Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What it means to be a minority

A. had lived abroad, so why is Brazil more complicated than other places he's lived? I think it is because here in Brazil he is a minor minority. Let me explain... in the US there are Indians, many of them! In the Triangle area in NC where we lived there were 35 thousand of them! Which means there were Indian restaurants, Indian grocery stores, Indian movie theaters, Indian almost-anything. And A. even chose his apartment by location: the closest complex to the "Little India" block.


He then moved to France. Not as many Indians, but still quite a few. Rendering trips to Gare du Nord to eat at Saravana Bhavan a requirement after weeks of bland food. And there were also Indian grocery stores, Indian movie rentals, Indian hair dressers, etc. And, also VERY important, fellow Indian students to commiserate with. In both these places, because there is immigration from India and other South Asian countries, there is also a general knowledge about these countries, cultures, etc.

And then Brazil... there are 200 Indian families living in the whole (gasp!) country. Many of them came in the 70s and 80s, when Brazil was building it's IT labs and they don't care much about newcomers. Which means that in Brasília there are 8 Indian families (all linked to the Embassy) and in São Paulo another 15 Indian families. As a consequence there are no Indian grocery stores, no Indian movies, and the few Indian restaurants are actually very bland for any Indian to recognize. This makes A's life tough...

Add to it that we had a soap opera a couple of years back that was about a love triangle between a Brazilian girl, her Indian boyfriend and the girl his parents chose him to marry. Let's just say that in many many ways the soap opera did not depict an urban India, but rather small village customs that are fading out in larger cities. This is the only reference point Brazilians have for India. Which is sad, as usually the 3rd questions that A. gets is "What caste are you?", something anyone remotely linked to Indians knows not to ask. Or when he explains something about India and the person responds "but it was not like that in the soap opera...".

I get it, it is frustrating, but how much to Indians know about Brazil? Maybe football? Maybe carnival? I do remember a long time back, when A. and I said Brazil was a Western country. A. was shocked! How could I accept the influence of colonizers to that extent? He then asked what we wear on a daily basis. My reply: jeans and t-shirts. He was even more shocked. I guess this shows that we overemphasize when people assume something wrong about our country compared to our own biases... or maybe that having no support of a local community to laugh at other's expense makes the whole situation weigh down on you...

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