I am petite girl of south asian decent having an English name with a Portuguese-French last name and I live in the US. Growing up in India, I never faced any discrimination or weird looks because of my name. People did find it hard to pronounce or write my name at times but other than that it was normal.
The amazing thing about India is that a billion people with several different cultures, languages and ideologies manage to co-exist without judging each other. You could be a Priyanka or an Akbar or a Veer Singh or a Diana and they can all live harmoniously regardless of what they eat or speak or whom they worship – no questions asked.
When I moved to US a decade ago, I thought it would be easier to fit in here because of my non-Indian name and also because I had read that American’s are the most welcoming people. And don’t get me wrong, I agree with that, American’s are great but I often get those weird questions and glances that I was not used to back home.
For example, every time I go out for a team lunch or dinner, there would be this one person who would always ask if I am a vegetarian. Just because I come from India doesn’t make me a vegetarian. I understand, they probably asked it out of concern so they can order the right thing but perhaps a broader question such as “Does anyone have any dietary restriction” directed to everyone in the table would have been appreciated.
Another common question that I get asked often is about my last name. People often wonder if it is my married name because they always assume that an Indian cannot have a last name like mine. And then I have to educate them on how it is common for some Indians to have last names such as DeSouza, D’Cruz, Fernandes etc., just like you might find a Mohammad or a Vishnu there.
I know these are small things and in the bigger scheme of things it doesn’t matter. Most days I brush it off but some days I find it offensive. I have never complained about it (except for writing it here) and I never will but when it starts happening often, you wonder where we are headed. Why is it so easy for people to fall for the stereotypical identity. Aren’t we are all smarter now? Isn’t having the internet supposed to broaden our minds? Or has it limited our capability to think? Something to think about.