Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Desi life in Videsh

This post is more of a continuation of my older post,  The melting pot that is America , this post deals with how majority of desis live in the US, and what life we have there .
I my earlier post, I focused mostly on desis interaction with Americans, in this post I shall talk about how desis in US interact with other desis.
The Indian American community in US has grown quite a bit, especially in the last decade, since outsourcing took off in a big way, as a result in most big cities in US, there usually is a pretty good size desi population present.
How easy it is, to find other desis to hang out with varies from place to place, IMO, the best places when it comes to this are most of the east coast like the tri state are, Philadelphia, NC, DC and surrounding areas, etc, then bay area most definitely, it has a vibrant asian scene overall, but also has huge desi presence, mostly due to silicon valley proximity, Chicago also has decent sized population, TX is another huge desi hub, Houston, Dallas, Austin, all places have sizeable presence of desi population, and if you're a desi who happens to live in any of these areas, then you'd have no problems finding desis to hang out with, and chances are that within a month of moving to any of these places, you'd  have your weekends filled with socializing activities, and could actually want a breather from them .
 Living far away from one's motherland, one's culture, friends and family, can be difficult, one could feel lonely or even depressed, depending upon their ability to deal with this change in life. At this point a good support system of desis from one's city helps tremendously, in making them feel at ease, and also helps to fit in.
In US, most Indians have formed their own groups usually based upon regions/languages of India, like there's Andhra or telugu association, Tamil association, Marathi mandal, Gujrati mandal, Bangla association , etc, etc. Most of these groups are thriving and very active in the local community.
They serve 2 main purposes, firstly, in a country like America, which doesn't share much culturally with India, this helps an Indian in US to connect with some of the traditions and celebrate a few religious occassions with others like him/her, and can also act as a great networking tool. Secondly, for people raising their kids in US, it's a great way for them to introduce their kids to some of their heritage and traditions, since in the world outside the kids get so much of the American culture, it's easy for the child, to get alienated from their own culture.
Then there are the local hindu temples as well, many of these temples run programs like sunday school for regional languages, etc, which can be very beneficial for kids again, especially for children of those parents who have plans to return to India at some point,  after which the kids could find it very tough to cope up with the regional languages if they haven't had any prior training. The temples too are a great place to meet other desis in the area, especially during religious celebrations.  
By exploring these avenues, one can get a good desi friend circle in no time. The only down side that I've noticed is that people tend to stick more so with people from their region/language over other Indians, Bengalis will have more bengali friends, telugu's will stick with telugu's, marathi's with other marathi's, and while there's nothing really bad per se about people sticking together, people do it mostly since they feel comfortable conversing in their mother tongue, but I find this wierd somehow, the same Indians in India, would have friends from every part of the country, but here in US, instead of coming together as a whole, they seem to separate themselves into smaller fractions somehow, this may not be the case everywhere, but this is more or less common in places with a sizeable Indian American population.

Another striking feature about Indians from US,  I've noticed is their tendency of ghettoization for the lack of a better word, in this case it simply means, that Indians in US have a tendency to focus on certain areas of a city, and tend to cluster around them, once a handful of desis live in a particular area, other desis will automatically choose to live there, by the mere virtue of the fact that desis live in the area, the reason for them focusing those areas might be different in different cities, like better school system, better public transport connectivity, wider choice of Indian restaurants/groceries/tenple, etc....but once some desis have chosen it as their home, others will come flocking there . I can understand it on some level, the need to be around other desis, because in some cases, if one doesn;t have any desi friends, one could get very lonely, especially if they aren;t able to make any american friends, and people are scared of feeling lonely in an alien country. For better or for worse, this is the case with most US cities, there are some clear desi dominated areas, I remember one of my friend who lived in TX, once told me that the park near her house was sometimes referred to as 'Gandhi park' by the local desi community, due to the huge desi presence in the area.

The desi restaurant scene in US is very average at best. There are hardly any good restaurants, most are on the pricier side, with average or sub-par food, which is mostly toned down or 'Americanized' to cater to the local tastes . Every country tries to localize the food to suit their tastes, nothing weird about that ( I mean, Olive garden and P.F.Changs are 2 of my favorite restaurants, and I'd pick them over an 'authentic' Italian or Chinese restuarant anyday) , also, any international foods we get in India are so localized they pretty much lose their originality completely, so this isn't uncommon, but I digress. So, since the Indian food scene isn't that great outside, and a majority of Indians, don't care for the restaurant foods, they've come up with the perfect solution...Potlucks !!!..Potluck parties are an extremely common and rather popular type of get-together in desi circles. Most people wanna eat good Indian food, so they will organize these potlucks, where 4-5 or more families will pool in with different type of food items. This way, one person/family doesn;t have to cook eveything, whilst enjoying a variety of good Indian food. It's really a very practical solution, if you think about it.

This in a nutshell summarizes the typical lifestyle of an Indian living in the US. This may not apply to everyone, but this is more common than not among the Indian population of America . I sometimes, feel thankful for the fact, that atleast I came to US at a time when there were a lot of Indians around, I think for people who came here in the 60's and 70's, it must have been a bigger struggle to try and fit in and find their own space, it's so easy to get mixed up culturally speaking, if one is surrounded by a completely different culture with no avenue or outlet to express their own heritage . It could easily lead to a confused state of mind....maybe that's what gave birth to the phrase 'ABCD'...but that's a topic for another day !


  1. It is really hard acclimating yourself to a new culture. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into was I wrong. I grew up around Gujrati's but never had a clue they were different from Punjabi's. I had friends from all over the world. Somehow I just didn't realize how difficult it can be to move to a new country. I'm glad that in the US there are so many communities of desi's. There's even a little Punjab in Yuba City, outside of Sacramento. However, I'm not having any luck like that in India despite the fact I know tons of foreigners move here. None of them live near enough to me lol.

    Do you think that so many desi's cling to small groups there because those small groups are the ones that make them feel the most at home? I think maybe they do it because when the culture shock and homesickness set in they seek out ppl like the ones from their old neighborhood or school days. People they relate to the most. I think if given the chance that would happen to me, just because of the homesickness I go through.

  2. Hello White Bhabhi, welcome to the blog :)
    I can understand how you might be feeling, if one lives in a smaller town, with not too much diversity, after a certain point, you start feeling lonesome and feel like you just don't fit in. I lived in a small mid-western town briefly, so I can relate. Had you been in Mumbai or pune or bangalore, I'm sure you would've found lots of people to hang out with.

    I guess you have a point about why desis like to cling to 'their own kind' (even within themselves). I can't relate to that, since I grew up in Mumbai, with all kinds of Indians around me, so to me Indians are Indians, but if people come from a smaller town and have only associated with a certain kind of people growing up, they may have higher comfort level with them...
    Also, language plays a big role for most, in putting them at ease, since being in the US, most of them have to speak english for the most part of the day, I guess they feel more comfortable when they can speak their own mother tongue with their social circle.

  3. Re: Ghettozation. Pretty much all immigrant groups do this. Living in Philly, I've lived in ethnic ghettos. "Ethnic" whites still live in there own neighborhoods in some places.

  4. Hmmm...maybe you're right about the ghettoization part...I just haven't seen it as rampant in other ethnic groups as Indians, but maybe that's because we're still relatively new to America as an ethnic group, and so tend to stick closer...good point though...:)

  5. Hi,

    I like this post very much. I am starting my website which is about desis in US. It would just great to have this post and many others from you on my website. I would really like you to be the guest author. Well all this, if you want to do it and are ok with. I see that you have not written in a while now. I guess it is very hard to maintain a blog and update it regularly. Guest author would be a great way for you to be in the blogging world. Obviuosly you will be given all the credit for the post on my website along with your name, small bio and a pic if you want.

    Please think about this. If you are interested then please send me an email at

    I really want this to work and will be waiting for your email. I will give you a brief idea abt myself and what i plan to do.


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