I Need A Hero

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

February's Glamour Magazine profiles Supriya Jindal--wife of Louisiana Governor and former VP-short-listed "Bobby" Jindal--as a "fiesty" woman who also happens to be "our only Indian American First Lady."

Images of Clarence Thomas race through my head. He must have a wife. I wonder if she is like Supriya. It sounds harsh I know but let's review the facts: Bobby's real name? Piyush. He "adopted" his current moniker in homage to Bobby Brady. Presently-Catholic Piyush's born religion? Hinduism. He converted in high school. And of course there is his famous New Oxford Review essay--"Beating the Demon, Physical Dimensions of Physical Warfare"--which details his belief in exorcism. All this and we haven't even gotten started on the Governor's views on church and state, stem cell research, gay marriage--but I am getting off topic...

Bottom-line, the guy seems decidedly anti-Indian and while I suppose it isn't fair to assume his wife holds the same views, when she is paraded around as our only Indian American First Lady and she doesn't say anything to distance herself from her husband's whitewash, what is anybody supposed to think? She gives us a little glimpse into her views in a local New Orleans newspaper interview:

Although she has visited India several times -- including once with Bobby, when he was sent as a congressman on a trade mission -- she says she doesn't feel any particular attachment to the country of her ancestors or any particular sense of comfort when she's there. Nor does she follow the news from India with any particular regularity.

Okay, fine. There it is. Be who you want to be right? Be American, be yourself, be cool. And, in all honesty, Supriya seems cool enough. By all accounts, she is a whip-smart, considerate powerhouse, juggling three kids and a career. According to the Glamour piece, she is getting ready to launch the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana Children, a nonprofit aimed at fixing the state's lagging math and science scores. What's not to like about improving education? Plus I have a soft-spot for the woman since her son's name is Shaan, as is mine.

But the Jindals constitute token representation of Indians, at best. Is there any disputing that? And I can't help but wish that Glamour had picked somebody else to represent us. Someone who, perhaps, rose in her own right. A South Asian woman who stands up proudly, or at least not in shame or ignorance, of where she (and her husband) come from, geographically, culturally, philosophically. Someone like...

Like...

Like who? Who are our South Asian female role models? Help me out here...
33 comments:
Anonymous said...

Here are a couple:
Indira Nooyi
Lata Krishnan (born and raised in the UK!)
Padmashree Warrior

Ok, Indira, and Padmashree were not born in the US, but still, they are managing to pull off something that I thought was impossible.

JJH said...

Wow this is crazy, I am sitting here trying to come up with some people and I can't come up with ONE! So sad...

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why the phrase "and her husband" was included, and also not sure whether that excludes Jhumpa Lahiri, but it shouldn't.

Jaya said...

I know what you mean especially about a role model who has risen in her own right. What's with the proliferation of people coming to the spotlight on the coattails of others? Even Michelle Obama who everyone is heralding as THe Great Hope for women is really the wife of the prominent, go-getter. We should expect more for our daughters.

Tani said...

To Anonymous--I think they were just making a contrast to Supriya. What do you mean about Jhumpa Lahiri?

deepa said...

Hi readers--Nope, I wasn't referring at all to Jhumpa Lahiri. In fact--there's a great example of a role model. I only meant to say that Supriya Jindal doesn't seem to take pride in the heritage she and her husband share. I didn't at all mean that a South Asian woman eeds to be married to a South Asian man.

Anonymous said...

I wish Jhumpa lahiri was a role model. I read an interview with her and I was shocked about how anti Indian she is. Total hater.

paw said...

I too wish there were more--or any--south Asian women in the public sphere. But there is something to be said about token representation, at least symbolically don't you think? I would still say it's better to have clarence Thomas on the high court than not to, even though he is an obviously atypical African American. You have to start somewhere and maybe mere entry is the place to start.

jothi said...

at least she's honest I guess! You know I don't really have a problem with her not declaring love for the motherland or whatnot. But to actively and purposely distance oneself from everything you came from like her husband has--that to me is suspect and clear self-loathing. It's sad that he is the harbinger of Indian American face time in the public eye. I would almost rather have some random bollywood star!

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Having a Clarence Thomas on the bench checks a box and leads to complacency where remarks such as "see, there's a black man on the supreme court" are made. However, in a warped way, Thomas thinks of himself as an advocate for the African-American community. Similarly, I think Bobby Jindal feels the same. What does it mean to represent "your community" as a public servant? I think identifying with the struggles, culture, and history of your community members is a start. Unfortunately, I don't identify with Bobby Jindal. Who do I identify with as an Indian woman? Tough to say. I think of women role models from the homeland, but few Indo-Americans. I have always identified with Manuela Albequerque, but the list is short. Maybe that is our job---to be that role model for the next generation.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with the above-poster. Thomas on the bench only falsely placates people. Jindal in the White House or wherever he may end up? I'm not sure what it would do but I certainly wouldn't feel "represented" by him. What is my kid supposed to think that somebody with a "weird" name changed it to Bobby? And his wife: Not a role model, at least not to me. I tend to find heros in my everyday life. Maybe because there is nobody I really identify with in the larger context.

EL said...

I think you're all being too hard on these guys and especially on Supriya who, as far as I can tell, never asked to be in the public eye or to be anybody's "hero." So the guy changed his name, so what. And so he became Christian. Do you think that being Christian makes somebody less "Indian" because I bet millions of Christian Indians would disagree with you.

Let's look at merits. Bobby Jindal is at the brink of a brilliant political career. We should respect him for that shouldn't we? Aren't we being the haters if we refuse to acknowledge that? And his wife? The only factual things we know are that she is starting a foundation about education and that she is a mom. I respect both of those things.

I think people confuse the person with the politics and I am betting the majority of readers here simply don't like Bobby Jindal's politics.

Janie T said...

I've thought about this before, about the serious lack of South Asian female figureheads. It's amazing to me, considering how many unbelievably talented Indian women I know. Yet we all make the choice somewhere along the line to put everthing on hold for kids. I know, I know, it's a choice but how has it happened that we've all made the same choice to such an extent that we can't come up with a long list of inspirational South Asian women???

Sumana said...

Jhumpa Lahiri is the most anti-Indian "role model" I can think of which is such a shame considering she writes so beautifully about the South Asian American experience. I saw her speak live once and I was over the moon excited to meet somebody who I finally, finally identified with in popular culture. But seeing her speak was disillusioning at best and angering at worst. At one poing she plainly said that she doesn't like to be though of as "South Asian" and that her stories really have nothing to do with a "South Asian experience." REALLY??? I mean, it would be one thing if she was writing science fiction and we were trying to place her into a mold of "South Asian woman writer" but, um, last I checked the chick writes about SOUTH ASIAN WOMEN!! It was appalling to me, to go to such delusional lengths to distance yourself from who you are.

vee said...

Indian female role models (I don't know enough about the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and Nepali scenes): Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar, Teesta Setalvad . . . and if you want to get fancy -- Shabana Azmi, Meera Nair, Gurinder Chaddha (yes, Bend it Like Beckham was fun, but Bhaji on the Beach spoke brazenly on DV issues rarely broached) . . . There are so many! It's too bad Mrs. Jindal caught Glamour's eye. But then again, it is Glamour. Deepa, you're a role model too!

CJS said...

I second Padmashree Warrior--what a corporate trailblazer, plus a succesful mother, plus she is witty and engaging in interviews. Obviously we need more Padmashree's and I am sure she would balk at being called a hero or a role model or whatever but I'm glad she's out there in the world, doing her thing.

Anonymous said...

OH yes Meera Nair!! I have been sitting at my desk trying to come up with one person to respond with and I was not going to stop till I did. Meera Nair. Thank you "vee," now I can do my real job!

Anonymous said...

I would have said Arundathi Roi...until she became insane. Did you see what she said about the Mumbai terror attacks??

Anonymous said...

This is sort of sad to me on many levels. Yes, it's true, there aren't many South Asian women to look up to. But isn't the concept of "hero" sort of outdated anyway? Do we really need somebody who "looks like us" in the pages of a glossy magazine to validate our lives?? Look around at your friends, your family, your moms, your grandmoms. They are the heros. The traditional hero is really just a narcissist.

Jindal is Nuts said...

Jindal is a certifiable whack-job. I can't believe he was even considered as McCain's VP considering the exorcism story as well as some of the stuff his former classmates have said about his bizarre religious ferocity. He is no Indian of mine. I almost feel bad for Supriya.

Jasmine said...

I don't think we should limit ourselves to South Asian women role models--it's hard enough to find plain old woman role models! It would definitely be nice if this changes in our lifetime but I'm not holding my breath. Interesting debate going on here.

vee said...

To one of the anons above . . .I thought Arundhati Roy's piece "Monster in the Mirror" was brilliant -- and certainly no departure from her activist essays. Having lived in the resettlement colonies build by Muslim charities (not by the Gujarat government who continues to deny their role in the carnage and continues to be complicit as they refuse aid and justice) after the 2002 Gujarat pogroms, I second her call for India's collective public memory (and our's in the Diaspora) to look in the mirror and think critically about the terrorism of poverty, of communal violence, of those who turn the other cheek to these tragedies.

I was as horrified as the next person by the Bombay attacks, but I was also aghast by how many Indian-Americans felt particularly angry because "I once stayed at the Taj" or "I met my husband at Leopold's" . . . when no such outcry was heard during Gujarat 2002, the Bhopal disaster, the continuing displacement and death of Dalits at the hands of the State . . .

I thought A. Roy's piece was brilliant (not crazy) for shedding light on how in many ways 'we've forfeited the rights to our own tragedies' . . . she's more of a hero for me.

Sorry to stray, D.

Anonymous said...

Great post - and interesting comments. Something to think about - regarding the lack of possibilities. Do you think it has something to do with the out-of-balance kid-share situation in South Asian families, where typically it is the wife who gives up everything for the sake of the children - but not too many husbands would do that. I think the reason we have not been able to come up with many prominent names is that no husbands are ready to be the "supporter of their spouses career choices" while wives typically stay back home. In a way this may be good - at least we have the best moms amongst the "South Asians" maybe we need everyday role models - not corporate ones. Personally I think every mom who is able to keep up their job, kids and stay sane is a role model for me.

TH said...

Wait what did Arundathi Roi say about the terror attacks? I wish she would go back to fiction, I thought "God of Small Things" was brilliant, hope she doesn't become a Harper Lee one hit wonder.

Devika said...

I'm torn on this one because I think it would be supremely beneficial to see Indians in, say, the White House, or on the Supreme Court, regardless of how pro-India they are. Just as Barack Obama in the White House makes it more believable for us to tell our kids that they can be president. BUT I find Jindal's views and history deplorable and his wife doesn't seem to share any of my beliefs so it is difficult to get behind them as emblems of us.

On a sort of related note, I think the reason we don't see more Indian Americans in positions of power is because we are timid and scared of risk. We tend to take the safer path and the safer path doesn't land us in the newspapers. Just my two cents.

blackmamba said...

sonal shah has the potential before the whole VHP-RSS thing came up.

blackmamba said...

And there are Kamala Harris and Kalpana Chawla... can't believe it is such a short list...

Diva Desi said...

Does Sanjay Gupta have a wife? I guess with him being annointed today we will be hearing more about him and will likely add his spouse to this list of "role models"??

Anonymous said...

Wait, Jindal doesn't really believe in exorcisms does he? How would he have EVER gotten elected VP??

Anonymous said...

how about vandana shiva --

http://www.time.com/time/2002/greencentury/heroes/index_shiva.html

Anonymous said...

or M.I.A.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M.I.A._(artist)

Anonymous said...

@Diva Desi :Sanjay Gupta is married...here are some pictures
http://www.instyleweddings.com/weddings/gallery/0,,20166194,00.html

Sonali said...

Arundhati Roy is a fantastic role model. Her essay after the Mumbai attacks were well informed, realistic, self aware, and very much from a woman who LIVES in India, breathes the region (all of South Asia), and cares deeply for its people--not just for the rich ones who frequent the Taj. Her essay was that of sanity in the midst of the insanely reductive and reactionary coverage and info-news surrounding the event.

I think Benazir Bhutto was a role model, as are Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina. True--they come bearing their fathers' or husbands' legacy, but they made their positions their own.

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