Photo courtesy of AP/Molly Riley
If you haven’t seen the trending twitter hashtag #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite, you are missing out on hours of laughter. It is well-known that the Indian Internet community is easily angered, and has the most hilarious comebacks.
So when Republic party presidential candidate Bobby Jindal said, “I’m done with all this talk about hyphenated Americans. We are not Indian-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans, rich Americans, or poor Americans – we are all Americans,” the backlash was equal parts outraged and comedic genius.
Some of the greatest burns are as follows: “#BobbyJindalIsSoWhite that he has to be washed separately in warm water.” -@secondofhername, and “#BobbyJindal is so white he has trouble pronouncing #Jindal #bobbyjindalissowhite.” -@aasif. The hashtag, started by Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu, took off across social media as Indians and Indian-Americans voiced their frustration at Bobby Jindal’s continuous dissociation from his Indian roots. His statement, however, was only the straw that broke the camel’s back.
At a young age, Jindal traded in his birth name, Piyush, for one people in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, could more easily pronounce- Bobby. Raised Hindu, teenage Jindal had doubts about his religion and started to secretly read the Bible. As he delved into Christianity, the poojas (Hindu religious ceremony) that his parents hosted in their house became foreign, and he didn’t believe in the Hindu texts he was forced to read as a child either. He was baptized and became Catholic soon after he renounced the beliefs he had been raised with.
These instances have convinced the Indian community that Jindal has gone too far in his adaptation to America. Jindal’s newest slogan, “Tanned. Rested. Ready,” does nothing to convince them otherwise. Varun Soni, the head of religious life at the University of Southern California, says Jindal’s attitude towards the intermingling of his two “identities,” Indian and American, remains stuck in the 1970s. Jindal, as perpetuated by the image he sought to cultivate in his run for Louisianan governor in 2008, seems to believe the only options are one or the other. However, now that America is more accepting of diversity than ever, his insistence that he is all American could prove more harmful than good.
As an Indian-American myself, I know the struggle of trying to ‘belong’ in a foreign country, and the hardships of conflicting identities. This struggle is amplified for Jindal as he gets pressured from those who originally supported him, the Indian-American community, and also from his perception of America’s citizens. That said, I firmly believe that the example Jindal has set for the young first-generation Indian-Americans is one that should not be followed. Our Indian roots are an innate part of who we are, and they should be treated as such. The stories that make up our character are as much Indian as they are American regardless of whether or not we want them to be.
Bobby Jindal is left with the choice every foreigner in America must make. How can we balance where we come from with where we are now? The answer is different for all of us, but there is always a mix. Whether Jindal realizes this or not could seriously affect the success of his campaign.