The many ways of being Brown Diasporic

An admission: I have no idea what half of Zach’s posts are about. More clearly, they’re written in English, but there are so many references to Indian/South Asian pop-culture and drop-ins of Hindi-Urdu words that I have no idea what he’s talking about. It might as well be Greek. Often after 30 minutes of Google, I get it, but it’s pretty funny because technically we’re both English-speaking brown people living in Anglo countries.

There are different kinds of brown people. Some of them are well talked about. For example, ABCD vs. “FOB” culture. But it’s way more subtle and diverse than that.

For example, I have a friend who grew up in Canada, who is from a South Indian Brahmin background. But, it turns out that the only Indian language she knows is Hindi, because of the people she grew up with. I am not good with languages. I have primitive fluency with Bengali, though I can’t read it, and absolutely no firsthand knowledge of Hindi or Urdu. A lot of Diasporic South Asians though drop-in in Hindi-Urdu words into their speech and a lot of us have no idea what you are talking about (I share this reaction with a lot of people of South Indian background raised in the USA, who don’t know Hindi).

Zach is a “Third Culture” person in a traditional sense. I really am not…my parents left Bangladesh in 1980, and did not raise me among many Bengalis or even South Asian people. Better to describe me as American culture + an accent/perspective of something very different.

23 thoughts on “The many ways of being Brown Diasporic”

  1. Yeah this is a fascinating topic. I recall reading somewhere on GNXP that you arrived in the US age 7 or so? I wonder at what age of immigration is “complete assimilation” (let’s pretend that’s a thing) to the new society no longer possible? I’m thinking of not only accent but learning behavioral cues of Americans or Canadians thoroughly. My guess is that if you didn’t go through puberty and the rites of puberty entirely in the US, you’ll be somewhat of an outsider always. Thoughts?

    1. just turned 5.

      and yes, it depends on people, but 12-16 range seems to be when a lot of stuff “hardens.”

      eg ilhan omar came late enough her idiomatic english is clumsy i think. but she came early enuf her accent is very mild.

      1. Neuroscientists would tend to agree with you on the age bit for language at least. I would say, speaking as an immigrant myself (from one Western country/language to another NB) that 30 is the cutoff for *integreation* (as opposed to “assimilation”) into the new home. I think after that age it’s increasingly difficult or impossible to accept foreign idioms as a way of daily living and one is practically doomed, if one emigrated at all, to become something of a “crank” for the old country. I emigrated at age 23 and eleven years later I still get frustrated, sometimes even with my closest friends, although I’m close enough to the border of non-integratability that sometimes it’s hard to tell whether frustrations that *seem* to be culture clashes are not just banal everyday human conflicts (I have plenty of those, too).

        People like Ilhan Omar, on the other hand, are not going to be integrated or assimilated whatever happens, which is fine by me even though I’d rather the fifth column were just not allowed in to begin with.

    2. America is diverse enough that globalist cosmopolitans who move to America late in life can be completely assimilated.

      For example Zach Hing and Roaming Millenial Lauren Chen grew up in expensive Hong Kong and Singapore and other Asian schools. But they are American because they grew up cosmopolitan abroad. I have met many “Americans” who grew up attending expensive prestigious international schools in India. Many American kids choose to go to Indian schools because it is easier to get into elite American universities applying as a “foreign student” than it would be applying as an “Asian American.”

      I think Zach and Kim are American:

      I like Zach Hing, Kim and Lauren Chen. Kim calls herself a left progressive. But she deconstructs and critiques the post modernist marxist woke crowd better than anyone else.

      Kim has been all over the affirmative action discrimination against Asians and the NYC Stuyvesant scandal. [Out of 895 in the incoming class 7 are black and 661 other (likely almost all Asian American).] And all over the demonization of Asians by post modernists in general.

  2. “For example, I have a friend who grew up in Canada, who is from a South Indian Brahmin background. But, it turns out that the only Indian language she knows is Hindi, because of the people she grew up with. ”


    Oh my Periyar! a race traitor

    1. I am sure there other “race traitors”* lurking here too, I being one. I cant speak Tamil and not “much” of a Tamil Nationalist .

      *called “drohi” by the “boys”.

        1. Saurav,

          Apparently you are an illiterate Aryan barbarian who does not know history.

          If you check the Tamil lexicon, the word Drohi is ancient Dravidian, probably pre Lemurian. Apparently the Sanskrit types have appropriated the word and claim origin to the word.

  3. Are we “brown” or are we global cosmopolitan?

    A ton of my Hindu/Buddhist/Jain/Sikh/Taoist friends are caucasian (or Latino or Black). Are they “Brown”? Many of them have extensively studied Sanskrit, eastern scriptures. Many have extensively traveled the east.

    Are the many caucasian (and Latino and Black) spiritualists who live in Asia “brown”?

    1. Zach, why do Bollywood, Hollywood and global entertainment industries matter?

      They do their thing, we do our thing. We don’t have to ingest their stuff.

    2. In my case I know very well what I am writing when I write it.

      When I wake up the next day, there are many doubts to the author and authenticity.
      Sometimes I wonder if some one has hacked my “what do you call it”.

  4. The third culture kid label is a tricky one. I’ve come across a few diaspora folk that reject it (as I do for myself), but for highly idiosyncratic reasons.

  5. To be honest many of Zach’s posts leave me (and probably many readers here) scratching my head. (I mean I scratch mine, other readers scratch theirs. Probably.)

    I am still not entirely sure about Virat Kohli and the luggage. Or what it was about various actresses. Or the issue regarding South Asians (or the Indian/Hindu subset thereof) not being sufficiently macho or prickly or something.

    So it isn’t a question of language or references.

    1. I like Zach’s posts. He wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t shy from thinking out aloud. Some folks may not get all of his posts because he’s sometimes responding to things that triggered him (which may not trigger you), but that’s to be expected if someone puts themselves out there like that, and may even vindicate his point if he’s trying to draw attention to various blind spots in our discourse and mentalities.

    2. If it will make razib happy, I a mm a diasporic south Indian, and I cannot understand what Zack is talking about. Why does he fume souch about foreigners talking about India? What are all the Bollywood references? What about all the colonialist talk, and comments about obscure Indian leftists? Do not understand a majority of things that tick him off, this is not a second generation vs. first generation thing.

      1. Vijay and Zach

        Zach is typical what I call half Diaspora. Early life in the home country and the rest in the Mid East? and UK.

        Torn between being a Tory Britisher and Bahai Pakistani.

        Wants to lay down rules marriage/out of wedlock, islamism etc. Then because he is basically a nice guy (definitely not an Xerxes) tries to see both sides.

        In Sri Lanka we say “dont know coming or going”. Thats the cultural Zack .

        Razib: When I am ready to reply to non stop answers with four letter words, will comment on where “coming or going”.

        Speaking for myself, as a half breed, there is always the question where we fit in society. Then again I think that is a problem for all in every society. eg a very simple issue. Mother is from rich background, father is relatively poor, Child feels left out in mothers society.

  6. Vijay, the ancient eastern way is to let everyone make their own art however they wish. Let others speak and think as they choose.

    Why should we be offended by the art and thoughts of others?

    Eastern philosophy is based on extreme pluralism, extreme multiplicity.

    Triggers, offense, hate speech are all Abrahamic and post modern concepts that represent modern change.

    Zach, if you read Vedas and Agamas–much of them are discussions and debates. “God”–whatever that means–is debated with. There are no clear right and wrong answers. Searching for the truth is the point.

    The goal of art (which I consider Vedas, Agamas, Yoga Sutras, Samkhya texts, Buddhist sayings and other scriptures to be) is to facilitate deep emotional feelings that allow someone to transcend gross surface level thoughts to flow into meditation and stillness transcending meditation (which some call the various different Samadhis and heavens).

    Why can’t we treat global entertainment industry products the same way? Let everyone dialogue with everyone else?

    Does what they think and say matter?

  7. UK Bangladeshi diaspora speak Sylheti but Bengali very badly. However, some of us were taught to read Bengali at an early age. My parents and the generation before them read and write well. Funnily though we also understand and can converse in a little Hindi-Urdu. Partly to do with watching Bollywood films, partly to do with being around Indians and Pakistanis, and also partly because Sylheti words and phrases often sound like corrupted Urdu or Gujarati. The Portuguese words in our daily vocabulary is also quite prominent. Again corrupted versions. For example: Key is pronounced ‘chabi’. In Portuguese it’s ‘chave’. Pineapple is ‘Ananash’, ‘Ananas’. Cauliflower is ‘Gobi’, ‘Gove’. Window is ‘Zanela’, ‘Janela’.

  8. “A lot of Diasporic South Asians though drop-in in Hindi-Urdu words into their speech”

    I’ve actually never seen S. Asian Diasporans do this…I do see it with some frequency in Hispanic diaspora populations, which always surprises me.

    My spoken Hindi is horrendous, but I’m able to understand most of it. Understanding Urdu is a harder game, I can figure out the gist of what people are saying, but there are tons of unfamiliar words that pop up.

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