India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji
Time magazine issued an apology last week for a July 2 op-ed piece by writer Joel Stein, which lampooned Indian culture in Edison, New Jersey.
“We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by this humor column of Joel Stein’s. It was in no way intended to cause offense,” said the magazine in a statement in the July 9 issue.
Lamenting the changing color of his hometown in a piece entitled, “My Own Private India,” Stein wrote: “For a while, we assumed that all Indians were geniuses. Then in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so poor.”
Stein parodied the “Dot Buster” attacks of the late 1980s in which Indians were attacked by youth gangs. Bank manager Navroze Mody died in such an attack in 1987.
“In retrospect, I question just how good our schools were if ‘dot heads’ was the best racist insult we could come up with for a group of people whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose.”
Stein ended the piece by terming the new breed of young Indians in Edison “Guindians,” noting that they resembled “Italian Guidos” with their gold chains, gelled hair and unbuttoned shirts.
“Their assimilation is so wonderfully American that if the Statue of Liberty could shed a tear, she would. Because of the amount of cologne they wear,” ended Stein.
Several Indian American organizations immediately issued statements condemning Stein’s piece. Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, wrote to Stein directly, saying: “While the intention of the piece may have been satire, the actual content and its impact perpetuate the xenophobic sentiments that community members in the state have long endured.”
“The column’s reliance on rhetoric that is used all too often to isolate or scapegoat immigrants demeans the invaluable contributions that South Asians have made to the cultural, social and economic landscape of Edison, New Jersey,” she said.
Iyer noted last month’s fatal attack on New Jersey resident Divyendu Sinha, who was brutally beaten near his home by a group of juveniles.
SAALT requested a meeting with Time magazine’s editors and noted that more than 1,300 people had signed an online petition condemning Stein’s article.
Actor Kal Penn, who served for a year with the Obama administration, took aim at Stein’s piece in the Huffington Post.
“Growing up a few miles from Edison, I always thought it was hilarious when I’d get the crap kicked out of me by kids like Stein who would yell ‘go back to India, dothead,’” wrote Penn.
“Critics might call Mr. Stein’s humor super-tired or as played out as the jokes about that cheap Jewish car that stopped on a dime to pick it up, or that African American kid who got marked absent at night school. Unlike Stein’s piece, in 2010 those other jokes don’t show up in mainstream media like Time magazine,” wrote Penn.
Stein also apologized in the July 9 issue. “I feel truly stomach-sick that I hurt so many people,” he said. “I was trying to explain how, as someone who believes that immigration has enriched American life and my hometown in particular, I was shocked that I could feel a bit uncomfortable with my changing town.”
“If we could understand that reaction, we’d be better equipped to debate people on the other side of the immigration issue,” said Stein.