Immigration, assimilation and identification

Background: I am of Asian Indian origin and if you looked at me, you would place my genetics from the plains area stretching from Tehran to Dhaka.

So, I am on the BART, when a man of similar origin (i.e. similar skin tone, facial features and hair) as me approaches me and asks: "Where are you coming from?"

I figured he was trying to figure out where the train was coming from and said "Oakland".

"Oh, where did you move from?"

(In exasperated tone) "No, are you Indian or Pakistani?"

That question triggered a memory from more than a decade back. I was at a gas station in New Jersey and an older man (maybe in his 50s) of similar origin as me came up to me and asked the same question "Are you Indian or Pakistani?" Without hesitation, I said "I am an American." His reaction surprised me to the core. His eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store, his lips swelled into a smile and he grabbed my hand, shook it and said "Finally! You know, I have been waiting for this answer for 20 years!" Then he added, somewhat cryptically "You can't love one girl while married to another."

So, back in the present, I said "I am an American." I was not trying to be facetious or overly smart. I am an American. I live here in the USA, pay my taxes here, have an American passport, vote in the elections, own a house (well, at least a fraction of it) and I feel that I am a part of the American experience. When I think of the American public, I use the pronoun "We," not "Them".

Somehow, my answer was not the one my fellow BART rider was looking for. He moved away, shaking his head and muttering something to the effect of how idiots don't know their heritage.

I think I answered the question very honestly. The question comes down to who I am. My parents are Indian (well, my father is no more), they live in India and feel a part of the Indian society. My sister and her husband are Indians and they live and work and pay taxes in India. I, on the other hand, am not an Indian. I feel emotionally close to my extended family no matter where in the world they live. But for me to say that I am an Indian is false advertising, not only towards others but towards myself.

I am not in USA temporarily, working on a project or visiting on vacation. I am here, as an integral part of this society. Why should I say otherwise???

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