blackbirdonline journalSpring 2019  Vol. 18 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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India West

If he is important, don’t call him by name. Say “Texas,” say “taken,” say “the one that I loved.” Say Columbia or NYU. Call him the investment banker or the venture capitalist. He’s the friend of a cousin, or the cousin of a friend. I’ll say Edison, Princeton, the guy from New York. If I say New York, I’ll mean New Jersey. Hoboken, the Oranges, Morris Plains, Parsippany. Each thing I say, a person ever says, is a way of saying something else.

If I say, that guy, he’s a nice guy, it means I liked him once or he liked me. If I say, he’s a good guy, it means I might have kissed him or maybe he kissed me. Why give all my secrets away? This is not what I wanted to say.

If you’re a white guy, you’ll laugh as though what I’m saying is a joke. You want to hear the list of men who call for me. You would like me to cannibalize my own accent. You’ll want to hear how my family won’t accept you—especially if this isn’t true. You know what you know. You will be surprised that I know how to salsa, that I’m not bad at merengue with someone who can lead. You’ll tell me I look more Indian when I dance. You’ll ask me to repeat what isn’t true. You want to know how I’ll talk about you. I know this, so this is what I won’t tell you. I want to keep you coming back.

If you’re a black guy, this is the game: you exoticize me, I exoticize you. You’ll ask me or I’ll ask you if the other has seen Mississippi Masala. We’ll talk about people of color, colored people time. You will tell me about the time someone Asian was racist to you, and I’ll feel tired. I will tell you about the other black guy I dated so it won’t seem as if you will have no company in my past. You will not tell me much of anything.

If you’re Indian, I can’t tell you this story the right way, the same way. I’ll tell it to you different. I’ll say, “Have you met anyone?” Have your parents suggested trips to India? Have they ignored your white girlfriends? (Did they even know about the Puerto Rican one? Did you pass her off as white?) We’ll talk about Miles, Coltrane, Nina Simone. We’ll wear silver rings and reference our trips to Cuba. Then the numbers: thirty, thirty-one, thirty-three. We’ll note whether the other one drinks, knows Hindi, has the latest Mira Nair soundtrack, carries a cell phone (this is during the time before it’s ubiquitous), is able to finish the conversation politely. Something like that Buena Vista Social Club CD will be playing on repeat.

If you’re Jewish, I might think you’ll understand. There are so many different ways to mistake a friend. There were the white kids and we weren’t them. We concentrated on blending. We fell in with the Jews: they had to learn a language after school. Their parents didn’t want them marrying out, either. We called ourselves the Hin-Jews. We are the new secret tribe.

We sit drinking Maker’s Mark at the end of the day, talking about the people we fall for—how they are never Indian, never Jewish. We are listening to that Cuban music, how it blazes. This is how the night finishes: we swivel this way and that before the lights blink on, swirling out the ends of our drinks.  

India West is the name of one of the largest weekly Indian newspapers in California and includes standard news articles as well as a matrimonial section for prospective brides and grooms. India West was founded in 1975, ten years after the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 abolished discriminatory quotas for Asian Americans and led to a significant increase in the number of South Asian Americans in the United States.

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