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November 21, 2001 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 2001-11-21

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4A - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

OP/ED

able ircb aIju aig

420 MAYNARD STREET
ANN ARBOR, MI 48109
daily.letters@umich.edu

EDITED AND MANAGED BY
STUDENTS AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
SINCE 1890

GEOFFREY GAGNON
Editor in Chief
MICHAEL GRASS
NICHOLAS WOOMER
Editorial Page Editors

Unless otherwise noted, unsigned editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of the Daily's
editorial board. All other articles, letters and cartoons do not
necessarily reflect the opinion of The Michigan Daily.

NOTABLE
QUOTABLE
My first thought was,
how patriotic! My second
was, how much more
patriotic it would be to
trade in the gas guzzling
leviathan for something
that sips, rather than
chugs, at the gas pump."
- Ariana Hffington, on seeing a
fleet ofSUVslying American flags
during rush hour, in a Nov. 14
column for Salon.com.

CA{ d hR' fl. . ~ ..

_

Ait W kurTitoi+..C*t .0 t'. t s. )
F XL1J1W)iOThIHG PAY! cof&4OOMO

Seeking a more 'cultural' cultural definition
MANISH RAIJI NoTHING CATCHY

0

he first Indian
American Students
Association Cultural
Show I attended was five
years ago, as a junior in
high school. The memory
that has stayed with me was
of one particular skit: Two
Indian mothers sitting
together, one speaking
proudly of her son. "He's so smart, I'm so proud
of him, he wants to be a doctor."
And in the background arrives the son,
drunk in his Ann Arbor apartment, unseen by
his mother and her friend. In his hand is a bottle,
tucked in a brown paper bag. He takes a long
drink and says sarcastically, "You should be so
proud of me. I really want to be a doctor."
There was silence in the audience. Absolute
silence - and in that silence, a strong point
about Indian-American culture was made.
I was in high school at the time, so I have no
knowledge of the backlash that the organizers
felt. But the backlash must have been there,
because IASA has since shied away from real
issues involving the balance between the Indian
and American facets of Indian-Americans.
Arriving on campus, the Indian-American
freshman faces a dilemma. Balancing Indian
and American culture is relatively easy at
home; his home life is largely an exercise in
Indian culture, while outside he is immersed in
America. Losing track of his Indian heritage is
impossible because the Indian community is so
much a part of his life.
But once at college, that ease disappears.
America is still there, just as it always has
been, but India is left at home.
IASA seems like the obvious way to fill that
void - freshmen flock to it like flies to flypaper.
Before they know it, they're entrenched in an
organization that fails on so many levels to truly
represent Indian-American culture. In the subse-
quent IASA cultural shows that I have seen, the
focal point has been jokes involving our parents'
accents. Those sorts of jokes were funny when
we were 12, but they're pathetic when we're 21.
There has been substantive criticism of

IASA among Indian-Americans on this campus.
Gautam Setty, a hometown friend of mine,
pointed out that so many students, immersed in
Indian culture while at home, have largely
shirked IASA while at school. Why we have
done this can be answered in one of two ways:
Either we aren't interested enough to actively
pursue our culture, or else we have found that
IASA presents a skewed vision of our culture.
* I tend to agree with the latter answer. In
1990, IASA leadership decided that the inclusion
of Hinduism in IASA events alienated Indians of
other religious faiths. Instead of expanding its
cultural focus to include other religions, IASA
decided to become secular. Divorcing religion
from Indian culture is impossible - much of the
culture of India is decidedly wrapped up in reli-
gion. IASA shouldn't be an organization that
considers Hinduism to be the defining part of
Indian culture, but it should also not pretend that
religion isn't an integral part of the culture.
The decision to push religion out of IASA
was more damaging because of the precedent
that it set for successive leaders. In essence, it
was made clear that IASA was more interested
in becoming a large organization, even at the
expense of Indian culture. IASA's history has
been one of backing off of important issues in
order to remain popular.
At that, they have succeeded. Setty pointed
out that "(IASA) got to such a size that they
think if you're not in IASA, you're not Indian."
This raises another interesting point about
IASA: A lot of people criticize it for being a sort
of clique - excluding IASA members from the
larger Indian-American community, while
secluding the Indian-American community from
the larger University community. Doing so seg-
regates Indian-Americans while further polariz-
ing the Indian-American community.
IASA faces an interesting challenge - most
of us are first- or second-generation Indians, so
it is our opportunity to define Indian-American
culture. By presenting a strictly secular version
of India and mixing it with American hip-hop,
IASA is creating a bizarre cultural definition
which isn't ours. IASA shouldn't be "more Indi-
an" or "more American," they should only be

more honest about their goals.
I spoke with Sumanth Padmanabh, the chair
of the IASA board, who admitted that much of
what IASA does is social - providing a forum
for people to meet one another. He also provided
a very compelling defense of this practice, point-
ing out that, for all the criticism IASA receives
about its lack of culture, very few of its members
actually participate in cultural events. If IASA
hosts a forum on some aspect of Indian-Ameri-
can culture and only 20 people come, than IASA
is not doing what its group members want.
Essentially, Padmanabh feels that the first
answer regarding the apathy of Indian-Ameri-
cans toward IASA is the relevant one; people
aren't willing to actively pursue their Indian cul-
ture. Perhaps the balance lies between what I
believe (that IASA is doing a poor job of repre-
senting us) and what he believes (that we aren't
interested enough in our culture). In that case, it
is the job of those Indian-Americans who dislike
IASA's definition of Indian-American culture to
take leadership and change its direction.
The cultural show this year seems to hint at
just such a change. I unfortunately missed the
show this year, but I have heard from Indian and
American students alike that it was a step away
from the accent jokes of years past and toward a
stronger,statement of our culture. I regret that I
couldn't attend the show this year - it appears
as if, just as I had given up hope for IASA, they
proved me wrong. If all that I have heard about
the show is true, than I applaud those involved
in setting the tone for the night. I sincerely hope
that younger IASA members continue to push
IASA in more cultural directions so that our
generation's contribution to Indian-American
definition isn't the joke that it is today.
Padmanabh left me with an interesting
thought. "People don't care about their culture
until they think they're losing it." Perhaps this
year's cultural show is an indication that Indi-
an-Americans on campus are becoming acutely
aware of the fact that complacency about IASA
is making us lose our culture.

0

Manish Rayji can be reached via
e-mail atmrayi@umich.edu.

V LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
- From the Daily's most faithful reader, alumnus Jesse Jannetta

10/18/01

10/29/01

To THE DAILY:
Lyle Henretty's "Less Than Zero" column
("Movies that I hate should not be made,"
10/18/01) ... is another example of the unsatisfy-
ing and self-indulgent "venting bile" school of
criticism often found in the Daily Arts section.
... It's not particularly illuminating to read that
"Dirty Dancing" is "the cinematic equivalent of
slicing off your nipple and pouring folic acid into
the wound," or that "The Postman was worse
then that time I had shingles." ...
10/19/01
To THE DAILY:
When I pressed "Send" to deliver my letter to
you yesterday about Lyle Henretty's column, a
message ... popped up on my computer monitor.
The gray and blue box was titled "Mood Warn-
ing!" and it informed me that: "Your message ...
is likely to offend the average reader. ..." The
box also featured an icon consisting of two red
chilis, apparently representing the hot, spicy,
controversial language of my message.
Is this true, or is my e-mail program being
impertinent? Is my letter offensive to the average
reader? ... Seek out some average people, I'd
recommend ten or so ... and show it to them....
I think at least six out of ten would have to be
offended to justify the use of "likely."
10/25/01
To THE DAILY:
... Inspired by David Horn's column ("Nine
things to be happy about," 10/25/01) ... I present
to you fourteen things that make me happy.
The Notorious BIG: My favorite rapper,
all-time. He was so good. ... Said the line, "I
drop unexpectedly like birdshit." ...
Drinking: Man, I love to drink. I really feel
that in the realm of recreational narcotics, alco-

To THE DAILY:
Sometimes reading the letters to the editor
causes me some concern about the rigorousness
with which our University- community is think-
ing about the current war/crisis/police action/glo-
rious tax-cutting opportunity. Today you printed
two letters side by side that caused me to think,
"Oh Lord" ("U.S. foreign interests concentrate
on American capitalism," "War punishes many
for actions of a few"). Thus it is that I am
reduced once again to registering my objections
to various lines of reasoning employed by people
published on your editorial page....
11/01/01
To THE DAILY:
When I read your "Sibling Rivalry Gets
Nasty" spread on today's sports page, my heart
sank. Don't you realize that this sort of ugly sec-
tarian dissension is exactly what Osama bin
Laden wants?
... Michigan and Michigan State students
need to put aside the differences that might nor-
mally cause us to loathe one another ...
Once we have engaged in this exercise in
mutual understanding, we can support our
respective teams in their common goal: defeating
international terrorism.
11/02/01
To THE DAILY:
Man, Americans dress like dirtballs....
Rebecca Isenberg reminded me of this with her
column ... "You know my steez" (11/02/01).
I recently lived for two years in Armenia. In
that country, like many in the world, people gen-
erally do not go anywhere ... without dressing in
... rather formal clothing. ...
Maybe the sorority girls ... are trying to
dress like actual Greeks.

1 sedative. If this were the case, they could be
dressed up in human clothing (which would
have to actually be specially tailored monkey
clothing modeled after human clothing, other-
wise someone would surely notice how bizarrely
the human clothing would fit the monkeys) ...
But ... the fact remains that few things arecuter
than our simian cousins dressed in our own
clothing. Anyone who has seen a reasonable
amount of movies or television knows this. Yes,
surely the cuteness of the lab monkey substitutes
would be noticed and much remarked upon, sub-
stantially changing the tenor of the meeting....
11/13/0 1
To THE DAILY:
Twice each year the student body ... must
endure the deluge of vapidity associated with the
MSA elections. The Daily had a fine idea in rec-
ommending that this exercise occur only once a
year ("They're losers," 11/13/01). In addition to
that, it would be nice to see the parties running
candidates for office try to inject a little more
gravity into the races. ...
After all ... the biggest waste associated with
MSA are the elections themselves.
11/16/01
To THE DAILY:
I'm not surprised that the Daily found Brit-
ney Spears' new album unworthy of a listen ...
Now, let there be no mistake: Britney Spears'
songs are crap. However, only when I lived
abroad did I realize one of the amazing things
about this country: We take crap to another level.
I believe that American crap is better than other
countries' crap....
Don't listen to the haters, Britney. Keep that
glorious crap coming.
11/19/0 1
Tn ' v nzj hAn t a. _

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