Tuesday, March 03, 2009

It's the story of a man named Bobby...

So I was watching 60 minutes last night, and they had an interview with Bobby Jindal. I was immediately reminded of the "Oh, God" incident that happened recently. One of the first things I noticed is just how skinny the guy is! He is really skinny--like 15-year-old- gangly-teenager skinny. After getting over that initial observation, I settled in to watch what was an informative and engaging interview. And not surprisingly, since we're dealing with the mainstream media interviewing a person of color, I was able to find something remarkable for my blog.

Morley Safer was interviewing Jindal and it was revealed that Bobby's given name is Piyush, and Bobby changed it sometime when he was a kid. When I heard this, I had flashbacks to to Barack Obama going by "Barry" when he was in school. To me, it is an example of a brown person trying to make their identity more palatable for white people. It's like, "Hey, is Piyush too 'weird' or diffcult to say? Ok, just call me Bobby then."

Later on in the interview, Jindal's wife came out and Morley asked them how many Indian customs they practiced in their household. They both looked at each other with smiles and then looked back at Morley and said, "Oh, not many."

Now, I want to make it clear that the point of this post is not to say there is something wrong with Jindal because he goes by Bobby or because he doesn't keep many Indidan traditions alive in his home. One of the main themes of my blog is that people of color (like white people,) should be able to express themselves in the way that feels most comfortable for them. And it is not anyone else's place to say, "No, you need to be this way in order to be a real Indian person/black person/Latino person etc. So, while those might not be choices that I would make for myself, I fully support his decision to do so, and might even celebrate them--because he is challenging and pushing off the boxes that people of color are often put in.

No, the reason that I am writing this post is because of something that Safer and other journalists interviewed in the story attempted to imply because of the choices that Jindal has made for himself and his family--that Jindal was a "real" American. The actual quote was that he was a "true blue American."

Sorry guys, that's not going to fly with me. Someone who's name is Bobby is not more American that someone who's name is Piyush. Someone who is Catholic is not more American than someone who is Hindu.

This is just one more example of mainstream culture putting forward the idea that things that white=American and non-white=something else. People of color whose names weren't John and Elizabeth helped to make this country great, and they have as much of a right to claim being American as the people that came over on the Mayflower. People who eat noodles, pig intestines and linings of cows stomachs are as "true blue Americans" as those that eat apple pie. Being an American doesn't have anything to do with what your name is. Loving this country isn't measured by what kind of accent you have. Believing in the American Dream, wanting the best for your family doesn't depend on whether you listen to Rascal Flatts or Talib Kweli. And don't let anyone (even if they are on 60 minutes, ) tell you otherwise.

As always, I welcome your comments.


  1. Anonymous1:33 PM

    I couldn't have said it better myself. Your articulation expresses what I've been feeling for so long.

    As for Bobby Jindal - I must say, that although I respect the guy's decision to assimilate by using the name Bobby, I do feel its a sad thing to even have the yearning to assimilate in the first place. Sure, we have every right to do what is necessary to live a comfortable life in general, but isn't that part of the issue to begin with? If more folks with ethnic backgrounds choose not to shy away from their given names, wouldn't the average American become desensitized after some time?

    I always contemplate the notion of assimilation in terms of ethnicity (excluding assimilation to your present country's language) and wonder if Bobby Jindal in particular assimilated with pure intentions. I sometimes wonder if maybe deep down inside he has some issue with his Indian heritage. Maybe that's why he embraces the Republican party with such open arms.

  2. Anonymous4:12 PM

    Bobby kept refering to himself as a "real American".

  3. Not sure if you watch "Parks and Recreations" or not (and, if you don't, you should because my little brother writes for it), but the Aziz Ansari's character is named Tom Haverford. The origin of his name hasn't been addressed in the show yet, but I'm told that he changed it to that to "fit in."

    Too bad Bobby Jindal isn't nearly as funny as the fictional Tom Haverford.