A Cornell acceptance letter lulled me into The Best Little Brown Boy in The World dream. Now drunk on my parents’ pride (which I had sacrificed my adolescence to obtain), I could finally say “Cornell” to that Naila Aunty. I lapped up the devotion, especially since it came after my much gossiped-about high school rejection from Brown Hogwarts (my mother boasted of my application despite its patent lack of magic). Dreams fade. My parents believed The Best Little Brown Boy in The World should slice brains and, to preserve my momentum, I agreed. In hindsight, this negotiation revealed that my childhood dysfunction wasn’t gone. It was just drafted into the immigrants’ war.
We reluctantly enter our parents’ dreams to redeem them of their sacrifices. The Path guides the fantasy: collecting a series of degrees (preferably prestigious) and then marrying into an equally if not more elite Indian family (preferably of the same religion and language). Their pot of gold, our victory, is an American pedigree establishing legacy: the American Dream. So the realization I had my first day at Cornell was disfiguring. No matter how many battles I win, I will never win the war.
The time since that epiphany is best described as an implosive shitshow on ice. I apologize for brushing through years directly after recalling thoughts, but narrative is cloudy. More detail: I unraveled. Layer by layer, The Best grew smaller and realer. I tested my parents’ love to limits they thought were long gone. At its end, I discovered brown love — in my case — is stronger than I presumed. My parents helped repair me with the resolve of people who spent decades finding their feet. We made it through my unraveling in one piece (individually and as a family). Thanks to self-destruction, my parents are now reluctantly giving me their blessing despite my broken promise. Basically, they hope I graduate. My ability to say “my future’s looking bright” while at an all-time low has put them somewhat at ease.
It took a great deal for me to discover this ability. I had to disentangle myself from both an oppressive household and an oppressive government. A government that has been moving from wrong to wrong to defend both its immorality and its self-image of immortality. One propped up by a system my parents wouldn’t want me questioning, like theirs. Here goes!
The Department of Justice recently announced an investigation the use of affirmative action in college admissions, and seeks support from Asian-Americans in its efforts. Don’t provide it. The government is just exploiting the Asian-American community’s glorification of academic attainment. By including us, they disguise their cause as racially neutral, distancing it from ‘white dispossession.’ Real allies would work with us to confront systemic barriers we traditionally work around. Let’s look through the ploy and into the mirror before we convict. Allow Attorney General Jeff Sessions time to put his condemnation of the actions taken by the Charlottesville terrorists crying “white dispossession” into action.
When Indian-Americans standardize direction, we play ourselves. We do it when the mission had already been set. When full potentials are surrendered once it’s accomplished. When soulmates are discharged. When abortion was her only choice. Tragically, the intermingling paths of ambition, passion and love along The Path are all closed off. Trailblazing Indian-Americans didn’t follow it. Is it any wonder that Mindy played Ben Affleck on stage? That Aziz told jokes after graduating NYU Biology and Economics? That Sanjay reported — and operated — from Iraq shortly after his neurosurgical training? That biracial Kamala lived in the black Baptist church and the brown Hindu temple?
They are all historic, just like Kellyanne. I know what you are thinking, but she is the first successful female presidential campaign manager. I suspect her doggedness has something to do with her parents saying things like, “my little girl can do anything she sets her heart on.” Of course, Huma — with political skills that perhaps every Indian-Pakistani-American has — was frustratingly close to the West Wing. Stitching ourselves into the American fabric may be at hand after all. Realizing it, however, requires intergenerational awakening. Parents must let their children explore the multiple dimensions of society and themselves, and their children must assert their right to do so.
Parents will endure shame, and an epic de-shaming may never come. But at least their children will follow their dreams. At least their children will determine and define themselves. If I were in India, my life would be a fruitless scaling towards the 100th percentile. I couldn’t admit to myself I was gay, let alone accept it. Even with its problems, the land of opportunity and the free means something to me. Unfortunately, for too many, it still doesn’t.
The climax of the shitshow on ice was Election Night 2016. No, I didn’t come apart because Donald beat Hillary. I made my own big-boy mistakes, but I do entertain a connection between the circumstance and Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, one thousand and one magical children born within the midnight hour of India’s independence and subjected to lives directed by The Republic’s history. Their birthmark was a hideous partition between The British Raj and Hindustan or Pakistan. It has been passed on and still remains, presently dominant, like the party of Modi, on India’s Muslims. Birth between nations also defines Indian-Americans. I myself ripped in half, but like Indira-Mata’s hair, there was a silver lining that weaved into me fresh, warm and wholesome flesh once the emergency was over.
National — often political — shifts defeated the first generation of midnight’s children. The story ends with the birth of the second generation, one determined to make India theirs to affect. It’s not too late for us to be born again.
Narayan Reddy is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reddy, Set, Go! appears alternate Mondays this semester.