1. “Where are you from?”
When one is living in a city that isn’t fully diverse, others often wonder where they are from. This question doesn’t only come up to Indians living in America, but also to Indians living in other countries. Currently, I work in Harrisburg, PA with geriatric people and often I get asked, “Where are you from?” Each time I’m asked this question, I say I’m from New York since I was born and raised there. Then they’ll become mute, and slowly ask, “so where are your parents from?” That’s when I say India. YES! I am an Indian who was born in America! I’m American-made! It’s not an insult when others are asking this question, but it may get frustrating for some. It’s how people try to understand your background and how you identify yourself.
2. “When did you come to America?”
This question comes up quite frequently. In my head, I tell myself “I just told you, I was born in America! How did anything change in this conversation of me immigrating to the United States?” All in all, it’s all become second nature to respond rapidly to witty questions like this. At times one may think it’s ignorant each time a person asks this question, but the majority of the time, some people just don’t know because they aren’t exposed to diversity.
3. “Are you going to get an arranged marriage?”
This is a typical question older adults ask many Indian-Americans. Yes, back in the day if it wasn’t for our parents, it was our grandparents who got an arranged marriage. However, that was a long time ago. As time moves forward, so does people’s mentality. Many Indian parents in today’s society have become more open-minded and are allowing their children to date outside their caste, or another religion and you are starting to see more interracial marriages.
4. “Is your father a doctor or business owner?”
My last name is Patel, which is a very common last name amongst Indians who are Gujarati. Every time I introduce myself to people, he or she must make it a point to ask, “Are you related to Dr. Patel or does your family own the hotel in the area?” When this is asked I have to politely say “no” and explain how Patel is a common last name, just how Jones and Smith is a common last name in America.
5. “Why don’t you have an accent?”
Since I was born and raised in America, I have an American accent. However, there are some words I still pronounce with an Indian accent for some reason. As I was growing up in an Indian household, I learned how to speak Gujarati first. Therefore, I had to take ESL (English Second Language) from Kindergarten to 2nd grade, and then I got held back from 4th to 5th grade because I couldn’t pronounce words with “V” and “W” correctly.
6. “What religion are you?”
India is a country made up of many religions. Yes, we all can be the same skin color but many of us have different religions that we practice. However, the religion we come from shouldn’t define us as a person. Sometimes people ask politely to become more educated about what one believes. On the other hand, at times I’ll run into someone very close-minded who will judge my beliefs. Overall, I believe religion is important in this society (whether one believes God or not) to regular behavior.
7. “Why are you a vegetarian? Is it because of your religion?”
Not all Indians are vegetarians because of their religion. It is more by choice in today’s generation. For some, it is more for health reasons rather than religious reasons. For me, I read a book and watched a few documentaries of ways meat is produced in America. The facts may be true or untrue but it won me over that geared me to become a vegetarian.
8. “If you don’t celebrate Christmas, then what do you celebrate?”
Do you exchange presents during Christmas? What is your holiday? Do you go to church? The questions can go on and on. Many Indian families who don’t celebrate Christmas still exchange presents during Christmas time in the United States because it’s a holiday that has become universal. Generally, many Indians celebrate Diwali, which is a festival of lights. Diwali is not a nationwide public holiday in the United States (it should be though at the rate the Indian population is growing). This holiday signifies light over darkness, good over evil, hope over despair.
9. “What does the dot on the forehead mean?”
What is the significance? Why do people rock that anyway? Some may think these questions are ignorant, but in reality most people ask because they are curious and want to become educated as to why people do this because it’s out of the norm in the American society or anywhere there’s not an Indian population. There are several meaning for the dot on the forehead. Religiously, the red dot signifies the third eye or to retain energy and strengthen concentration. For modern use, the dot (also known as a bindi), is geared more towards decorative use and it come in all sizes, colors, and designs.
10. “Do you speak Indian?”
Since people from China speak Chinese, people from France speaks French, Spaniards speaks Spanish, it makes the most sense that people from India speak Indian. Unfortunately, that’s incorrect! India has a fascinating diversity of languages. Many Indians that grew up in America understand or can speak the language that their ancestors spoke. I grew up speaking Gujarati, because my parents thought it was important learning our language and to be able to communicate with the elders who did not speak English. I feel like languages exist if individuals who speak the languages continue to live.