Yashoda with Krishna, Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906), Unknown Date, Current Location: Kowdiar Palace, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

A Letter To Concerned Hindu Indian American Parents

February 29, 2020

My friends, it’s time for a conversation.

Perhaps you immigrated here from India to pursue your own studies, to follow career opportunities. Perhaps you had dreams of giving your children a world-class education. You were thrilled when your children succeeded academically and got into well-respected colleges. You had raised them with good values, steeped in Sanatana Dharma, and sent them off to pursue their higher education with a contented sigh. After all, what else does a parent want other than for their children to thrive?

Reverse universalization

Many Hindus are angry about the inappropriate and even manipulative application of Western lenses and analyses onto India and Hinduism. Some of us see how secularism, minority, and white feminism have been (intentionally) misapplied and weaponized against Hinduism and Hindus in India. While some Hindus simply snarl at the terms themselves, a sophisticated critical analysis of the Western gaze sits alongside the name-calling. Namely, these lenses are not universal and it is harmful to treat them as such. What gets lost in frustration, however, is that while these Western critical lenses are not universally valid, it is also harmful to discard them as completely invalid within their own contexts. In other words, these critical theories (e.g. feminism, critical race theory) are not universally valid or universally invalid. Particularly, if you are living in the West, it is incumbent upon you to understand the local historical contexts from which those relevant lenses emerged, especially if you want to critique and refine them in locally relevant ways. Moreover, if you don’t acknowledge that these concepts have a different (and important) local meaning in the West, and consider (and discard) them wholly because of their abusive relationship to Hinduism, to Americans, you will appear to (and may actively) be undermining and disparaging important discourse and action on local human and civil rights.

Reverse conflation

Similarly, it is important to recognize and incorporate the local conditions and contexts and histories that inform sociopolitical issues. A couple of illustrative examples.

Mini-lesson: Model Minority is a weapon

I remember watching Ava Duvernay’s documentary, 13th, with my parents.

Diagram explaining Claire Jean Kim’s theory of racial triangulation (Courtesy WikiCommons)

So what can we do?

  • Watch 13th. Watch it with your children. Did I mention that already?
  • Find out what your children are learning in school and learn alongside them. U.S. history may not feel like your history, but it became yours when you immigrated here. Just as you want your children to feel connected to Indian and Hindu history, it makes a difference for them to know that you are as invested in their birthplace.
  • Be open to learning at least a little about Western critical theories. Don’t dismiss them wholesale.
  • Being a critical media consumer isn’t black and white. Be open to nuanced views about Western news sources that are demonstrably anti-Hindu when it comes to other issues. For instance, your children may have learned that The New York Times and The Washington Post were instrumental in publishing The Pentagon Papers and revealing the false premise behind the Vietnam War. If you dismiss those journals outright, your children will read you in a certain way.
  • Be willing to engage vulnerably in uncomfortable conversations about Hindu society. Stating that “colonizers did it to us” or “it wasn’t always this way” doesn’t make the problems go away. You may not have the answers but showing an open commitment to acknowledging the problems and envisioning and taking action towards solving them matters.
  • Become more aware of your reverse universalisms and reverse conflations. Unpack these. Ask your children to help you unpack them.
  • Work with your children to develop a Hindu American practice of Sanatana Dharma that is more than verbal or philosophical.
  • Stop connecting your vote for Donald Trump with your responsibility to protect Sanatana Dharma. The more you do this, the more our children will be driven away. It may be a political choice you are making, but calling people who don’t make that choice enemies of Hinduism or unsensible is only going to further rip the fabric of Hindu American society. Donald Trump is a statutory rapist who has separated refugee babies and children from their parents and is keeping them in inhumane conditions in cages at the border. He is anti-environmentalist. He is a racist who used his resources to wage a campaign against five innocent youth of color in NYC that led to their incarceration. (Watch When They See Us ). At the same time, the candidates your children may be supporting are likely regurgitating the Western media propaganda about India and Hinduism and erasing Hindu persecution. It’s not easy. What I do offer here is this: a conversation about why the current elections pose a moral dilemma rather than presenting it as a moral certitude. Allow for the dilemma to remain troubled rather than needing to rush to a tidy and comfortable solution by citing scriptures. Your children are more likely to meet you and try to understand you in that troubled space than on “your side”.

When They See Us

When they see us is the awareness I’d like to leave you with for now. When our American-born, American-educated children see us — their Hindu parents, their Hindu community, Hinduism — they are probably considering us within the larger framework of living and being and acting in American society before anything else. They are susceptible to the allure of American exceptionalism in its juicy social justice iteration — that American problems are universal and American solutions are equally universal. Our children are also increasingly brilliant, engaging in sophisticated thinking that far surpasses what I was doing in college back in the 1900s. It is no easy task to keep up with all of this. Raising Hindu children in the United States is an epic endeavor, in large part because the information coming at them from all sides might leave them feeling like they are caught in a moral dilemma — to be Hindu or to be a good person. We cannot simply wish that false dichotomy away; we have to do the hard work, in more than just words.

Let’s do it together.

Mother, scholar, educator, community member, friend, meditator, musician, and writer.

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