March 9, 2009
Written by C.N.
We all know by now that the previously underdog movie Slumdog Millionaire is a huge hit around the world, but particularly in the U.S., having just won eight Academy Awards and grossing over $120 million dollars in North America. As MSNBC writes, the movie also symbolizes the cultural/popular emergence of Indian Americans as a community:
The past few weeks have underscored their increasingly high profile: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave the Republican response Tuesday night to President Barack Obama’s speech to Congress, while Dr. Sanjay Gupta is under consideration to be Obama’s surgeon general.
Model and cooking author Padma Lakshmi finished another “Top Chef” TV season, then became the celebrity face for a new Procter & Gamble Co. Pantene shampoo line as well as a Hardee’s hamburger promotion. Anoop Desai, dubbed “Noop Dogg,” drew fans with his singing on this year’s “American Idol,” and Aziz Ansari was in TV’s medical comedy “Scrubs” before moving to a regular role in the upcoming comedy series “Parks and Recreation.” . . .
Indian-Americans have been one of the fastest-growing and most successful immigrant groups, though [Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor and dean of student affairs for Columbia University's journalism school] and other Indian-Americans are quick to point out that some Indians continue to struggle economically and socially in this country. . . .
For years, they have proliferated in this country in the fields of health care, information technology and engineering, with higher education levels and incomes than national averages. And recent years have brought more Indian heads of major U.S. companies — PepsiCo Inc.’s Indra Nooyi is among about a dozen current CEOs.
They also are making their presence felt in journalism. Gupta, a neurosurgeon and medical correspondent, and Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, have their own weekend shows on CNN, for example.
Slumdog Millionaire’s extraordinary success is well-earned, although we should note that not all Indians and Indian Americans are enthralled by its story. Nonetheless, I agree with the MSNBC article that the film’s success does have cultural, as well as economic, significance for American society and the Indian American community in general.
Among other things, the article also spends some time discussing the political emergence of Bobby Jindal, who despite his less-than-successful televised response to Barack Obama’s recent address to Congress, is undoubtedly being groomed to be a high-profile national leader for the Republican party for years to come. By the way, CBS’s 60 Minutes just did a very interesting profile segment on him, embedded below (about 12 minutes long):
The part of the segment that I found most interesting was that he and his wife hardly identify as Indian American at all — they clearly prefer to think of themselves as just plain “Americans” and “Louisianians.” That is their prerogative of course — not everyone who has non-American ancestry should be compelled to identify with that particular ethnicity. But I am interested to hear what Indian Americans think of Jindal’s sense of his identity (apart from his politics) — does it bother Indian Americans that one of the most high-profile Indian Americans in the country has little if any personal attachment to his ethnic roots?
In the meantime, back to the Indian American community as a whole, the MSNBC article is not really groundbreaking news. As my article on Socioeconomic Statistics and Demographics show, Indian Americans are clearly the most socioeconomically successful of the major Asian American ethnic groups. As such, it should be no surprise that, along with their socioeconomic success, their cultural prominence would soon increase as well.
At the same time, I also wonder what effect political events back in India will have on Indian Americans and the perception that others have of Indian Americans. Specifically, there is still a lot of suspicion and even hostility towards India and the perception that is largely responsible for many jobs being outsourced away from the U.S. and that India is profiting from globalization at the expense of American workers. This is likely to continue being the case as the current recession gets worse before it gets better.
Second, the recent and continuing terrorist attacks and related violence in India have many people worried not just about the physical safety of people inside of India, but also of India’s political stability and even its future economic development. Both of these concerns affect Indian Americans both here in the U.S. and around the world in terms of their public image and of course, the well-being of friends and relatives back in India.
Nonetheless, I for one welcome this cultural emergence of our fellow Americans of Indian descent. Our society and its diverse mosaic of culture is enriched even further by it.