Ghettos, Assimilation and the Melting Pot

In my previous post, I discussed how futile it is to expect foreign born/ raised kids to be culturally pure and observant. The degree of purity depends on the definitions set by the parents, how they themselves were raised and their values. But the whole idea of pushing the young generation to follow on the path of their ancestors and ignore their surrounding culture is troubling.

We are born into a culture, religion and values set. Parents, relatives and the community shape us, but ultimately it is us- an individual who decides what to pick and what to ignore. In certain societies parents and elders do push youngsters to confirm, even then the individual decision counts.

To push a young person to follow their parents’ culture, while living amongst an entirely different culture creates “cultural and ethnic ghettos”. They live in an almost parallel universe and the clash between civilizations and cultures makes it’s difficult for them to integrate into their new homeland.

It also confuses them because here they are living in a country where personal freedom and valued, but at home and within their community their voice is ignored. How are they supposed to reconcile the difference and work so that they grow up to be responsible citizen of their new homeland rather then just being a good (insert ethnicity or religion here)?

You see this rift widening in Europe and parts of America. Ethnicities banding together and living in insular communities fractures a nation and crates parallel societies. Integration is difficult and the clash creates a permanent class of “outsiders”- and feeds alienation.

Instead of accepting these parallel societies, effort has to be made to truly integrate new comers and their families. Culture is important part of identity and diversity is good for a country but at a certain point different cultures have to come together and be one nation.

Nepali, Chinese , Hindi schools and culture lessons are welcomed and encouraged, but similar efforts are needed to make sure that the children and the immigrants know that they don’t have to feel like an outsider. An effort to integrate.

Most of us are descendants of immigrants/migrants. My ancestors moved to Nepal 3 or 4 hundred years ago, most definitely from north India. Over time they embraced Nepal and it’s culture and became part of the society. They did retain part of their culture and heritage, but embraced the new too.

Integration and assimilation over time is only natural. Resistance gives rise to fractured societies and ghettoes.


What I am Waiting for?

Growing up, my brother and I had a very serious case of sibling rivalry. He is six years younger than me but I couldn’t care less. He didn’t get any concession or consideration from me, it all had to be just equal.

Exact same number of candy, exactly half piece of cake, exactly same amount for was a competition.

As years went by, the jostling for equality toughened. I left home and moved to India for two years, 1997-99, and that separation just added to the fire.

There was a time, when he was about 5 or 6, we were buddies and loved being around each other.Teenage angst turned me into a restless rebel and my brother was my first victim. The buddy years disappeared in a haste.

I have missed too many Bhai Tikas to count. Last day of Tihar festival, a special day to celebrate the brother-sister bond is like just another day for me. In America, Bhai Tika and Tihar, they come and go, it makes no difference.

Festivals, holidays and celebrations; these are social events. You need people around you to “celebrate”, lonely holiday is not much different than any other day of the week.

We do try to have fun as a family but how far can it go? Two adults and a child does not make a community.

When I decided to come to USA, lonely holidays were not on my
list of considerations. I was worried about finances, room and board and roommates; the emptiness brought on by years of living amongst a different culture never bothered me.

I can see why it didn’t it. I firmly believed that embracing America will automatically give me a new society to feel part of, I will not, cannot be lonely.

Well, it is not that easy. Yes, I love America and I do feel part of America but my adopted society is different from what I had before. There are no Tihars here, no Dashain. No holi and no jatra’s.

Celebrating Nepali festivals among a group of Nepalis living in US cannot match the satisfaction of celebrating with the larger society. I mean imagine the thrill of walking into a mall, any mall, and hearing Dashin songs as I shop, playing holi out in the yard without your neighbors staring at you-utterly surprised. Togetherness adds to the fun, it also makes you feel whole.

No matter how much I enjoy Thanksgiving or New Year’s eve; it does not feel the same as enjoying Dashain or Tihar. Loving America, even after all these years, hasn’t filled the gap inside. I do feel like an desperate outsider.

May be I am expecting too much from my life, after all an immigrant’s life is supposed to have some angst and emotional holes. Or perhaps I should see the gap as natural and not be so upset about it, not see it as a personal failure to properly integrate into a new society.

Or let’s push it further and say that the school of thought that pushes immigrants and refugees to integrate and assimilate, while still keeping their culture alive is wrong somewhere.

Look at major immigrant groups in America, you can see the confusion and the split. It is not easy to completely give up the old ways. Your identity, sense of self and views are moulded by your culture. How can one shed that overnight?

In an effort to keep the old alive and learn the new, immigrants are constantly torn apart. They send kids to Nepali, Hindi, Chinese, Arabic schools; arrange volunteers to teach the foreign born children culture of the land they have never lived in or have forgotten. At times it feels like they are putting up a dam to keep out a raging river, and that dam is made of flimsy plastic.

Children born or raised in a foreign land are bound to lose part of their parents’ heritage. It is natural and has been the way since centuries. Yes, some groups are more successful in keeping their culture alive but that is not the the rule. In the end, people become what they are surrounded with. Society, community is a stronger influence than what happens at home.

So what are we doing here? Are we trying to create a parallel universe hoping that our kids will be perfect (insert ethnicity here)-American kids; or is this our way of coping with the loss. The loss of the old.

And what am I doing here? Lamenting the hole in my social life and yet utterly in capable of forming a response.

Laxmi Prasad Devkota: Some Personal Notes

Tomorrow,Wednesday is Laxmi Prasad Devkota’a 102nd birth anniversary. He is honored as “Mahakabi”, The Great Poet of Nepal.

I am not going to rumble on about his contributions to Nepal and Nepali literature. Let me share some personal stories instead.

Devkota, formally

I was first introduced to his work at school. Our Nepali teacher, big admirer of Devkota, read his poem and discussed his often tortured life at length.

Devkota was not a rich man and his integrity and honesty did not allow him to go all gaga for the repressive Rana regime. Life was tough, but he kept his intellectual and moral soul intact.

I saw him as a pillar of strength and faith, and would often wonder- perhaps a reflection of my tween fantasy, why Devkota was not considered for Nobel Prize for Literature.

Couple of years later when I learned that the Nobel committee ignored Gandhi for years, and permanently stained the Prize’s illustrious history; I accepted that not every great soul gets their due. In case of Devkota, this is especially true.

He was forced to “share” his work, for paltry amount( if he was lucky); some of his writings were credited to poets and novelists who sought to push their luck at his expense.

Our Nepali teacher showed us Devkota, a tortured genius who tried his best.

Devkota, the tutor

My mother showed me personal side of the great poet.

My grandfather was lucky to be among a group of students tutored by Devkota.

A chain smoker, his room used to be littered with cigarette butts and short masterpieces he scribbled in a hurry behind the empty cigarette packs.

Always loving and generous, he was an attentive teacher but sometimes seemed lost in a maze of a world that failed to understand him, or may be chose to do so.

His genius though always shining brightly, though the holes poverty and apathy had poked around him.

Devkota, today

Tomorrow is his 102nd birth anniversary. Nepali language has gone through many changes since he left this world. Today if you read a Nepali newspaper, magazine or a book; you will see English and Hindi words are sprinkled in more liberally and the grammar standards are far too relaxed. A sign of globalized times, perhaps.

And yet the love and enthusiasm for Nepali is burning in hearts of many. As long as this love is alive, Devkota will be remembered.

Nepal’s Prime Minister’s India Visit

Summary of Twitter discussion on Nepal’s Prime Minister’s India visit and geo-political reality.

As #China expands its influence into #Nepal, the people of #Mustang struggle to preserve their ancient #Tibetan culture
October 16, 2011
EKANTIPUR: Mustang- means of publicity only: Thapa #nepal #news
October 21, 2011
EKANTIPUR: Foreign investors’ security top priority: PM Bhattarai #nepal #news
October 21, 2011
Expect Today: Visiting Nepalese PM Babu Ram Bhattarai holds delegation level talks with Manmohan Singh #nepal #mms #ht
October 20, 2011
Mr Baburam Bhattarai, Prime Minister of Nepal, will be the guest of honour at a High Tea at my Tughlaq Road residence tomorrow.
October 21, 2011
Bhattarai recalls his wedding in Delhi 30 years ago –
October 20, 2011
Nepal PM greeted by junior Indian officials, yet Bhattarai happy: via @AddThis
October 20, 2011
Hope PM Bhattarai will be bold enough to warn India on the danger of Nuclear Power Plant that will be set up close to Himalayan range !!!
October 21, 2011
Seems PM BRB went meet business-walas only in Delhi. Neither MMS norS. Gandhi willing to meet. Mr. BRB pack ur bags & get back now. #nepal
October 21, 2011

Recommended Posts

I would like to share a short list of recent posts on Nepal and things Nepal bloggers fancy. They are thought provoking and out of the box, thoroughly enjoyable.

# Ban cars from downtown Kathmandu? Frankie Taggart asks.Could be a way to deal with the long traffic jams and crazy streets, but I think a ” congestion tax” can also work. You decide .

#Shameful dereliction of duty by mainstream Nepali media. Ushaft writes how some reporters actually supported trafficking of children instead of the effort to rescue them.

#Dr Divas cannot find accommodation in Kanyakumari, India because of his single status. Unfair?. I remember us visiting Kanyakumari and Vivekananda rock years ago (1997 I believe) and the rules were the same! Looks like they do fear single men there.Not sure about the rules for single women though.

Anything I missed? Let me know.

Blog Action Day 2011: Food Security and Nepal

Yes, I am 2 days late. Blog Action Day was on Sunday October 16th, and this year the focus was on food. Skip the excuses for the tardiness, lets get to the point. In my previous post on Blog Action Day, I mentioned how the twitterverse discussed the event. Conversation on issues like food security, sustainable farming, eating local-certainly a welcome addition to Twitter sphere.

This post is focused on food security in Nepali and South Asian context.

In Nepal, the World Food Programme (WFP) argues that about 3.7 million people are at risk of food insecurity. Rising food prices have triggered a wave of protests across the globe and forced countries such as India, Russia and Vietnam, among other countries, to impose food grains embargo. These events directly or indirectly affect food prices and food availability in Nepal. Already, domestic food prices have reached second highest level since 1990.

Chandan Sapkota, Republica, 2011-02-22

According to the preliminary Nepal Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) released in August, 29 percent of children under five are malnourished, and the problem is chronic in remote parts of the Mid-Western Region. The most recent regional figures (in the NDHS 2006report) show more than half of the children are chronically malnourished.

“Girls are neglected because they are thought not to need strength,” Indra Raj Panta, programme officer for Decentralized Action for Children and Women in Jumla, told IRIN.

IRIN, 2011-09-22

Poverty, poor management, gender bias and lack of political and social will contribute to Nepal’s food insecurity and malnutrition problem. In some areas, though, traditional practices and unscientific approach to fruits and vegetables push malnutrition rather than actual lack of food.

For instance many families, even in urban areas, believe that:

#bananas are “cold” and cause sore throat

#yogurt after daylight hours should be avoided

#oranges are “cold” too

#there are actually food items that people consider unfit to consume based on caste, without the regard for nutrition

Fight against hunger in Nepal has many dimensions and focusing just on the glaring obvious would be short sighted.

Blog Action Day: Twitter Coverage

Blog Action Day 2011 was yesterday. This year the focus was on food and global hunger.

Do you know that if managed and distributed properly, the world has enough food to feed us all? And yet every year, thousands face hunger and food security is a major global concern.

Here is how twitter verse discussed Blog Action Day and food.

“@DFID_UK: In case you missed it > RT @usaid: @RajShah: #WorldFoodDay represents our year round efforts to end #hunger #BAD11”

“@awdf01: Read a post on ‘Rural women’s contribution to food security’ via #WorldFoodDay #BAD11”

“@OECD: In agriculture, small is beautiful: Duncan Green’s blog on importance of investing in farmers #BAD11

“@MennoWorld: MWR : The moral ambiguity of food distribution #BAD11 posted Oct. 16 #mennonite”

It was mostly about hunger, food distribution and also the importance of eating local. Missing issues- hunger in countries outside Africa, especially in places considered to be “safe” like the US and how climate change affects the situation.

But the mass effort was impressive, thanks to all the participants and organizers.