Why, Bobby Jindal?

Presidential candidate Piyush “Bobby” Jindal has said he’ll take questions over social media today. I’ve got some questions, but let’s start first with some background.

As is probably obvious, I disagree with most of Jindal’s policies. I genuinely have no issue with the tiny minority of South Asian Americans who hold conservative views. (Only 3% of Indian Americans are Republican, a lower percentage than African Americans. There are more independent Desis than Republican ones.)

Indian American party affiliation

But I do have an issue with undermining the South Asian community. How is it possible the highest-profile Indian politician in U.S. history won’t even let his oldest friends wear Indian clothes at his events?

There’s a line of argument that says we should take any visibility as progress, and follow Jindal simply because of his ethnicity. (Naturally, it’s the conservatives who claim to be color blind who are advancing that idea.) I’d even joked about this, saying, “I hope Jindal gets nominated. It’d legitimize Indian American candidates while showing how everyone hates his stupid-ass platform.”

The core issue here is what compromises are acceptable for a politician to make when they come from a community that has such a tenuous grasp on “Americanness” in the first place. I suspect it may be hard for many to understand why every Indian American they know is so vehemently offended by Bobby Jindal. The answer is simple: We are pressured everyday to erase and censor ourselves, to reject our parents and our culture. It’s constant. That’s why, even 8 years ago, I was already very skeptical of Bobby Jindal and his intentions.

From the folks at a TSA checkpoint to the coworker who refuses to learn how to pronounce our names, we are always fighting to be ourselves. And what Bobby Jindal represents is complete capitulation in that battle for self. The worst fear of any community reckoning with assimilation is confirmed—giving up all traces of one’s own identity will be rewarded.

So the visceral rejection of everything about Jindal is a simple assertion that our identities and values matter, and they shouldn’t be compromised. It’s only after this, almost incidentally, that the overwhelming majority of us also arrive at the inescapable conclusion that Jindal is a clown with terrible policies. (With one notable exception, his uncomplicated and astoundingly reasonable support for vaccination.)

Bobby Jindal is not white

I was delighted to see that the immediate response from almost every part of the Indian diaspora when we heard of Bobby Jindal announcing his presidential campaign was unabashed mockery. An unserious candidate deserves an unserious response, and if we can use such an occasion to demonstrate how fantastically funny we are, even better.

But I was disappointed that the bulk of the responses organized around the theme of “Bobby Jindal is so white”, even though I’m proud of my friend Hari Kondabolu for having had such an impact.

Because honestly, I don’t think we should say “Bobby Jindal is so white”, even as a joke. He has a specifically Indian American pathology. Most white folks in the United States don’t have occasion to ponder Indian American identity at all, because there just aren’t that many of us, and we so seldom have any real power. So, Jindal acting the way he does is definitely not him being “white”. There’s a deeper issue: He wants to erase us.

It’s not just that Bobby Jindal left his parents’ faith. (Hell, I did that, too.) But rather, Jindal thinks no one should be of his parents’ faith. It’s not that Bobby Jindal doesn’t identify as Indian American, it’s that he doesn’t want anyone to identify that way.

So, while I’m happy to make jokes about Jindal, the reason he is truly toxic is because he would eliminate the very community that made him, that gave him all the opportunities he’s had. I can mock that Bobby Jindal turned his back on his name, Piyush. But what’s sad is he’d prefer there be no boys named Piyush in America.

My name is Anil Dash. That’s what my parents named me. They’re Indian Americans, and I’m proud to be of them. I’m proud of my community.

So my question to Bobby Jindal, about not just his candidacy but his entire career, is why? Why do you think the world would be better off without the unique and beautiful culture created by yours parents and mine, and lived by me and millions of others? Why don’t you love us, and yourself, and your country enough to think we should be part of it?