Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2019  Vol. 18 No. 1
 print preview

They Say Two Thousand Zero Zero Party Over, Out of Time

Last year, I added “India West” to This Is One Way to Dance, my forthcoming essay collection. This flash nonfiction showcases something in the late nineties and early aughts when Indian and Indian-American cultures became more visible in the US; suddenly, Americans were asking me if I’d heard of “Bollywood.” (Um, yes. We called them Hindi movies.) It was also a time I remember a certain pressure to find a partner. Most of our parents had arranged marriages. Most of our parents came over to the US in the 1960s after racist and exclusionary immigration laws were amended by the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act. Most of us were about the same age, trying to make our way between our parents’ and familial expectations and the lives we led on our own, meeting and dating people from various backgrounds.

I wrote the first draft of “India West” between 1999 and 2001. I still like the music of it, the cadence, can hear it read aloud. What interests me still is what it captures of that time: not everyone had a cell phone; where South Asian Americans were in terms of assimilation or not into the larger culture; how at that time how much of what was known about Indian culture in the US came from a couple of movies and Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories. For the most part we were not visible in the public sphere—media, arts, business, and politics. I never published “India West,” which I thought of then as a story, as fiction. I was in graduate school when I wrote it—I mostly wrote short stories then—and was drawn to fiction by writers of color who self-consciously worked with autobiographical material. But don’t we all? All writers work with imagination, fact, and memory. However, white writers don’t face the same set of biases as writers of color do: that if we wrote it, it must be autobiographical.

In the end, my editor and I decided to cut “India West,” because it was too similar tonally and stylistically to the opening flash-nonfiction essay in my book. The decision was hard for me because I knew there was something in this flash nonfiction about that moment in the late nineties (dot com bubble, Y2K, optimism) and early part of the twenty-first century that I wanted to highlight. I can see it now because that moment has changed; what it means to be brown has changed—“India West” was pre-9/11, pre-ISIS, pre-refugee crisis, pre-Obama and -Trump administrations. Prince was still alive. It might have been 1999, though it was probably 2000.

I am grateful to have found a home for “India West” at Blackbird, because in reading it years after I wrote it, I recognize that it comments on what it meant to be an ethnic minority, Asian American, Jewish, Indian American, in the US, twenty years ago. To be a BIPOC, to be Asian American in particular, still means something specific today. We haven’t melted into anything—even more divisions today than back then. Back then I thought the hardest problem was finding someone to marry. Years later, I married someone whose parents also emigrated from India to the US, who grew up two miles from me. But our families hail from Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, different parts of India, and we have distinct regional, one could even say insular, customs, languages, and food. It’s hard to find a partner who fits, but fit turns out to be not only about cultural background, but so many different things—what makes a person look like a possible future you could step into, what makes a path the two of you could walk together.  

return to top