This had to happen…

For years now Indian-Americans have outdone themselves. From elementary school spelling bee contests to senior level government and corporate positions, and everything else in between, Indians have demonstrated that they have got the Touch of Madras.
Over-achievement has become the norm, and a damaging spirit of ethnic competitiveness -albeit unspoken and implicit- has been exerting undue pressures on the younger generation (some of whom fit well in the aptly named category ABCD: American-Born Confused Desi).
Had it gone unnoticed, the case of the second-generation Indian teenager-cum-novelist Kavyaa Viswanathan would have only raised the bar farther. Financial Express reported recently:

“Little Brown & Company, a respected 109-year-old publishing house offered Kaavya a $500,000 two-book deal with the first one to be out next spring titled How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got In. Considering that first-time writers get $10,000, Kaavya sure made a killing.” (more)

But it did not go unnoticed, large sections of the paper were shown to have bene plagiarised, and Kavyaa Viswanathan got busted. Thankfully so, as a fellow Indian-American explains in an open letter to Kavyaa:

“Dear Kaavya Viswanathan, …as one Indian-American to another, I say thank you. I have to confess to a sneaking sense of relief when Opal Mehta’s life came crashing down around you. It’s not schadenfreude. It’s just this relief that finally we can fail, that we can screw up spectacularly and live to tell the tale.
Only we Indian-Americans know it’s hard out there for an overachieving Indian-American. It was bad enough that we were the anointed model minority. Now we are expected to excel at everything we do. We are the first-class first minority. ‘Doesn’t anyone’s kid ever come
second in anything anymore?’…”

I only hope that this is not the end of everything for young Kavyaa. Great expectatios and tremendous pressure from all sides -parents, ethnic community, society- led her to take an extreme measure. She paid dearly for it and hopefully learned. Let’s not go for any sort of overkill here. You hear me Harvard?!


4 Responses to This had to happen…

  1. Q. A. Shah says:

    I had read that letter from Salon/New Media (I believe?).

    And yeah, the Indian-American community is much better off than many other ethnic communities, but the self-pitying tone for being a “model-minority” kinda disgusts me. There is such a passive undertone of being resigned to that stereotype and expectatations that I was highly bothered by it.

    If the only problem the desi ethnic community has, internally or externally, is high performance expectations…get over it. The thing is, that isn’t the only problem, and by perpetuating and focusing on that, we in the community ourselves do a lot to overlook and brush off our own internal problems, and the problems we face from outside as well.

  2. hamesha: says:

    Thanks Q. for the interesting insights especially in that they are coming from somebody within. I would be curious to know what other internal problems of the American desi community has been neglected/overlooked in the hysteria of the model minority…?

  3. homeinkabul says:

    Indians should stick to under-achieving and then embellishing their accomplishments…like Afghans. We’re much happier this way :D

  4. Q. A. Shah says:

    The pakistani community (looking strictly at nationality), i believe, ventures more towards the under-achieving crowd, at least in terms of degrees and professions of late. But that may be an interesting result of not being from a strict caste system.

    As for the larger desi community, I think it parallels in large to the east asian or south-east asian community. In that there is a larger percentage of successes, but the unsuccessful are just as bad off as other low indicator minorities. And, moreover, they get used as a validation of the ‘meritocracy’. I haven’t read it recently, and it’s quite old, but the Mari Matsuda piece “We Will Not Be Used” is really on point. (But I’m biased as she was one of my favorite profs.) And discusses these issues a lot, as does an asian-amerian focues publication out of UCLA, the name slipping me at this moment.

    Also, by focusing on the ‘model-minority’ issue we largely overlook the internal expectation issue, in that the high-achieving indicators are largely internally imposed rather than externally. And that may produce a higher income bracket and a lot of engineers and doctors, but doesn’t produce a lot of academics, writers, artists, or politicians (though the indian, or rather non-muslim desi community has been making a mark in many of those fields of late), which is crucial for the communities to have a strong foothold in the american or other western cultures, i believe. (i apologize for the berevity and broadness of this comment, just felt compelled to reply rather than think it out.)

    At least you Afghans have 20+ years of war and refugee status to blame. We pakistanis have nothing except corruption and martial law to blame.

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