It means so much to see people who look like you
Nice piece, kid. It's been a pleasure living under your benevolent dictatorship.
I am not sure you appreciate the violence you inflicted on this readership by specifying your birth year as 2003. We always knew as an intellectual exercise inferred from your public collegiate matriculation, but still!
Best of luck! May the gainz be ever in your favor
Amazing post, Milan. As an Indian guy in his 20s, a lot of it resonated, maybe more so than I’d like, especially the bit about how Asian men are presented in our culture as undateable losers.
FWIW, I’ve been really heartened at how the mainstream culture is shifting to present Asian men as “attractive.” Simu Liu being in Shang Chi and Barbie is exciting!
Milan - you’re a good writer and an ambitious person. That’s great. There are different ways to look at one’s life without compromise. There’s no fitting in for anyone anywhere. In my town, the only thing worse than a Jew is a Jew married to a Chinese. And that’s just fine! When you’re a Jew you don’t have waste time wondering if your neighbors will kill you. I knew that growing up in the Jewish neighborhood I grew up in…in the old country, 1960s and 70s Brooklyn, and I experienced that in multicultural Cambridge MA too, where i was an anthropologist, researching and observing amongst them urban dwellers — Harvard, MIT, Leslie, BU; students, faculty, groundskeepers, sweepers…no different. But you don’t have to be a Jew or Chinese or Bobby, Nikki, Kamala, Vivek, or you. Irish Italian Malaysian Appalachian…whomever is living next to you…the same. 3 clicks away from using children for meat, 3 clicks away from working together to build something useful and exuberant.
Give up the fairy tale. “Predominant culture” - there isn’t one. The culture is a mix and one has to navigate through it…one can glide or one can flail; one can choose - with delight or with resentment. Yeah, out work, out lift them,out do them. But who is them? I say this to my own 1/2 jew 1/2 chinese kid: just work hard, ignore the ignorant, and if ‘they’ come after you, in a way you can’t ignore, well then you have to crush them. So easy. Dont waste time on hand wringing.
The focus on ‘fitting in’, it’s a myth of America. What’s great here is that we MOSTLY don’t kill each other. A giant improvement. And that there is a sizable population of peoples here who ARE embracing of others.
This conversation, here on Slow Boring, well really it’s So Boring. The institutional capture around it - keeps the conversation and effort focused away from getting better. A better trajectory - ‘what did we do today to make things work a little better’
As a 65-year-old Irish Catholic (who nowadays just gets taken for a generic white guy), you may be surprised -- no, shocked -- to learn that I shared many of your insecurities about growing up in a predominantly mainline Protestant culture. (And my family has been living in America since before the Civil War!) I won't go into all of it -- I could write a lengthy blog post of my own -- but my son, for example, who also has a typical Irish name was once on the no-fly list too. (He must have shared a name with someone from the IRA.) As for role models growing up, the Kennedys? Talk about aping WASP culture! My parents hated the Kennedys! And stereotypes about the Irish? What's the first thing that comes to your mind, a drunken reveler on St. Patrick's Day? A cop? A firefighter? As I said, I could go on and on. But I guess the whole point is that unless your ancestors came over on the Mayflower you probably share some of these insecurities too. It's all a part of the American experience.
I was assigned an Indian first name at birth (Deva) because my white patents were Hari Krishnas. It sucked. I was teased mercilessly and legally changed it to David when I was six. It sucked despite having white skin and would have sucked more if I had brown skin.
And yet the kids teasing me were other five years olds in a racially diverse Montessori school in Greenbelt, Maryland. We had an Indian girl in my class and one of the teachers and several of the students were black. The other kids were not indoctrinated racists, they were just acting out human nature.
The jokes you hear on TV are more politically correct than 20 years ago and yet mental illness has increased. People worry more about bullying even though it is happening less. A big part of me thinks that kids are always going to form status hierarchies, only a few boys can date the cutest girls, and the thrust of public policy should be making sure the people on the bottom don’t get smushed.
Milan’s otherness has decreased, not because of any intentional public policy, but because the Indian American community has multiplied and flourished, and also because he is broad minded enough to view Hindus as ethnic cousins when he is (at least part) Sikh.
I don’t want to dismiss the pain Milan has experienced, but I do think otherness is often better lived than ignored or eradicated.
My first name is Colin in part because my dad was worried that if I had a traditional Indian name it would hurt my ability to get jobs later in life. Have very much the same relationship to Obama you do (worked on the campaign and for DNC in part because of this same feeling).
Anecdote about the dating issue. I’ll be honest, I’often wondered when I was single that if I wasn’t Indian would I have had more success in my dating life. I had one incident where I’m fairly certain a girl did not end up going on a date with me because her friend had questions about my background (long story a long time ago so a variety of reasons best to keep things vague). And it was hard not to then wonder after that if a girl didn’t like me because I said something stupid or because of…something else. Reality is, majority of the time the likely proximate reason is I do not exactly have game and the girl in question would not have been interested no matter what my background.
On a more serious note. I ask people on here to read this anecdote and ask yourself how this might apply to interactions between black Americans and the police. When you watch videos and a police shooting or cases of saying tasering a band leader in Alabama and a lot of people’s first reaction is “well why is this person talking back and not complying. If they just followed all of the police’s instructions none of this happens”. And you know what, in many of these cases, I think you can absolutely say that this person talking back or getting angry and not wanting to comply was NOT a great move and in a lot of cases possibly unwarranted given realities of the situation (in a lot cases, the person in question really was doing something wrong). But I really ask you consider that in a ton of cases, the person in question is responding and reacting to let’s just say previous questionable interactions with police and just how often these questionable interactions that don’t involve a shooting or tasering or anything caught on tape happen depressingly often.
As a Bengali mom who moved to Cambridge at 13, now with half Indian kids, it was neat to read this. I have a dak naam but never gave one to my kids. But I did drag them to the local Durga pujos in middle school gyms when they were growing up. I’ve tried to cook machher jhol bhat to keep the culinary traditions alive. My older one is your age with a name that is mispronounced all the time. I can only hope we aren’t messing you kids up.
Anyway, your parents did a fantastic job with you and I wish you all the best in your adventures ahead. Remember, one out of every 6 humans is Indian. There will be more of us here before you know it.
Best wishes Milan on the road ahead. Thank you for sharing this genuinely moving personal story.
I firmly believe that you and your family have a quintessentially American story- you ARE America, even when some people try to obscure that. I really do think these words will inspire future kids who feel what you felt, and that there is some hope that things will be better for them.
In the words of your hero: "That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others ... America is not some fragile thing. We are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes ... We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar!"
I think "lived experience" is a flawed concept, but when I see comment sections like this it does make me think that it's often unfairly dismissed in its entirety. Clearly, while this doesn't apply to every member of a group, there's some salience to the idea that experiences between groups can be just *different* in difficult-to-quantify ways, and there's a lot of back and forth about how someone's subjective experience is actually wrong and they're just being paranoid based on race. It really is a strange dynamic to see so many people try to invalidate an experience that they have only a window into instead of a lifetime into, and it seems to only come out in force over identity politics.
Imagine if someone said "I felt like an outsider at school because I listened to goth music and hated sports" and many people who barely know them piled in to say "you only felt like an outsider because you were self-obsessed, no one cares about sports or music, besides sometimes people made fun of me too." It would be weird!
No wonder people in identity groups fall back on saying their lived experience is sacrosanct and beyond reproach. It seems like an overcompensation for the fact that their relaying of direct experience is considered a prime target for debate by people who don't have that direct experience.
re: names. I live in Vietnam and one thing I've always wondered about is which cultures adopt "American" names and which don't. Here in Vietnam it is very common to find out that "Joe" is really "Phi" and than "Nancy" is really "Duyên". But you would never (I think?) find an Italian named Antonio going by Andy or a Swedish Bjorn going by Bobby. Japanese never seem to adopt Anglo-names. I wonder if that used to be different in the 1950s and 1960s? I don't remember really meeting any Indonesians who have swapped in Anglo-names for their Agung or Indah. I don't have much experience with Africa but I don't really remember meeting a lot of people with Anglo-names from there. They seem happy to rock with Kofi or Afua.
As an aside: in Vietnam there is a law that in practice means you have to have a Vietnamese name to have Vietnamese citizenship. You would be surprised (well, probably not) at the number of mixed-marriages where the husband (because it's always a foreigner husband...) is indignant that they can't give their kid a Western name on their Vietnamese passport.
The Milan Era is over. Good luck on your new gig!
One day I asked Milan if there could be a guinea pig appreciation post on guinea pig appreciation day, which is also my girlfriends birthday (who loves guinea pigs), and on July 16 Milan actually put up a photo of a couple of guinea pigs, calling them magnificent clunkers.
You will be missed, thank you for the emotions and good luck for the future!
Thanks for your two years of service to Slow Boring, and thanks for writing this essay.
It never occurred to me to think of "Bobby" as a daak naam. Thanks for showing me that. I agree with you that it's weird for him to use it in public. But I've always found it gross when people who are generally aligned with me ideologically conspicuously call Jindal "Piyush" to other him.
This is a lovely piece and I'll be sorry to see you go, but wish you success in your next venture!
It's funny that you mention Nikki Haley towards the end. I've been seeing some pieces written by liberals that will refer to her as "Nimrata" and it always reminds me of when republicans would emphasize "Barack HUSSEIN Obama". In both cases, they are the person's actual name, and I do understand that feeling that someone is trying to be someone or something that they are not. But to me these examples illustrate how important it is to just accept what someone wants to be called. Just imagine someone introducing himself as "Matt" in the office and shouting "Your name is MATTHEW and don't you forget it!" or something ridiculous like that.
In honor of this post, can we get a SB demographics survey? I have some hunches that’d I’d love to test