The portrayal of the new-age immigrant is, at times, drastically different than the stereotypical caricature depicted in the media. In their September issue, The National Geographic Magazine takes an intriguing look at the journey of the changing portrait of South Asians in not just the media and society but how South Asians view themselves through generations.
The article’s author, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee is an Indian-American immigrant himself. He describes this new era as the second-generation “expanding on the success of their immigrant parents, creating a blended cultural identity—and turning the tables on old stereotypes.”
South Asians in the diaspora have been represented in a one-sided manner with characters like Apu from “The Simpsons.” Stand-up comic Hari Kondabolu’s documentary “The Problem with Apu” delves into how racist the character actually is. It is imagery such as these that lead many second-generation South Asians to shed their heritage and distance themselves from traditions in order to avoid bullying and fit in. However, Bhattacharjee found that many go through a journey of shunning their culture during their youth only to embrace it later in life.
Like Kondabolu, who is profiled in the story, there are numerous talented South Asians rising to prominence within society. Bhattacharjee calls it “a significant milestone in the integration of people of South Asian descent into American society. By mining their immigrant experience for laughs, Kondabolu and others are giving expression to a self-assurance that many first-generation immigrants did not have.”
Asians overall are more successful than the average American as they place a high value on education and hard work. They have higher income, higher levels of education, lower unemployment rates and a lower percentage of people living below the poverty level than the national average.
Bhattacharjee highlights numerous South Asians specifically throughout his piece from many fields, like entrepreneur Nirav Tolia, the co-founded Nextdoor, a social-networking site for neighborhoods and his wife, Megha, the VP of Method, a company making environmentally friendly cleaning products.
He also highlights doctors like Radha Desai and Subhash Bazaz, reporting that there are so many South Asian doctors that being white in the field is now a novelty instead of the norm. In comparison, Bazaz’s father, Bansi, who is also a doctor, speaks of how in the 1960s, they had to take positions in obscure parts of the country where the white doctors didn’t want to go.
The story also delves into how South Asians who are breaking away from the stereotypes of studying business and medicine by carving their niche in other fields. Two of them include Ravi S. Bhalla, Hoboken, New Jersey’s first turbaned Sikh mayor and Pakistani-American artist Bohemia who has found mainstream success with his music.
“When you are the child of an immigrant and you are running for office, or you are a journalist telling a story, or you are an actor-performer who has a platform to speak, this is all new, but it’s examples of us saying, ‘Hey, we are valid,’” Kondabolu tells Bhattacharjee in their interview. “‘Hey, see our stories? They aren’t stories of foreigners. They are the stories of people here in America.’”
The American dream has changed and the portrait of America has changed with it. South Asians are just as much a part of this developing narrative as anyone else.
Click here to check out Bhattacharjee’s full piece in The National Geographic Magazine.