I think most ABCDs can relate to this. On some level, we live in a nebulous Indo-American subculture. We’re American enough to blend into the suburbs and run for President. But not American enough to avoid the “ASIAN-AMERICAN” check box on every credit card application and census form we complete. Like me, ABCDs from Birmingham, Alabama and Columbia, Missouri to Phoenix, Arizona have spent a lifetime serving as ambassadors for all inquiries Indian. Yes, I have seen the magnificent Taj Mahal. No, I don’t know “that guy” Omprakash you once met in Omaha. Yes, Hindus believe in God. No, we don’t race camels down the streets of Delhi.
For the most part moving to New York ended my cultural attaché days. From the sound of the rumbling subway, to the sight of George Washington Bridge, my new life still takes my breath away. One day Manhattan will kick me down the stairs. Until then I want to remember how I feel now – giddy, free, possible.
A shout interrupts my reverie. Across the street a woman leans out of a mini-van and yells, ‘Hola chica’ followed by a stream of words I don’t understand. SURELY she is speaking to someone else. But we’re the only ones on the street. I have no choice but to ask, “Sorry? I don’t speak Spanish.” Why can’t I be witty on demand?
The combination of my Midwestern accent and my internationally Indo-Paki-Perisan-Greco-Latin appearance confuses her. She totally thinks I am Jenny from the Block, not Chaaya from Chandigarh. Then she says, “Can I park here?” Oh she CAN speak English. I point at the sign directly in front of her that reads “NO PARKING ANY TIME”. She sighs, “Do you think I’ll get towed if I leave my car here?” ARGH! Do I look like Rita the lovely Meter Maid?
I grew up following my parents’ animated conversations in Hindi and Punjabi. So I fully advocate preserving cultural heritage. However, public streets are not ideal for busting out your Spanish, Latvian or Tagalog. Despite what I “might look like”, she really should speak English if she wants my help.
This interchange annoys me and I go home to call Jane (Posts 14, 12, 9, 8, 7, 2) and complain. “Oh sweetie, it’s because of where you live,” she says. “Oh…You mean America?” I ask with fake innocence. Jane groans, “I mean Washington Heights! You can be a real pain in the ass.”
But I thought Manhattan was going to END my identity crisis, not start a whole new one!