Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ties that Bind

Sujatha of Blogpourri sent this article (Return to India: One family’s journey to America and back) by Shobha Narayan my way a few days ago. She has, since then also put it on her website. The article is a little long, but makes for an interesting read. I have caught Shoba’s columns over at Livemint now and then, so this article was read with much interest. After all, decisions like the one she made cannot be easy and I was curious to the thought process behind it. She traced her past in the article–her days as a student, a young wife and a mother and the transformation each stage of life brought in her perspective. It’s an interesting read even if I fail to understand or rather fail to empathize many of her arguments of wanting to return to India. Like- Americans eat sweet foods for breakfast and Desis eat savory. But I should not judge personal statements like these. Each one of us has our own perspective that feels just right. Our little rights and wrongs. We all have our priorities. Little things like these do matter. They do matter intensely to many, many others, even if they don’t matter much to me. So, moving on to what I thought was a much bigger issue in her article.

Shoba, while narrating her days as a new mother, says that the arrival of her first child (a daughter) changed her perspective dramatically. She found it hard to raise a well-adjusted child that would thrive equally well in the Indian culture at home and the American culture once she stepped outside the front door. The fact that her daughter would always be more at home in the American way of life bothered her. For Shoba, India was much, much closer to her heart than the US and understandably so. She toyed with the idea of returning to India and did throw it at her husband on occasion. Despite these doubts, she decided to become a U.S. citizen. And that peeves me.

Now, I don’t mean to sound all holier-than-thou, but I do take citizenships seriously. If you swear to owe allegiance to a country you better mean it. You have no choice when you are born a citizen of country X. That’s fate. But if you jump many hoops – visas, green card and such - to acquire citizenship of another country, you better think twice if your heart is indeed in it. It has to be a package deal. You cannot want to be a U.S. citizen simply because having a U.S. passport makes travel hassle-free. Or simply as a fall back incase you decide to live elsewhere (then why acquire citizenship if you have no desire of living here?) There have to be better reasons if you are going to be a citizen. You cannot be a citizen and criticize the American people with a “these people have no ___ [insert suitable anything].” Because you are one of them now. “These people” must turn into “We people.” Because now, you are Americans of Indian origin.

But people are complex and their emotions even more. So, yes, it is possible the citizenship was acquired with a different mindset which a decade later has changed dramatically. Yes, that’s possible. It’s possible to feel the tug of your ex-motherland and the intense desire to go back. Yes, that’s possible. So, what would an ethically minded person do in such a scenario? Go back to the ex-mother land, become its citizen once again. Citizenship is not a status symbol. How would you (assuming you are an Indian citizen) feel if some poor bloke from a tin-pot country came to India, made boatloads of money and became successful simply because India offered more opportunities than his own country did, criticized India and Indians incessantly as “them”, refused to assimilate, guarded his culture with an esoteric fervor, told his children to stay away from Indian culture and became a citizen only for “economic” reasons. How would you feel then?

Citizenships are the legal ties that bind. And should only follow once you are sufficiently invested in a country- her culture, her polity, her problems, her successes. I am amazed that people don’t take these things seriously. Or am I turning into an overreacting-over-the-board-jingoist fool?

Edited to add: Kodi's mom presents a nice view in the comments section. Do read.

32 comments:

noon said...

Hi Dotmom - very interesting post. And I agree quite a bit. Although I don't feel so passionately about it - I feel like I am a citizen of the world - I can like certain things about one place and dislike some other things and can comment about it. But I don't like it when people go out of their way to somehow stay back in this country, get a green card and citizenship and then constantly criticize "these people". I don't know if it is wrong to use a country for economic reasons. Even now I feel a lot of people who claim to go back to India because "after all it is my country" won't do it if India was not such a hot market at least for educated people to make money...people go back there because they know they can live comfortably and get what not and then comes this "my country" feeling. I have known people who gave me that dialogue and then decided to come back here when things didn't go the way they expected there. I feel irked when they sport a holier than thou attitude and tell "after all it's my country". As far as adapting culturally - I think it is a personal thing. How much one wants to let go for the children -those are hard choices. I wonder about it for my children. How much will I be able to accept? I don't knwo - time will tell.

DotMom said...

noon: we are all citizens of the world in a holistic sense, but the real world functions on borders and boundries (I am not saying if this is good or bad, it just is a fact). It's ok to dislike or like a country. It's ok to take advantage of a country for economic purposes only. It is NOT OK to become a citizen of the said country and refuse to take on the responsiblities it entails.

Mona said...

hi! i don't you're overreacting, no - this is something that's obviously very close to your heart and you're passionate about it. i see the reasoning in your arguments. i'm sure shobha had her reasons for getting the US citizenship as well. i haven't had time to go through her article yet but i will eventually.
one thing that struck me is that maybe she didn't want to bring up her kids in the states but that doesn't mean that she doesn't apreciate the benefits of belonging to the country.
maybe she wanted them to be brought up in india, so she couldn't identify with her own children and yet, give them the opportunities that being american citizen brings with it.
i don't know. maybe that was more important to her than the affiliation she was making.
am i making any sense?

I love Lucy said...

Well said,DotMom.
I was listening to this debate on a desi radio station the other day about how most desi women find it offensive that the menfolk in their families have changed so much after living here for so long.They now hold doors for the ladies and help them with their chores and offer to take care of the kids even.They were being too damn "Americanized" was what they opined!
The last bit in your post resonated my sentiments to the hilt.I crib about how guys from UP and Bihar come to Blore on the pretext of employment and then all they do is complain about the city.It gets on my nerves.

Poppins said...

Oh Dotmom, considering we barely know each other is it ok if I kiss you? :) I totally totally agree with what you say. Citizenship is NOT a convenience thing. You either belong completely or get out. It is NOT a practical solution and yes borders DO exist.

I am SO glad to hear this from someone who lives in the US that it is completely wrong to shun the country yet desire to become it's citizens.

Why even Bangalore has become a sort of America in it's own way. People from all over the country, nay all over the world come here and find jobs, make money and NEVER assimilate. They refuse to learn the local language, and criticize everything about it. It's a pet peeve of mine.

If you don't like something about a place so strongly that you go to any extent to avoid it's influence, then it's high time you (a) either work towards changing what you don't like (b) pack up your bags and leave.

As long as I lived in the US I did not criticize the country, but there were so many things I did not like about my life there, so I packed up and left.

I found Shobha's article a little confusing and although I did not agree with everything she said, you must admit she is damn honest.

Phew long comment !

DotMom said...

mona: if you feel you would much rather have your children become indianized in india, that's fine. give up the citizenship. when you jump hoops to acquire citizenship of another country as an adult I am assuming it is because you identify yourself with the country and her citizens on many levels. And if you an unwilling to do that, just stay where you are.

i love lucy: wow. they do? hell, I would celebrate if Indian men jumped in to help their wives.

poppins: hugging you back (are we now bff?). I have a problem with people not assimilating. Be it Bangalore or Boston. you have to assimilate. It's a package deal!

Orchid said...

dotmom,
O.k u beat me to it again :) A friend fwded me this very article on reading my post about Raising an ABCD...I was going to do a part deux on "moving back or staying behind" and reference this article. If I end up doing one, then I will definitely link your post.

Now, I feel the same way that you do but Shobha is not an isolated example...infact she is one of a growing trend. That said, going back after getting a citizenship is decision based entirely on convenience meaning these people care enough for the American culture/way/citizenship to want to have an option of coming back - a paradox in itself!

Although I did not agree on a lot of issues that SHobha has raised, I felt it was a well-rounded perspective on the issue, especially since she draws attention to the pros and the cons.

And one other thing, when u say citizenships are ties that bind - what about us that immigrate and decide to become naturalized U.S citizens at the cost of losing our birth citizenship again entirely for (economic/academic/other convenient reasons)- isn't that an issue then?

OOPS! long comment

Kodi's Mom said...

I agree with a lot of what you wrote and you reflected some of my views when I read this article. I kept thinking that the image she has of India is a memory, a mirage, her husband sounded more practical and after having so many doubts and internal conflicts, how could she walk away elated frm the US citizenship ceremony? Ultimately the family moved not for any of the reasons that she listed, but because there was a promising opportuinty.
all of us are opportunists. which is why we left the town/village/city we were born. We all seek a better life, or what we think will be a better life.
it is unhealthy to speak only ill of a country/culture that is not yours. at the same time, it not possible to 'assimilate' completely into any culture - esp if there are aspects that clash with what you believe in. for instance, it is common in western culture to see kids distancing themselves from aged parents. just because I live in the US, would I do the same to my parents? Indian culture is still heavily patriarchial...the woman of the house is a worker bee and doesn't get half as much independance as she would in the US(not to say this is nt changing, I am talking of how it has always been) just because I am an Indian by birth and citizenship, do I approve of that?
IMO, it is not possible to just embrace one culture 100% and I think the animosity results from someone complaining constantly abt the aspects they don't like. I say, take what you like and leave what you don't. in that sense, my views are in line with Noon - she is a citizen of the world. if I lived in 10 different countris in my lifetime, I'd take the best of each, make myself a better person, and strive toward raising my kid as a good worldly citizen. that is where the challenge lies...to show your kid what is good and what is bad...and I am not sure that part of child rearing is any easier in urban India these days.

DotMom said...

orchid: looking forward to hearing your views on the post on this article!!

In my post, I say the country(and the citizenship) you ae born into is fate. You did not have a choice. So you live with it and may one day decide this is not for you and seek citizenship of another country as a responsible adult. You have "chosen" it which implies you like the new country more than the old to live in it. Like I said again in the lasy paras of the post, you may decide that the second country is not for you and decide to come back to your original country and live there. That's fine, people change. But pls. don't do it while maintaining the second citizenship. That's just morally wrong. Am I making sense?

I love Lucy said...

@Poppins' Mom : You said it,lady!What you have written echoes my sentiments perfectly as that is exactly how I feel too :-)

DotMom said...

kodi's mom: what a wonderful comment (Pls. can you post it on your blog so taht I can link to it? or can I link to my comments?). very eloquent. And I agree. You cannot assimilate a 100%. You cannot take India (Or China or Russia or whrever it is) out of you. This will be true of first generation immigrants no matter where. But second generation can and should assimilate as much as they can. Like you, I cannot abondon my parents in their old age. But if Chip decides to visit us once a year, I'll be fine with it. (Heck. this happens even in India now). When one makes the decision to stay here, one weighs the pros and cons. what's more important, kids having Indian family values or you+kids getting more opportunities? You make the choice, you make the best of it and give the choice your 100%

Sujatha said...

DotMom, I left a comment and then I don't know what happened! Not showing up!

Wanted to say the post did not disappoint. :) Well written and well articulated and I appreciate your passion for this issue.

I agree with Noon and Kodi's mom about the global citizen point. That's exactly how I want Calvin and little N to turn out. No matter where we want to live, they are going to be in a world that is increasingly becoming small and they don't have a choice of not assimilating whereever they are. We want to prepare them for that and the way to do it is to not be afraid of a culture or society or point out its ills, but by highlighting the positives and giving them the tools to deal with the negatives.

About the article, as I mentioned in the comments to my post, I really appreciated Shoba's honesty in articulating their thought process. It must not have been easy to to that. That being said, by the end of the article, I had the sinking feeling that she had somehow managed to diss both countries at once.

It is tough to raise kids. Period. Doesn't matter where you live and how much help you have. In the end, it's you and your children and the values you want to impart to them. For that reason, decisions such as these - where you want to live, where you want to send kids to school, what kind of school, what values you want them to have etc., are very personal and subjective. There is no way you can justify it objectively unless you look at purely the monetary variables. Noon's comment about the ways in which people try to justify their decisions (especially returning to India ones) really resonated with me.

choxbox said...

hey i'd posted a comment - didnt appear here!

anyway dont have much to add except on the inculcating-indian-values-in -the-kids bit. folks often cite that as a reason to move back and i think they perhaps need to do a reality check. all urban scenarios are more similar now than ever before - be it delhi or dubai or london or i guess NYC or LA. the same vices surround us and the same pool of resources - give or take some - thanks to the internet and other levelling factors. the world is flatter than it ever was.

agree that no culture is superior/inferior to another and one can take the best of what there is and move on if one has to.

Kodi's Mom said...

oh!! you've got me blushing now :) sure link to it in the comments section! do you even have to ask!

on the second gen not being close to their parents - isn't that where inculcating values comes in? at least I have to try. and if I don't succeed, I'll sob over my kiddie blog and seek comfort among other aging parents...you'll keep in touch, won't you, DotMom? ;)

DotMom said...

ALL: There was some problem posting comments..hope it is resolved now.

Sujatha: I share your feeling about dissing both countries..it felt that way to me too. And you make a good point - it is tough to raise kids and inculcate with our values. anywhere.

choxbox: I am with you choxbox!

kodi's mom: absolutely. As a parent you have to pass on your value system to the kids, but I suppose we have to judge pros and cons of that vis-a-vis assimilation.

noon said...

Hi Dotmom - I posted a long second comment last night - it is not here!
Anyway - I had said that you may dislike certain things about a place and point out those flaws but that doesn't mean you need to exit that country. You appreciate it's good points, hence you chose to stay on but you are free to dislike certain things as well. And I can adapt in ways that is comfortable for me - I cannot suddenly become American and adapt entirely. It's like a marriage - you can be married to someone who is not 100% perfect - you don't walk away because he is not 100% perfect. You complain but you stay on because you are happy that way!
--is what I had said last night in my comment !:)

Poppins said...

No no, you can't all agree and walk into the sunset. *Stamps foot* I wrote a comment and then decided to make it a post. Come read it.

Squiggles Mom said...

I'm not sure my comment came through because I went off on a tangent! Phew... saved I think.

Rohini said...

Excellent post...

I completely agree with you that citizenship should not be something that should be taken lightly. If you decide to become an American citizen, then you are saying that your first allegiance comes to that country or else you shouldn't do it.

You can't take all the (economic) rights and disregard the (moral) responsibilities.

DotMom said...

poppins: heading there right now!

squiggles mom: please do post it again! there have been problems with the comments since yesterday.. i think its a blogger issue.

rohini: exactamundo!

ALL: I am replying to some emails I recivied. Just clarigying my point. Firstly, I am talking about citizenships. Not Green cards, not visas. Citizenships. There is a huge difference between a permanent resident and a citizem HUGE. No, I don't think its ok to like America and become its citizen but not like it to raise children. That's wrong. It's OK to not like it, but don't become a citizen, voluntarily as an adult if you don't plan to live there. Doing that is just wrong.

Shobana said...

I am with you 100% in this topic. It is a constantly raging war in our household. The hubby is one of those people who does that kind of thing - cribbing about life here. When I asked him, then why in hell's name did you come here? his answer was to make money and fast. So then I tell him to just stop cribbing about a country that is feeding him, his family and everyone else. He is also one of those people who is intent on going back to India, after obtaining citizenship here. Whatever! For me, as u mentioned, becoming a citizen of a country as an adult means you take responsibility to strive for that country and support the government by voting and all that...it is not just getting a US passport.

Anitha(Nikki's mom) said...

Looks like I am late here (Took time to read Shobha's article). Anyways my 2 cents. I agree with you 200% on the citizenship front. I cannot imagine myself taking US citizenship however long I live here. Citizenship means complete allegiance, one h.u.n.d.r.e.d percent. Just imagine a cricket match(or anything) between India and US, I will definitely root for India, without even a slightest doubt. I attach emotions to news that I hear from India, the rest of the news is JUST NEWS for me. I feel proud / happy / sad/ disgust all kinds of emotions on what is happening in India. Bad news from US scares me (because I am living here), achievements do not make me feel proud. I have immense belonging feeling with my home country that I cannot swear allegiance to US, however better it may be.
Shobha I think is still not convinced about living in India for the rest of her life. If she is, then she S.H.O.U.L.D. forego her US citizenship. Nevertheless, it was a very honest piece of writing from her. DH is exactly similar to Shobha's husband, I think most guys are, so down-to-earth, practical, not-so-emotional,...
Coming to the assimilation point, there are 2 angles to it. One from me (who came to the US when I was 25) and the other from Nikki's (who was born here and will be brought up here for quite some time). Now, there are lottts of thoughts that come to my mind... I will take it to my blog and do a post.

Preethi said...

Very interesting post... and I do agree with you on the citizenship front. Have to read to Shoba's article yet... But dont you think that even the ones who do take up "the coveted??" U.S. Citizenship are still mostly Indians at heart.. To most India is still "Home".
So why do they take up allegiance to another country... Its called keeping the options open... oh yes, I miss India and I want to return to India but I always feel secure in the fact that I can run back to the US when my heart so desires.. So the allegiance is only to oneself and to no nation at all.. You are then neither Indian nor American at heart.
I have so many friends who have done/ want to do this.. And have always questioned... weren't my parents happy to remain in India all their life? They never had an option to go to the US and never wanted one. Yet they were successful and happy and had no confused desi syndrome!! They had no hypocrisy in them. My son if he grows up here (albeit an Indian Citizen) will be happy to be an American at heart... No hypocrisy there too...
But it is our generation which is very confused and lives in this webs of hypocrisy.
Yet there are people like you who are very clear and articulate about their feelings on the matter, which is so much better than being so lost like Shoba and not belonging anywhere.
Great reading...

DotMom said...

shobana: you never cease to amaze me. Everytime I think I know you, you come up with a surprising twist. kudos on stading up for your views.

anitha: I share your sentiments. Very nice observation about reacting to the news. I am much more emotionally vested in news from India.Looking forward to reading your post!

preethi: and that's wrong. IMHO. This is the oath an alen is required to take before he becomes a US citizen. Note the last line: I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. If you unwilling to do it, don't. It's immoral, unethical, even illegal. BigGeek would become a citizen in a heartbeat, I am not so sure. Here is the full text of the oath.

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.

Preethi said...

Exactly .. hence the talk about hypocrisy... I dont intend getting a citizenship here for the same reason. Like Anitha I too react to Indian News... emotionally. However the reality is there are many people like Shoba... to them citizenship means nothing more than a passport and open DOORS. India is ofcourse happy to let them stay in India with a PIO card. So they reap the best of both worlds without worrying ever about things like allegiance or civilian obligation!!
Same is true of Indian Citizens too, like me. I am an Indian Citizen by birth, I have however never voted in India. And never fulfilled my right/duty as a citizen in any other way.
To most citizenship is just a tool to open doors rather than a privilege or obligation to do the right thing! Its all about I Me Myself, and how I can have open options wherever I go.
As you probably see I feel very strongly about this... and agree with your post completely, however the fact remains that while few talk about the obligation to the state... most only think selfishly about their pockets, open options to quit and run at the first sign of trouble...
A relative of mine (American Citizen) moved to India because she wanted her daughter to grow up in Indian Culture(!!) and to be close to her family. A month later she discovered her daughter hated school there and she hated the work culture... she rushed back to US. In the meantime missing her niece's wedding which was just days away!!! This is why people retain US Citizenship.. to quit and run when they have had enough of India!!

Sujatha said...

OK, comment disappeared again!

Here's the gist -

1. Wrote this article years ago for Washington Parent magazine - http://blogpourri.blogspot.com/2005/06/parenting-from-immigrant-perspective.html

It's about immigrants raising kids in the US - something we all think about when we have kids far away from our families.

2. Sometimes I feel old when I read you guys. I seem to have gone through your thoughts six/seven years ago! :((

3. Kodi's mom's comment from yesterday warmed the cockles of my heart - just the thought of us all grey and hunched over our computers with a vodka in hand commiserating over how our kids haven't called in a week!

3. Suggestion - perhaps we should all find the same "Active Adult Community" to belong to! :)

4. Dotmom, feel free to fashion a punishment for hogging your comment space.

Over and out!

dipali said...

Interesting series of thoughts. Yes, Dotmom, citizenship is a huge issue.
My brother finally took British citizenship after having lived there for about 30 years or so. This was even though he knew his work and life
were all there (His wife is English- he hated having to go through an immigration queue separate from his family, though he did so for years).
What I'm driving at as that is not an easy, instant choice to make, but as you say, once made, to be abided by sincerely.

Sue said...

And that is pretty much why I don't want to live in any other country for the rest of my life. I'd like to live on where I was born, knowing I can criticise it at will and by birthright, take what's mine and feel comfortable in giving, in turn, because it is also my right as well as my duty to give.

I'd love to travel and live in other lands, but eventually, say by the time I'm 40, I want to be back home. And home is Calcutta, not just India.

Pretty parochial, huh?

DotMom said...

Preethi: I am with you here!

Sujatha: you are a woman of many surprises. And you get punishment, but for not posting a link to your awesome article before! Bah! You gotta pay for this now! I am lotsa years away from active adult and so are you. Yikes. And puhlease no talk of gray hair. You are ruining my weekend :D

Dipali: Wish there were more people like your brother, Dipali.

Sue: It’s ok to be parochial. There is a certain comfort in living in familiar surroundings. Geez. Now you have made me all homesick!

Sujatha said...

DotMom - FYI, http://blogpourri.blogspot.com/2007/11/immigrant-voices-reactions-to-shoba.html

the mad momma said...

i wrote abt this long ago. abt not bashing the country you choose to live in simply for ease of passport lines. got bashed by the desi crowd :p

I agree with Ro. And Sue. You may not like a place but I'd be a lot more careful abt criticising it if I had chosen it as an adult. its different from the country of your birth - you had no say in that. but if you've chosen it - respect that choice.

and yes - mid treasures and palaces though we may roam, be it ever so humble, there's no place like home. sue - we'll sit over a cup of tea in cal and cry over our ungrateful kids who havent called :)

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