and daughter in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“When Two Becomes None,” published in American Quarterly
Genevieve Maguire’s writing has received dozens of accolades, most recently the Luciana Vowel Prize for Female Fiction. Praised by Alice Munro as “effervescent,” her work has appeared in more than twenty publications, including The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. She lives with her daughter Priyanka in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path,” published by Capricorn Rising Press
Genevieve Maguire is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in more than thirty publications, including The New Yorker and The Paris Review. She lives with her daughter in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Woodstock, New York. “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” is her first novel. Visit her website at genevievemagauthor.com.
“Hairy Arms and Coconut Oil,” published in MotherReader
Genevieve MaguireDunblatt is a novelist, homeopath, and part-time yoga instructor. She has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband Benji and daughter Priyanka in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life,” published by Capricorn Rising Press
Genevieve M.Dunblatt is the author of two novels, including “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path.” An aura reader, faith healer, and yoga instructor, she has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit genevieveauthormag.com to learn more about her writing, and genevieveauthormag.com/hearthappy for her wellness services.
“Comma, Coma,” published in Read-A-Day Journal
Genevieve Maguire is the author of “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” and “Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life.” She has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Alice Munro has called her writing “effervescent.” She lives in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Next Stop New York,” published in The Lunar Reader
Genevieve Maguire is the author of “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” and “Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life.” She lives in New Jersey.