Published December 2, 2002
Chirumamilla's viewpoint 'highlights her ignorance' about Indian culture
To the Daily:
I knew from the first sentence of the viewpoint Indian culture more than dancing girls, rap beats, 11/27/02, that I would not come away liking what I would read. But, that is a part of life - you have to take the good criticism with the bad, and I was prepared to hear the negative criticism.
However, I came away with feelings of pure anger and frustration. As an Indian American Student Association Executive Board member, I am appalled that the Daily would allow something like this to be printed. When IASA voted on the issue of boycotting the Daily, we heard both from Jon Schwartz and a representative from the boycott. It was only after listening to both viewpoints and a two-hour debate that we voted on our position. Now, I'm not in any way saying that because IASA does not support the boycott, that the Daily in turn should only publish positive sentiments about us. I'm saying that the writer, Sravya Chirumamilla, never even asked IASA anything about the show, and honestly came off looking like an uninformed idiot.
There are some points in the article that personally anger me, so I'm going to address each one of them:
1. Chirumamilla's statement that the dances were "colorful, while unfortunately homogenous." This is such an insult to the Culture Show Core, the choreographers and the dancers. If Chirumamilla knew anything about Indian dancing (since she claims to be the one beacon of Indian tradition in a campus filled with superficial Desis), she would notice the amazing amount of variety in our show. I personally have been taking Indian dance for the past 12 years, and how Chirumamilla can compare any of the dances to each other is beyond me. How is the South Indian "Sangamam" dance anything like the gypsy "Ghagra" dance? How was the bhangra anything at all like the raas? And how can you say that the dances were homogenous when we premiered the "Bamboo" dance, which has never been performed at an IASA Show before? I take offense to this comment because we worked extremely hard to show the many facets of India. The introduction to each dance was in more than five different languages. Her statement simply highlights her ignorance to what Indian culture really is.
2. The video which highlighted the history of India did not touch on the subject of Kashmir for a reason: it is a topic on which there are many different sides and in which no one side is right. There is a history that goes back before the partition of India, before the rule of the British Empire, and before the Mughal Empire, that adds up to what is going on in Kashmir today. So for us to try to even touch upon this subject in a matter of seconds is not only impossible, but irresponsible. We would have to skip over so many important events, and there is no way to look at the situation objectively. The show is supposed to celebrate the diversity and also the unity in India. Bringing up the subject of Kashmir does not celebrate unity in any way. Also, the clips we showed are events that are less known about Indian history.
Almost everyone on this campus knows at least something about Kashmir, but how many people know about the Bhopal tragedy? Or the earthquake in Gujarat? We were trying to educate people on subjects they didn't know about already.
3. The DaimlerChrysler video. Chirumamilla, extremely irresponsibly, made it seem like IASA created the video. We didn't. We didn't even know it was as long as it was. But what choice did we have? We are paying for a show that 4,000 people come to see. That is the largest cultural show on campus. I the Daily to try to put on a culture show of this scale, and see if you can do it without getting sponsorships.
Chirumamilla's comment that the message in the first commercial was "all other cultures have made contributions (read: sold out), why can't Indians?"
That is reading a bit too much into the commercial. The commercial is simply saying that America's culture is a fusion of the various cultures of the world. IASA was not trying to give the audience some kind of message through these ads. On a further note, I can't understand how Chirumamilla is even a Daily staffer when she then uses this point to go off on a tangent about rap music. Honestly, considering that The Daily is one of the best college newspapers in the country, and Chirumamilla's viewpoint was an example of incredibly bad writing.
Divisions among Indians, Indian Americans imply too much culture not 'cool'
To the Daily:
I couldn't have championed more Sravya Chirumamilla's recent viewpoint on Indian culture (Indian culture more than dancing girls, rap beats, 11/27/02). In complete consonance with her views, I believe that the University's Indian American Student Association of the is in many ways a poor reflection of the profuse intellectual and artistic contributions Indians have made to the western world. Aside from the critiques of Chirumamilla, which namely addressed the Indian community's sometimes inadvertent and sometimes deliberate propagation of stereotypes pertaining to Indian culture, I would like to add that perhaps one of the biggest fallacies in IASA's creed is its subtle, yet active, resistance against coalition building in the Indian community at large. I've heard the FOB ("fresh off the boat") jokes and the snickering at accented English one too many times.
I am proudly American and I am proudly Indian, but I am vehemently ashamed to acknowledge that a group representing my ethnic identity has stigmatized Indian students to such a disparaging extent. The fact that Indian-born students on this campus felt so uncomfortable and alienated from their Indian American counterparts that an Indian Student Association was formed, quite frankly makes me sick. Though no one is so audacious as to openly admit that the fissure of IASA and ISA was predominantly because of an inane cultural hierarchy established by Indian American students, the truth is that beyond the euphemistic explanations rooted in a difference of organizational and political ideology, IASA was glad to have these so-called "FOBs" off its back and out of its prestigious association. The dichotomous division of Indians and Indian Americans on this campus implies to me, "It's cool to be Indian, but don't be too Indian. It's cool to be Indian, just as long as you don't have an accent when you talk. It's cool to be Indian, but only to a certain extent." An organization that implicitly bolsters such beliefs, in my eyes, is not worthy of all the praise it attributes itself.
Being a part of several multi-cultural organizations, I find that a rift of such a nature is almost exclusive to the Indian American community. I don't see the shame or embarrassment in the eyes of my Latino friends as they openly converse in Spanish with recently arrived Latino, immigrant students. I don't see the immense culturally-based division among my Italian American friends and Italians from Europe. But what I do see is the group of derisive Indian women walking their way to an Alpha Iota Omicron party, making contemptuous remarks about the "FOBS" they see on the way. Giggling away, they mock their English, the way they dress, and their mannerisms in general. Trumping the several similarities they have with physical attributes, Indian Americans perceive themselves, in comparison to Indians, as "holier than thou." And if our community is so gripped with such superficial things as to ignore that these students are in the same place that most of our parents and grandparents were not too long ago, then that leaves little aspiration for the future.
Being Indian American is not about placing one facet of our identity above the other; it's not about nodding your head to Redman as he ardently raps away to "that Arabic chick;" and it's certainly not about being embarrassed to acknowledge that we share so much in common with these so-called "FOBs."
IASA can bask in it's gloating and what it perceives to be its monumental-achievement-of-a-cultural-show, but until its members reach the point that they're more concerned about transcending differences with these "FOBs" to achieve social empowerment and justice for the Indian culture as a whole rather than how well they can pop-'n'-lock to the latest Hindi Remix it will remain an inaccurate and despotic organization, offering little more to the community than a three hour long cultural program or the occasional formals and fundraisers.