Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The Evolution of an Identity
Indian American Immigrants from the Early 20th Century to the Present
A Fictional Family History
by Diya Das
In my junior year of college a woman in one of my Postcolonial Literature classes I shared her story of how she felt as though she was a traitor. Her problem, she explained, was that if she told people that she was American, then she was a traitor to her Indian heritage. If she told people that she was Indian, then she is a traitor to her American heritage. That is her story of immigrant assimilation- constant limbo.
I was constantly reminded of this classmate while reading Diya Das and The Evolution of an Identity. The Evolution of an Identity is published by Tribute Books, and tells one person's narration of an attempt at assimilation in America, in reverse. What is most amazing to me is that Das is remarkably young for such an ambitious narratology. The book opens with "This novel was the result of an honors project for an American studies course during my junior year of high school". Yes; high school. As though not ambitious enough, Das offers the disclaimer "for the present, the most recent version must remain the product of a high school junior's mind and hands" as though it were not good enough to take full fledged credit as a novel.
Das is wrong. It is more than good enough.
Das transcribes a binder full of notes, taking over the course of a little under a year, of one family's remarkable story and culture. Aware of the importance of this project, Das concedes that "I would like this alum to survive, so that it might become a repository of family history for my own descendants".
The novel is separated into three major portions- The First Wave, The Second Wave- Settling In, Post 1965 Chicago and Generation X: A Separate Identity New York City 2005.
In the first wave, the first of the migratory Indians, who traveled to Northern California for agricultural work, are summarized. Some examples are Lala Har Dayal and Taraknath Das, both well known Hindus who studied at Stanford. Lala Har Dayal founded the Ghadr Party,whose aim was to gain Indian independence from Great Britain, in 1912.
In the second wave, Das high lights the growing gap between migratory generations. Such gaps are clear with a statement like this that opens the section; “The first Indian immigrants and the post-1965 Indian immigrants are two separate worlds. It is a class thing. They came from the farming, the lower class. We [come] from the educated middle-class. We [speak] English. We went to college. We were already assimilated in India
before we came here.”- Indian immigrant, post-1965
The last section, Generation X, is where Das, and millions of other Indian immigrants live now. This too can be blanketed with this quote; “So not quite Indian, and not quite American. Usually I felt more along the lines of Alien...The only times I retreated to one or the other description were when my peers didn’t understand me (then I figured it was because I was too Indian) or when my family didn’t get it (clearly because I was too American).”83 - Dimple Lala, Born Confused
Still humbly modest about this great project, seen to fruition by publication, Das states "this snapshot of my family’s experience in the United States does not seem a significant achievement". A small book, 92 pages, with a large story, the story of how Indians have assimilated into American culture.
The Evolution of an Identity can be found here.