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Joel Stein: My Own Private India

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Filed: Timeline

Monday, Jul. 05, 2010

My Own Private India

By Joel Stein

I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J. The mostly white suburban town I left when I graduated from high school in 1989 — the town that was called Menlo Park when Thomas Alva Edison set up shop there and was later renamed in his honor — has become home to one of the biggest Indian communities in the U.S., as familiar to people in India as how to instruct stupid Americans to reboot their Internet routers.

My town is totally unfamiliar to me. The Pizza Hut where my busboy friends stole pies for our drunken parties is now an Indian sweets shop with a completely inappropriate roof. The A&P I shoplifted from is now an Indian grocery. The multiplex where we snuck into R-rated movies now shows only Bollywood films and serves samosas. The Italian restaurant that my friends stole cash from as waiters is now Moghul, one of the most famous Indian restaurants in the country. There is an entire generation of white children in Edison who have nowhere to learn crime. (See pictures of Thomas Edison's Menlo Park.)

I never knew how a bunch of people half a world away chose a random town in New Jersey to populate. Were they from some Indian state that got made fun of by all the other Indian states and didn't want to give up that feeling? Are the malls in India that bad? Did we accidentally keep numbering our parkway exits all the way to Mumbai?

I called James W. Hughes, policy-school dean at Rutgers University, who explained that Lyndon Johnson's 1965 immigration law raised immigration caps for non-European countries. LBJ apparently had some weird relationship with Asians in which he liked both inviting them over and going over to Asia to kill them.

After the law passed, when I was a kid, a few engineers and doctors from Gujarat moved to Edison because of its proximity to AT&T, good schools and reasonably priced, if slightly deteriorating, post–WW II housing. For a while, we assumed 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 damn poor.

Eventually, there were enough Indians in Edison to change the culture. At which point my townsfolk started calling the new Edisonians "dot heads." One kid I knew in high school drove down an Indian-dense street yelling for its residents to "go home to India." 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. (See TIME's special report "The Making of America: Thomas Edison.")

Unlike some of my friends in the 1980s, I liked a lot of things about the way my town changed: far better restaurants, friends dorky enough to play Dungeons & Dragons with me, restaurant owners who didn't card us because all white people look old. But sometime after I left, the town became a maze of charmless Indian strip malls and housing developments. Whenever I go back, I feel what people in Arizona talk about: a sense of loss and anomie and disbelief that anyone can eat food that spicy.

To figure out why it bothered me so much, I talked to a friend of mine from high school, Jun Choi, who just finished a term as mayor of Edison. Choi said that part of what I don't like about the new Edison is the reduction of wealth, which probably would have been worse without the arrival of so many Indians, many of whom, fittingly for a town called Edison, are inventors and engineers. And no place is immune to change. In the 11 years I lived in Manhattan's Chelsea district, that area transformed from a place with gangs and hookers to a place with gays and transvestite hookers to a place with artists and no hookers to a place with rich families and, I'm guessing, mistresses who live a lot like hookers. As Choi pointed out, I was a participant in at least one of those changes. We left it at that.

Unlike previous waves of immigrants, who couldn't fly home or Skype with relatives, Edison's first Indian generation didn't quickly assimilate (and give their kids Western names). But if you look at the current Facebook photos of students at my old high school, J.P. Stevens, which would be very creepy of you, you'll see that, while the population seems at least half Indian, a lot of them look like the Italian Guidos I grew up with in the 1980s: gold chains, gelled hair, unbuttoned shirts. In fact, they are called Guindians. 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.

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1999416,00.html

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Filed: Timeline

Kal Penn responds:

I want to applaud Joel Stein for his hilarious account of Edison, New Jersey in his Time magazine article this week, "My Own Private India"; it is as unique and groundbreaking as Thomas Alva himself.

Were it not for the intelligent, fresh sense of humor of individuals like Mr. Stein, the world may never know about Americans who happen to be of Indian descent. Gags about impossibly spicy food? I'd never heard those before! Multiple Gods with multiple arms? Multiple laughs! Recounting racial slurs like "dot-head"? Oh, Mr. Stein, is too good! I don't know how he comes up with such unique bits. (I was worried that he'd missed an opportunity to joke about Dr. King's predecessor, Gandhi, but I see that he got to that hilarity on Twitter. More never-before-heard satire!)

Growing up a few miles from Edison, NJ, I always thought it was hilarious when I'd get the ####### kicked out of me by kids like Stein who would yell "go back to India, dothead!" I was always ROTFLMAO when people would assume that I wasn't American. He really captured the brilliant humor in that one too!

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. Although unlike Stein's Indian American piece, in 2010 those other jokes don't show up in mainstream media like Time Magazine. I wonder why that is...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kal-penn/the-hilarious-xenophobia_b_634264.html

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Filed: Lift. Cond. (apr) Country: India
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I usually have a good sense of humor about these sorts of things but I didn't think this article was funny. It's offensive, disrespectful and I'm surprised that TIME even printed it.


03/27/2009: Engaged in Ithaca, New York.
08/17/2009: Wedding in Calcutta, India.
09/29/2009: I-130 NOA1
01/25/2010: I-130 NOA2
03/23/2010: Case completed.
05/12/2010: CR-1 interview at Mumbai, India.
05/20/2010: US Entry, Chicago.
03/01/2012: ROC NOA1.
03/26/2012: Biometrics completed.
12/07/2012: 10 year card production ordered.

09/25/2013: N-400 NOA1

10/16/2013: Biometrics completed

12/03/2013: Interview

12/20/2013: Oath ceremony

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Filed: Timeline

I usually have a good sense of humor about these sorts of things but I didn't think this article was funny. It's offensive, disrespectful and I'm surprised that TIME even printed it.

I disagree. I thought it was hilarious.

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Filed: Lift. Cond. (apr) Country: India
Timeline

"Eventually, there were enough Indians in Edison to change the culture. At which point my townsfolk started calling the new Edisonians "dot heads." One kid I knew in high school drove down an Indian-dense street yelling for its residents to "go home to India." 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."

THIS is where it becomes evident he is a racist imbecile even if he was 'funny' in the beginning.


03/27/2009: Engaged in Ithaca, New York.
08/17/2009: Wedding in Calcutta, India.
09/29/2009: I-130 NOA1
01/25/2010: I-130 NOA2
03/23/2010: Case completed.
05/12/2010: CR-1 interview at Mumbai, India.
05/20/2010: US Entry, Chicago.
03/01/2012: ROC NOA1.
03/26/2012: Biometrics completed.
12/07/2012: 10 year card production ordered.

09/25/2013: N-400 NOA1

10/16/2013: Biometrics completed

12/03/2013: Interview

12/20/2013: Oath ceremony

event.png

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Filed: Timeline

You know, American comedians poke fun at other ethnicities all the time. Italians (greasy hair, guido, etc.), Jews (watch South Park), you name it. But when they make fun of Indian people, we throw a hissy fit.

It's time to grow up.

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Filed: Lift. Cond. (apr) Country: India
Timeline

I wasn't aware I was throwing a 'hissy fit.' I would probably find this 'funny' if I were watching a stand-up comedian at a comedy club. I'd probably even laugh a few times. But 'context' is important.

To me, this article is not befitting TIME magazine and, in my eyes, they have lost a lot of credibility by printing this article. This isn't The Onion.


03/27/2009: Engaged in Ithaca, New York.
08/17/2009: Wedding in Calcutta, India.
09/29/2009: I-130 NOA1
01/25/2010: I-130 NOA2
03/23/2010: Case completed.
05/12/2010: CR-1 interview at Mumbai, India.
05/20/2010: US Entry, Chicago.
03/01/2012: ROC NOA1.
03/26/2012: Biometrics completed.
12/07/2012: 10 year card production ordered.

09/25/2013: N-400 NOA1

10/16/2013: Biometrics completed

12/03/2013: Interview

12/20/2013: Oath ceremony

event.png

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