Pardesi | A Case for Diasporic Travel
Posted on May 15 2016
Increasing global travel has millennial Desis moving all over the world for vacation. Here is my case for traveling through the Desi Diaspora.
As a Desi-American I have been beaten over the head with the importance of preserving my culture by my parents. Most immigrant minority communities feel the pressure of assimilation and lack of accommodation for their culture in their country of destination. Although I generally agree with the sentiment of knowing who you are and where you come from I often found that the representations I was fed about who "we" are could be at times suffocating and a little static. Much to my parent's chagrin I have always been experimental with my personal aesthetic. I think I have dyed my hair every color possible, leading aunties to amuse themselves at my expense at weddings, "Oh, your hair matches your dress?" Thank you aunties, for never failing to thicken my skin.
Whilst in undergrad at UCLA I decided to minor in South Asian studies which eventually led me to study abroad in South Africa. South Africa houses one of the largest populations of Desi people (if not the largest) living outside of India.
Honestly I was blown away by how few f*cks Desis in South Africa gave about respectability politics. Rather, most people just focused on preserving their spirituality, community relationships and history. No one commented on my hair color or clothing choices. We all still suffer from colorism and other toxic residue stemming from colonization, but I felt a freedom and acceptance I never felt before. I was able to immerse myself in a Desi community that was not trapped in the 1950s. Desi people had been living on the African continent since the 1800s and had progressed through the first stages of immigration. South African Indian culture is rife with an anti-colonial political history, and it's worth exploring. For the most part, Desi people in the United States have been placed in a non-combative "model minority" role which is in direct conflict with our global identity.
Jail in Pietermaritzburg that imprisoned Gandhi
Identity card from the prison on Robben Island
I made it my personal mission in my 20s to see how Desi people live all over the world. My travels led me to the beauty country of Trinidad and Tobago. The ethnic make up of this glorious Caribbean country is roughly 45% Desi meaning I could walk everywhere without seeming like a foreigner or out of place. I was able to attend local restaurants, beaches and hang out spots without anyone batting an eye at me. If you are a self identifying free spirited Desi, you need to make your way to Trinidad and Tobago!
Porch life in Tobago
Boat tour in Tobago
Desi people in the Caribbean have maintained a strong sense of collective identity but have also incorporated new culture into music, food, fashion and community interactions. Desi people in Trinidad make up a larger part of the population and have historically had more visibility and impact on the national culture.
Food stand near Maracas beach with Indian-influenced treats
Conversations with non-Desis about food were not defined by the awesomeness of cheese naan. I also was never once asked about yoga, which means I did not have to recite a thesis on cultural appropriation and the feminization of yoga. Actually, I was never asked to clarify or educate anyone about my culture because I was in a country where I was not "exotic" or "rare" and it was glorious!
Puja/Pooja in Trinidad
Traveling through our respective diasporas allow us to see our culture naturally vary and modify to different climates; freeing ourselves from keeping our culture static. We are more than yoga, naan and Deepak Chopra.