Updated: Jan 20, 2022
You clicked to read this article because you’ve probably experienced this, or you wholeheartedly disagree with it, or you probably have very strong feelings about this topic. The chances of it being the first one is quite high because it is true. There's no love lost between Indians abroad. Unless of course they already know them from past life. And even then, that is not an absolute certainty.
The Itch to Write
We published a reel on Instagram a month ago about the same thing. It was a short 10 second reel that just highlighted this phenomenon. And it got some great response which prompted us to evaluate more and hence this blog.
For those who haven't seen the reel, here it is.
Initial Observations & Experiences
When I moved here to the US 2.5 years ago, I had no clue about this mentality. Why would I? There was no need for me to see other Indians. My wife was already here and so were some of my closest friends from college. The transition was relatively smooth. I was happy. I had friends & I lived in a neighborhood that had good Indian food (well, this is debatable, but I’ll take it). Do you know that neighborhoods that have good Indian food also have plenty of Indians living there?
And that’s when I realized that something was wrong.
Now, it took me a while to start randomly smiling and greeting strangers on the street (But it is a practice I’ve come to appreciate over the past 2 years), but I eventually got the hang of it.
There was however, one big difference. The smile was almost always never returned by another Indian. At first, I thought my smile was creepy which my wife confirmed that it wasn’t. Without taking any chances, I even asked a few of my friends and they too confirmed that it wasn’t creepy. But to them it wasn’t creepy because I wear spectacles and people with spectacles are usually not too creepy. I don’t agree with that logic, but I’ll take it for now. So, what was the issue? Because my smile was always returned by Americans (of all races).
My curiosity got the better of me and I posed this question to my friends. And then to some other people. And then I floated this question as a survey and got 100s of responses. The experience was unanimous. Everyone had felt this. People have had some bad experiences with other Indians and then there were some who’d had pleasant experiences too. But the bad ones outweighed the good ones.
Some of the common experiences that stood out were:
We don’t smile at each other
The moment an Indian American realized that other one was on a Visa here, their attitude changed
Indian don’t want other Indians to settle in their school district because then their kids will face stiff competition.
Indian bosses are blood suckers (this seems to be universal everywhere)
People still believe in caste system (Check out this incident that recently happened)
The above are the experiences or if I may say, effects. The causes of which still eluded me. So, I dug further. And it took me to the depths of the Internet aka a Reddit thread.
After reading a lot of comments, talking to a few of them and reading a few other blogs and opinion pieces, I was briefly able to summarize the following causes:
I escaped this. I don’t want to be a part of it anymore:
Pretty simple, I guess. Indians tend to have a certain affinity towards moving to the western world. Most Indians actually consider it to be the absolute achievement. This aspiration to move abroad is a default setting in most Indians. We will uproot our entire lives and move to a place with freezing temperatures if the opportunity presents itself. But the problem starts when we start believing that no one else should be able to do it. I read this somewhere, “We don’t want to be an inspiration, but the only exception”.
Most older immigrants have tried too hard to assimilate within ‘White’ mainstream America and they want to be the exclusive ones within that group. They are the ones who got accepted. It is their badge of honor. How can they just let any other person with a similar background be a part of this elite club?
One would think that these people would not want to anything to do with Indians or Indianness. But turns out, they are hyper nationalistic and will quickly turn into Akshay Kumar of Namaste London the moment they are around white Americans and yet not smile at a fellow Indian.
Having read the above, think back of all the times you’ve heard (or probably said this) whenever you saw too many Indians around you in a western country, “I didn’t come so far from the country only to be surrounded by more of us”.
Hadd hai bhi hyporcrisy ki.
Personal Bad Experiences – Scams:
50% of people I spoke to have had at least one bad experience where another Indian had tried to recruit them into an MLM scheme. I was unaware of this until I experienced it myself.
When I was initially looking for a job, I was approached by another Indian who was too sweet. It was almost too good to be true. Long story short, the person was trying to sell me a get rich scheme. Thank You. Not interested. Such experiences leave a bitter taste and then every time someone approaches, you’re always way too cautious. It doesn’t help that a lot of scams are perpetrated by our fellow countrymen. Case in point – this.
I came across an interesting comment on the Reddit thread. Here it is:
2nd generation Indian > 1st generation Indian > Indian immigrant with green card > people who have done Masters in US + H1B1/ L1> recent H1B1 transfers.
This is the replacement of the dreaded caste system in India. It’s almost implicit. Especially when it comes to people with Green Card vs people who’re here on a visa. Not that all Indians with a Green Card have a chip on their shoulders. But there’s a different air about them and it’s not too difficult to miss it. Don't worry about identifying such people. They'll tell you they have a Green Card.
However, I’d want to give everyone a benefit of doubt. At least to the 1st and 2nd Generation Immigrants. They’ve had a very different life than ours. Most of them have grown up here and spent a better part of their lives outside India. Apart from their skin color and probably food choices, their lived experiences are quite different from us. And on close examination, you’ll realize that they are probably not to blame as well. They too have had experiences where someone tried to get close to them purely because of their Visa status. Of course, some of them are quite grounded and genuinely want to help others and they do.
The omnipresent Desi Mentality & Groupism
We come from country of 1.3 billion people and counting. So, of course we’re fiercely competitive. And it doesn’t end even after coming here. I’ve met people who were asked their JEE score by other Indians the first time they met. Then there are people who unashamedly ask your caste. Goodbye 21st century.
The biggest display of our desi mentality and groupism is seen when you see people from the same region forming groups. I spoke to an Indian Master’s student here and he told me that the Indians in his batch have formed groups based on their origin state, origin city, the language they spoke back home and their food preferences.
So, you’ll see groups of Gujarati, Tamils, Telugu and other language speakers together. And then there is a city vs village divide. Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore vs Indore, Nagpur etc. It’s as if, no one saw this scene from Chak de India.
Can we even Unify?
There probably are more causes that I may have missed. But chances are they’ll probably be close to the ones I wrote above. The bigger question is if there’s a way to overcome these barriers and actually come together as a community that helps each other out in times of need and celebrates each other’s wins instead of getting jealous.
I’ve seen it happening now and again in pockets. There have been instances when the community got together and pitched in money to fly the mortal remains of a person back home. I’ve seen instances of people coming chipping in to help a couple stay afloat during the pandemic.
It is unfortunate that we find it difficult to trust our own kind in a foreign land. Imagine the possibilities that could emerge if we just got together and were more inclusive. No North – South, city-village, visa-citizen or upper-lower caste divide. Just Indians identifying with their own roots and coming together to become a part of something larger.
Alas, it’s just a pipe dream.
We’re too divided to unify unless it is for an India – Pakistan cricket match.