The Goddamned American

How many times you have answered the following questionnaire while completing a regular survey in your lifetime without even thinking much about it?  I recently came across the following comment while working with a survey related to student learning:

I am an American, Goddammit!

It was a response for an ordinary survey question:

Are you a:

  • a) Caucasian
  • b) African American
  • c) Native American
  • d) Hispanic/Latino
  • e) Asian/Pacific islander
  • f) Others

I was not prepared for the answer. I didn’t know how to react. It made me ponder.

Is it a long-waited, much desired response in today’s world where one’s identity is not confined in one’s race, ethnicity or the like? Or is it a dangerous over generalization that fails to protect one’s individuality?

I started imagining everyone around me responding the same way. I myself come from a very diverse background – my nationality is Indian, by ethnicity I am a Bengali, by caste I am a Hindu Brahmin, by appearance I am an average looking wheatish Bengali girl.

How do I introduce myself? As a Bengali, as a Brahmin, or simply as an Indian?

One of my cousins was born and brought up in the Middle East, went to an international school there, later married to a guy who was born and brought up in Canada with an Indian origin.

My brother-in-law’s parents are from UP. Their mother language was different; my cousin and her husband didn’t care – both of them spoke English. Now their child will be an American as they are in the USA now.

How to introduce him/ her? By look — as an Asian-Indian? By ethnicity — a minority? How confusing! What will be his/ her reaction?

I am an American, Goddammit!

In reality, the idea of identifying oneself just by nationality is pretty amazing but probably a bit utopian. It’s almost impossible for me to identify myself as an Indian without connecting to my ethnicity, because as a concept the word “Indian” is nothing but a concoction of various cultural mix.

I am fond of my own cuisine, which is far from any regular Indian dish that is served in any international eatery. I am proud of my literature which is just another Indian language that has nothing to do with rest of the Non Bengali population.

In fact, while looking back, I think I never felt motivated enough to learn, read and enjoy other literature in any other Indian language except Hindi.

Did my preference for my own food, literature and culture make me territorial? I am not sure.

I can speak, read and write two other Indian languages than my own. I don’t like any other food except what I am familiar with, I enjoy the literature in my own language other than English, I mostly listen to Indian classical/semi-classical and modern songs which are not sung in Bengali.

I am a keen fan of Hollywood movies, seldom watch Bollywood and Bengali mainstream cinema. I am not religious, so my interest for our biggest festival is limited within the special editions of our popular Bengali magazines (published in the festival time) which I still relish.

Some people were a little apprehensive about my affinity towards other cultures; my relatives accused me of being swayed by the glitz and glamour of global consumerism. Some of my friends called me snob.

The most fascinating part is — that didn’t make me any less “Indian” than others. Or, should I call myself a perfect example of “GAC” — a Globally Adapted Citizen and wait till the term is incorporated in all the popular dictionaries?