Going Back Home – Part Two – Being an Ambassador

I never knew I was an ambassador. Nobody told me that that was a huge part of an immigrant’s life.

A few years ago, an Indian immigrant was in the news for shooting his professor and then killing himself. As much as I was saddened and shocked by the incident, I couldn’t also help thinking, “He makes us all (Indians) look bad. This is not who we are.” In a strange twist of events, it turned out that I knew the mother of the victim. We went to the same Bible study. I don’t know why but, after I paid my condolences, I apologized to her. I told her I was sorry, on behalf of all Indians.

I am aware that I am watched and judged as an immigrant. My conduct can influence people’s opinion about Indians. So, I’m careful. I do my best to conform and not break any rules. This sense of cautiousness is something that inhabits an immigrant even if he or she is not aware of it. I do perpetuate certain stereotypes about Indians—I cook and eat spicy food, I focus on my child’s academic achievements, and I speak with a foreign accent. I am also an outlier—I am not vegetarian, I did not have an arranged marriage, and I’m not a software engineer.

Whenever I visit India, I find that my role is reversed. I become an unofficial ambassador of the American people to the Indians. This summer, I was asked why and how Americans chose Trump as a President. I tried to dodge questions on that topic! But I’m also quizzed about life in America. How is it like bringing up a child in America? How safe is America—why are there so many guns? What shows are most popular? What are schools like?

The question that stuck with me most and made an impact on me was one that was asked by a young Muslim girl, “Do Americans really not sit next to you on a train/subway if you wear a hijab?” I felt the need to defend Americans. I told her that in Los Angeles, where I lived, I had rarely been ill-treated for being brown and that the people of LA were used to diversity. I assured her that even though I couldn’t speak about the rest of the country, Americans, in general, were kind and friendly.

If only Indians did not let news channels, TV shows, and social media dictate their views on American society…If only Americans entered into the homes of immigrants and knew them as friends and neighbors…

I cannot control everybody’s actions. I can, however, take my “role” as an ambassador more seriously. I do not have to always represent the good side of India to America, of America to India. But I can try as much as possible, to highlight positive relationships and truth. In doing so, I hope that as an immigrant I can build bridges and tear down walls.

6 thoughts on “Going Back Home – Part Two – Being an Ambassador

  1. I bet the half the things you experienced are hard to put into words which only U as a expat can understand. From landing in Hyderabad, to feeling like u landed in a war zone ,to all the traffic+sounds+amazing+disgusting smells at the same time ,to just driving back home to feel the nostalgia, is truly a sense of being lost and loved at the same time. From the morning azaan ,to getting served chai every hour, to the kam-wali who is ecstatic coz u came from US of A ,to every neighbor/relative giving u hundreds of tips with no sense of private space or privacy and to grand finale of going to Methodist Church to see old friends +balaji’s chai ,is feeling of serendipity. There is so much of chaos that u feel like this is going to chaotic holiday but wait a min – u r home. By the time the day is over, when everyone is asleep, and U r in jet lag, then comes the time of true evaluation or pondering (Am i truly home?). One thing i realized is that, do not plan anything and just go with the flow. From meeting friends, to having relatives jump in from nowhere, to being 2 hours late for everything – just don’t plan. At the end of the day all u can do is control yourself, so just ease into the chaos n enjoyyyy.

    1. I can relate to every word you said. It always takes me a few days to adjust to the the brutal assault on my private space…haha. Thank you for writing! Very well said.

  2. Marginalisation and generalisation have become the culture of the day and it’s good that you raised up this issue . It’s very rude and offensive to generalise people . I think we need spiritual ,theological , cultural and also psychological migration . If we could discuss about such issues in our conversations I think in the long run there will be some transformation and for this we need to be Ambassodors I liked your thoughts and the way you have expressed it

    1. Rani, thank you for sharing your wise thoughts. You are so right about the need for a dialogue and for renewed thinking.

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