What does Hindu America want from its success? Is it a material legacy that it wishes to leave for its children and grandchildren, or can there be something more? Is there a Hindu civilisational view of wealth, work, and the economy today that can be more meaningful than the simplistic capitalistic clichés of the day (which have replaced the even more depressing socialistic parables of an earlier generation)?
The challenge here is as much an intellectual one as a cultural and spiritual one. Hindu America has to sort out the question of what exactly Hinduism means for it. For one thing, one has to ask if everyone who is Hindu and living in America even feels strongly about being Hindu. The culture of Silicon Valley, for example, is perhaps far more secular-liberal and indifferent to the passionate calls for Hindu awakening one sees in other parts of the country like Texas. There might be many more demographic variations along class and generational lines too. For one thing, it seems to me that much of the temple building activity is coming from recent migrants from India rather than second-generation Hindu Americans.
Religiosity, and culture, both have deeper survival implications for the transplanted and the newly mobile perhaps, than those who already have a certain amount of rootedness in a place. I am also not sure whether the philanthropy of the new start up success stories extends to Hinduism as such, or whether it prefers to operate through more secular ideas of service. In other words, it also remains to be seen if those who have been tremendously successful in America feel a sense of debt to the culture and traditions that have made them who they are.
While no one can dictate how Hindu Americans ought to feel about Hinduism, it is definitely important for the community to step up the conversation on how Hindu Americans, and Hindus, more generally, could be thinking about global issues today such as nature, the environment, work, family, and money. In the absence of such a debate, it has become easy for the apparent success of Hindu Americans to be turned into a symbol for various political interests. The strongest point on which Hinduphobia exists today in academia, media, and activist circles after all has to do with the alleged elitism of Hindus in general and Hindu Americans in particular. If you are wealthy, successful, and seemingly accepted, then what ground do you have to complain about racism or misrepresentation?
The community, it seems, is somewhat confused on this issue. For many, even talking about issues of race and misrepresentation seems inappropriate, a rude disturbance to the myth of acceptance. This attitude, though slightly in decline now from what I can see, celebrates any kind of recognition by America as a sign of having arrived. An American professor wrote a big book of Hinduism? Why, we must be great, if someone were to write a book on us! This viewpoint rarely considers the possibility that the big book might be totally false, malicious, and even have existential repercussions one day. For others, who are well outside the older generation’s just-adjust Hinduism model, there are no illusions about Hinduphobia where it exists. But they lack the intellectual and cultural resources to fight it in the manner that it ought to be dealt with, and approach an intellectual problem with a commercial if not mercenary mindset.