Open your eyes to reality and truth of Hindu situation in America
There is an intellectual, cultural, and spiritual challenge.
Whatever extreme imagination the 2011 census might inspire in ideologues in India, reports about Indians in America only seem to affirm the idea of an endlessly cheerful Indian American Dream. Hindu Americans in particular have acquired a reputation as a wealthy community. News reports in India and abroad admiringly note statistics about the community’s income and education, as well as individual success stories like those of Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai. Hinduism, some journalists say, is the wealthiest religion in America.
Regardless of the merits of such claims, and the emotional and political debates that invariably follow, it must be said that for a community that has hardly been there for half a century, there is a well-deserved sense of pride about having navigated the best of both cultures. The community succeeds in the modern, secular world of science, engineering, academia and business, and also remains steeped in religiosity.
The temples of Hindu America have become a living and thriving symbol of the community’s aspirations. The recently inaugurated Karya Siddhi Hanuman temple in Dallas, for example, looms over the landscape of suburbia like a determined giant, a dream come true in this case not for some wealthy magnate but for a retired Telugu professor of sociology from a historically black college driven by love for guru, gods, and people.
Hinduism is alive and well in America, for sure, and so is Hindu American pride. Second generation Hindu Americans and more recent arrivals are both engaged actively now with questions of political and cultural representation. Racist stories about India in American newspapers and appropriations of Hinduism by America’s booming and sometimes disdainfully materialistic yoga culture are contested. Academia has been a growing concern, with the community waking up to the fact that it has very little representation in Hindu studies.
As someone who has been writing about some of these issues for several years now, I can say that the energy is palpable, the purpose becoming increasingly more lucid and beyond reproach, but as far as results go, there is not much to show, as of now at least. For a storied immigrant community, Hindu America is still incredibly voiceless in America. To recall one simple example, the California textbooks haven’t changed one bit after nearly a decade of struggle. One might even ask, given how egregiously Hinduphobic the lessons were, why did several class years of students and parents quietly go through school without challenging them before 2005? What does it say about us as a community that produces CEOs and millionaires but not enough of a truth-claim to replace lies with facts?
I am not without sympathy for the argument that this sorry situation is the result of historically hostile forces to Hinduism and Hindus having infiltrated seamlessly into the supposedly liberal, progressive, anti-racist quarters of academia in the US and in India. That is indeed the source of the problem, and the solution, which is still nowhere in sight, is ultimately one of decolonization and renewal. Yet, there is a problem in the community too, a problem in its perception of itself and the world, that needs to be addressed as part of the decolonization process too – and that is its attitude towards wealth.