A decade ago the acronym ABCD was automatically understood to mean “American Born Confused Desis.” Today Indian-American youth have taken so many strides in defining an identity that the letter C more accurately means “confident.” Says 21-year-old Boston University student Varun Mehta, “If we use the term ABCD at all, it’s largely as a joke.”
There a number of reasons that account for the new ABCD formulation. One is that “India” is less alien and carries far less negative baggage than it once did. A society once associated with sati and poverty is today about software and 9 per cent economic growth.
Says Deepa Iyer, Washington DC-based head of community advocacy group South Asian American Leaders for Tomorrow, “It’s chic to be South Asian. It’s confused itself into popular culture, music literature.” This has made identity easier for young Indian-Americans. “I hate to feed this, but it’s because hot in the mainstream to be Indian. And this helps Indian youth identity,” admits Annette Seecharan of the New York-area South Asian Youth Association. “For the general population, Indian is no longer such an anomaly.”
India is also creeping into US popular culture. “Now Target has a ‘bazaar’ area where it sells an India look with Asian influenced furniture and stuff,” says 20-year-old University of Maryland student Neha Singhal, referring to a US department store chain. However, says Sunaina Maira of the University of California-Davis and author of a book on Indian-American youth culture, Desis in the House: “There is finally some appreciation of ‘modern’ India, but it is still a view largely shaped by American economic needs. It is ignorant of much of the diversity and complexity of (Indian) society.”
A better sense of India and its promise has also made life easier for Indian-Americans.
In the past, young desis were hemmed in by their parents' definitions of Indian values.
Even among themselves, says Maira, they set up "a narrow set of markers" designed to define who was "really" Indian or not. For example: did you know an Indian language, watch Hindi movies or hang out with other desis. Regular visits to India and exposure to how India is changing have helped break such mental shackles.