Adding the Hindu Spice to the Great American Melting Pot
By Kush Desai
If there’s one great thing about America, it’s its diversity. If you look around, in few other places can you find nationally recognized and/or observed holidays commemorating an Irish saint, the escape of the Hebrew people from Egypt, and the end of a month long period of Islamic fasting. The best way to put it- in culinary lingo- is by calling America a ‘melting-pot’ of political and cultural influences from nearly everyone and everywhere. The most perpetual action one can do is contribute their culture and background into the vast melting pot. Quite simply, I believe that my Hindu-ness makes me a better American because as someone in the first couple generations of Hindu Americans, I get to add my Hinduism’s spice to America’s great melting pot, ultimately bettering me, society, and my nation.
For most of my life, I have lived in a Christian Italian-American majority town in northern New Jersey. I often felt estranged as the unique kid in the class since day one. During March-April, when the celebrations of Holi were in full anticipation, I could never refer to my upcoming celebration of colors without being bombarded with Easter celebrations or inane questions about worshipping ‘four-armed blue people’. But gradually, with the aid of compassionate teachers and peers, I was able to add my spice and educate my class, sometimes with lessons on Diwali or samples online of tabla drum solos in music classes. Over time, my peers became more accepting of my religion and culture. Ultimately, my local community accepted some spicy flavor into their (rather bland) pasta bowl. It was my Hindu-ness that influenced me to bring about a greater sense of multi-culture in my community, surely an American thing to do.
From Holocaust fleeing Jews to starving Irish peasants, America has been nothing short of a welcoming destination for refugees of all sorts. We are a nation that may have had some trouble initially accepting outsiders, but once we did, we came to politically and culturally embrace and absorb the estranged. America has not had much of a Hindu presence until the latter half the 20th century, and, although Hindus aren’t lynched in public or forced to live in ghettos, quite certainly, American pop culture hasn’t fully given much justice to Hinduism and Hindu topics (at least in the way they ought to). As an American, a person whose nation has always come to accept outsiders, I feel better helping other Americans really understand my culture. Take my name, Kush, for example. While the word carries with it a more illicit connotation thanks to rap music, I’m proud to say that many close friends can entirely recite the tale of Luv and Kush from the Ramayana. A brief background about the origins of my name helped me and potentially many other Kush’s prevent hearing ignorant rebuke. It’s just a matter of really clarifying the flavors of the Hindu spice before adding it into the great American melting pot. Perhaps in the future, thanks in part to my (and many, many others’) efforts and explanations, the new waves of culturally different people (as well as the next generation of Hindu Americans) may find a more knowledgeable and accepting American populace.
But aside from social and pop culture, political issues are what I’m truly drawn to. It’s one thing if The Simpsons or Family Guy makes a brief spoof now and then, but it’s different when something serious, like a human rights violation, is taken indifferently in the public policy sphere. My Hindu-ness is what reminds me of Hanuman and his brave monkey armies going to Lanka and fighting the evil forces of Ravan in the Ramayana. And when issues ranging from cruel Libyan dictators to forced conversions come up, I am reminded of Hanuman and his warriors waging war for the righteous. Reading up on current events about events like the Jasmine Revolution, Darfur, and Tibet inspires me to also stand up and try to make a difference. Urging my friends and family to be a part of, volunteer with, or support organizations like the Hindu American Foundation, UNICEF, Amnesty International, and other charities, perhaps a positive difference can be made. Urging Facebook statuses, getting some donations, or conversations in class may not be worth much on its own, but it’s a part of a much broader movement for progress- another great American ideal.
My Hindu-ness, despite originating thousands of years ago and thousands miles away on the Indian subcontinent, has truly made me be a better American by acting as a better American. I’m proud that my parents instilled religious values in me, for they have contributed to the next generation of the Hindu spice in America’s melting pot; an eternal pot unlikely to ever stop boiling, to ever spoil, or to ever remain unchanged.
Kush Desai is a 16-year old high school junior at Nutley High School. After a long day, he enjoys partaking in his hobbies like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, bowling, politics, and trivia. He currently plans to pursue economics and political science in college. Kush was born in Passaic, NJ and currently lives in Nutley, NJ.