These Roots Do Not Whither

Where are you from?

Not Chicago. That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean where are your roots and how deep do you feel them inside of you?

For many immigrants, these roots never disappear. But somehow they also become mangled with the new roots put down here and that creates a cultural challenge. Here  Shallini Parekh tells a story that applies to many.

So, tell us how do you fell about your roots? Talk to us, Namaste, Stephen

In spite of my cosmopolitan upbringing and international background, or perhaps because of it, I cannot ever assume to be an insider; a space I have always coveted. The degree to which immigrants assimilate or ‘naturalize’ in their adopted country has obvious markers, — assimilation of traditions, language, employment and more — but no barometers can measure their inherent internal quest, as they struggle to balance their status as ‘outsiders’ with becoming an ‘insider’.
This conundrum is even more specific to the Indian expatriate in the US. Malleability of ideas and expression, the ability to wear all hats, be all things to everyone and an unswerving desire to please; these traits have been the reason for the success of Indians here. However these very desirable traits in the Indian immigrant, fuel an inexorable osmosis into a popular and homogeneous mass culture.

Thanksgiving vegetarian Indian ‘desi’ turkey

Engaged in the pursuit of success and assimilation, rising above the stereotypes of being Indians abroad — including language, pronunciation, appearance and the predictable choice of professions like doctors, IT professionals, engineers —  and relentlessly pursuing the American dream, the immigrant’s Indian heritage sometimes feels like a weight, hard to shrug off. Even as they gravitate towards becoming the perfect insiders, their desire for engaging with their roots and traditions, keeps them at the periphery of popular culture: somewhat confused, often vacillating, remaining the reluctant ambivalent outsider.

To feed this reluctant and inarticulate sense of identity, — this ‘outsider’ — the Indian diaspora abroad, has a template for most ethnic celebrations. Celebrations like Diwali, Pongal and Id mostly fit into clean, white antibacterial basements, and bigger events like weddings and other larger community events are planned around gaudy banquet spaces or country club like settings, where insured Indian vendors providers of predictable Indian fare, provide a modicum of sanitized Indian culture.

Still the ‘outsider’ has a niggling fear, a misgiving, of short changing his progeny of all that is truly Indian. Attempts to pigeonhole the mantle of an ancient culture and roots into a translatable template are  just that, trying to fit a formless peg into a square hole. Larger than the hole is the weight of all that he carries that does not fit into the suitcase requirements of international travel, spilling into intractable memories and weighty traditions.

This quest for identity, even as ski vacations are tucked in, and Christmas fervor relished, is the unmistakable cultural quandary of the so called sophisticated American Indian parent, if I can call myself that. As I prepare a quasi Indian American Thanksgiving meal this holiday season and tuck some Indian ornaments onto my six foot Christmas tree, gearing up to reuse the twinkling outside lights I recently used for Diwali, to light up our home for the holidays, I am getting ready for the holidays, albeit ‘desi’ style, the Hindi word to denote Indian.

Closer on the insider track of assimilation are the first generation American Indians, like my children, born to immigrant parents, who are also called the ABCD — American Born Confused Desi — in jest, by newer immigrant Indians. In a nod to culture they will pay confused lip service to their heritage, while others of that same generation presumably more self righteous, still lugging the self imposed burden of translating their roots to the next generation, will try to schedule weekend religion school visits to the temple. Scuttling in and out of Starbucks, perhaps grabbing an eggnog for their kids on their way to a Diwali or holiday party, they can wish upon a star, but cannot easily wish away the weight of an ancient culture and deep roots.


here is a link to her website:



No Comments

Comments are closed.