Saturday, December 20, 2014

Trust me, it's a blessing to be a foreigner everywhere!

A few years after moving to Oregon, I authored an op-ed on how I have come to appreciate one part of my identity as India's ambassador.  Unlike early in my American life when I used to tire of people asking me inane and profound questions about India just because I look and speak like one from that country, I later started enjoying that foreigner status--an irony that the wisdom dawned on me after gaining US citizenship.  At least then it dawned, eh!

I know well that I am almost always viewed as an "Indian" at work, at stores, and even in my neighborhood.  A foreigner who is an American.

When visiting India, this "Indian" is again a foreigner--on the streets, in the stores, and even in my parents' eyes.  The other day my father said "you don't know things here.  You are talking like an American." ;)

Of course, when I visit Costa Rica or Ecuador or any country, I am a foreigner.  It is not about how I feel, but about how I am perceived.

Why is this an advantage?  There is no way I will be able to articulate the idea like how Pico Iyer states it:
It’s a blessing to be a foreigner everywhere, detached and able to see the fun in things.
The older me does not worry about it the "foreigner" that I am, and in fact views this special status as a tremendous advantage.  :
As some are born with the blessing of beauty or a musical gift, as some can run very fast without seeming to try, so I was given from birth, I felt, the benefit of being on intimate terms with outsiderdom.
Of course, my travels and experiences are nothing compared to Iyer's, but his essay absolutely speaks to me.  
It’s fashionable in some circles to talk of Otherness as a burden to be borne, and there will always be some who feel threatened by—and correspondingly hostile to—anyone who looks and sounds different from themselves. But in my experience, foreignness can as often be an asset.
My op-ed that I am an ambassador for India, for instance, is the "asset" statement that Iyer makes.  When students ask me whether I am burdened by the otherness, they almost seem ready for me to trash the system and talk about the horrors of being an "other" and are then surprised when they hear me talk positively.  But then, when younger, I would have offered only criticisms ;)
nearly everywhere I knew was foreign, which meant that nearly everywhere had the power to unsettle and surprise me, forever.

Damn these writers who can convey ideas so well; I wish this "iyer" could write like that Iyer! ;)

The foreigner iyer in a "veshti"

Most read this past month