I think the widespread reaction to the following topic has been a bit overdone, but that said, I still felt like feeding the beast.
Only because I now realize that even though I responded the day the article was published there’s only an infinitesimal chance the editors actually read it, and because I previously promised five parts to my India saga but came up one short, and because I enjoy thoroughly trouncing horse carcasses, here was/is my response to Joel Stein’s infamous article, “My Own Private India:”
To the Editors of Time Magazine:
Edison, NJ is a bastion for Indian culture in the United States. Joel Stein’s scathing remarks are unwarranted, and his attempts at humor fall somewhere between the fifth made-for-TV installment of the “American Pie” movies and Michael Richards’ post-Seinfeld stand-up.
Sitting in the middle of New Jersey in an apparently random location, Edison indeed is an anomaly of sorts. It’s as if Indian merchants were transported to the USA, and without any knowledge of the norms of modern American strip malls, they rebuilt the congested markets of Mumbai in a sprawling New Jersey suburb–with an abundance of jewelers, sari vendors, Indian restaurants, and grocery stores.
Transforming Pizza Hut into Sukhadia without changing the chain restaurant’s decor might demonstrate a lack of imagination, but it is
certainly resourceful. Indians assimilated in Edison while preserving a lot of the day-to-day conveniences of their native country, not at all different from the Italians or Chinese in Manhattan. In fact, Edison can be applauded for not yet prostituting itself to the lure of tourism as Chinatown and Little Italy have.
On some level I feel bad for Stein. Revisiting one’s hometown should be fraught with nostalgia and a chance to recreate memories. It is understandable that one might experience pain from not having the opportunity to reminisce about past misdemeanors. Fortunately for Stein, as Vonnegut noted, “A man without a home can’t be lost,” except, apparently, when it came to writing this article.
I’ll forgive parts of the article because toward the end of Stein’s ramblings he does realize some of the benefits of Indian influence in
Edison (even if actually voiced through Jun Choi). However, it is hard not to be offended by his musings about “dot heads.” As a child
in Howell, NJ, I saw a neighbor use the slur against my mother. My mother calmly responded by calling the woman a racist. To rebut this simple truth, the woman picked up a five-year-old black child playing on the lawn and kissed him inappropriately. Stein and his entourage might do well to meet up with this woman, and with their collective wisdom they just might be able to find creative ways to insult our Hindu religion too. Who knows? Perhaps, they’ll discover new ways to assault those whose beliefs include eating crackers and wine to represent the consumption of God’s son.
In the meantime, I would love to meet up with good-ol’ Joel and hear his thoughts on immigration reform as we stroll through the streets of Jackson Heights in Queens, NY.