Diana Jue-Rajasingh

Growing Up Trying to Understanding Black and White as a Yellow

Posted in Family, Personal by Diana on July 15, 2016

If white, as it has been historically, is the top of the racial hierarchy in America, and black, historically, is the bottom, will yellow assume the place of the racial middle? The role of the racial middle is a critical one. It can reinforce white supremacy if the middle deludes itself into thinking it can be just like white if it tries hard enough. Conversely, the middle can dismantle white supremacy if it refuses to be the middle, if it refuses to buy into racial hierarchy, and if it refuses to abandon communities of black and brown people, choosing instead to forge alliances with them. – Mari J. Matsuda, We Will Not Be Used

Last week was a difficult one for America. Since I’m in India at the moment, I don’t even get to experience what the atmosphere must be like in person. But when I read the news reports and the responses from people I know, I felt very heavy hearted.

Here are some memories of growing up and learning about blacks and whites as a yellow person. In my home, we were particularly vocal about race — as in, race is something we spoke about pretty vocally. I left some of the more racially-charged comments out. Here are some memories, in roughly chronological order.

  • My dad had a white manager who used to “joke” about dropping an atomic bomb onto South Central Los Angeles, which is predominantly black. My dad never found the “joke” to be very funny, but he repeated it out of a blend of anger, sadness, and that sarcasm that you use when you don’t know how to react.
  • “Be thankful for blacks and Hispanics. If they weren’t around, we’d have it a lot worse.” — my dad.
  • I watched the Rodney King police beatings on TV from my grandparents’ house. I didn’t understand what was going on. My grandparents and parents were frightened by the consequential LA riots. My dad said that if I hear gunshots from home, I should lie facedown on the ground floor utility room to lessen the chances of stray bullets hitting me.
  • One of the main reasons that my parents sent me to a preppy all-girl high school was so that I could “learn to talk to white people.” However, my friends ended up being all Asian, and one of the worst insults was to be called “white-washed.”
  • My high school history teacher walked us through American history through different lenses. When we were finished with the African American unit, I thought to myself, “I am so thankful to not be black.” I had finally understood that black in America is still so hard.

I think that a lot of Asian Americans don’t know how to react to the police brutalities and to the reality of institutionalized racism within our justice system. Asian Americans are a minority, like blacks and browns, but we’re a “model minority.” Being in the middle, we both experience privilege (which we have to acknowledge!) and also discrimination (which we also can’t brush off). It’s easy to be indifferent when our own “kind” is sitting pretty comfortably. It’s easy to stay silent so that we don’t ruffle any feathers in the wrong way.

I personally believe that we Asian Americans should get behind #blacklivesmatter. Blacks and Hispanics have had to fight in ways that our most recent generations of Asian Americans cannot identify with, although we also cannot ignore the price our ancestors have paid and the price that some current immigrants are paying right now. Rather than ignore the more evident struggle of blacks, Hispanics, and other groups, let us Asian Americans actively acknowledge it within our own communities, speak against the racist speech and violence wherever we find it, and allow individuals we know in those communities the space to speak out wherever we can.

If you’re interested, here are a few articles and initiatives on the matter:

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The Two Americas, The New Yorker

Posted in Family, Personal by Diana on July 7, 2016

There are now, in a sense, two Asian Americas: one formed by five centuries of systemic racism, and another, more genteel version, constituted in the aftermath of the 1965 law. These two Asian Americas float over and under each other like tectonic plates, often clanging discordantly.

This article came out almost a year ago, but someone brought it up again to me. Both my mom and dad’s families immigrated to the US prior to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. My great-grandfather and grandfather fought for the USA in World War I and II, respectively. My great-grandmother was blamed by her parents for the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. My grandfather remembers growing up in the Great Depression, during which he ate chicken everyday … and afterward would no longer eat chicken. My dad remembers the various phases and places of LA’s Chinatown and grew up on the poorer side of the spectrum. He and his brothers and sister participated in the early years of the Love Boat. My mom’s parents ran a grocery store in Texas, and in California, my grandfather worked as a butcher and my grandmother worked as a seamstress. My grandmother never learned English in San Francisco’s Richmond district. My aunt, who was a chemistry professor in China, took up a job as a hotel maid.

Because of the grit and hard work of the generations that preceded us, my cousins and I have been able to capture part of that American dream that our ancestors longed for years ago. We’ve seriously taken it for granted, as well. Not all immigrant families who arrived like my family were able to achieve wealth and material success, even in subsequent generations. This may be surprising to some people, who probably equate Asian Americans with higher education and wealth (and math). But in reality, overall Chinese American prosperity that stems from the newer wave of post-1965 immigration tends to obscure the higher-than-average poverty rate for Chinese Americans.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I had a lot of “new immigrant” friends. They generally lived in big houses in rich, very Asian neighborhoods (e.g. Chan Marino and Arcasia). Many of them had fathers who did some type of unspecified “business” between the US and China. We were all Chinese-blooded and living in America, but my Chinese American culture was completely different from theirs. Like, I was kind of ghetto — I lived in a neighborhood where my mom was scared of letting me walk outside because of, you know, the gangs and drive-by shootings. My family frequented Chinatown, and their families stayed in the San Gabriel Valley. I was used to Chinese restaurants with greasy tables and kitsch red and gold decor; they ate in places with tablecloths. I have a new wave immigrant friend whose boyfriend is old school immigrant. My friend’s mom disapproves of him, since his mom is a dim sum cart pusher. But when I visited his parents’ house with my friend, the sound of clacking mahjong tiles and loud Cantonese banter made me feel at home.

In reality, there are two Asian Americas. It’s too easy to believe that all Asian Americans work as doctors, lawyers, or engineers and have children to go to Ivy League colleges. Despite what the media says about Asian Americans being the “model minority,” it is unjust to assume that all Asian immigrants reach that level of achievement. Asian American poverty is invisibly growing, especially among seniors and Southeast Asian refugee communities, which tend to get clumped together in the data with other Asian ethnic groups. Recognizing their problems is the first step of making progress.

While that happens, though, please enjoy this 42 year old video of my dad doing a Chinese sword dance. This is what happens when a boy born in Bakersfield, California attempts to get in touch with his Chinese roots.

Visiting Pondicherry

Posted in India, Personal, Traveling by Diana on June 8, 2016

After attending a second cousin’s wedding in Chennai, Josh and I went to Pondicherry (also known as Pondy or Puducherry) this past weekend. Pondicherry is known for being the headquarters of the French East India Company, so its French Quarter area, by the beach and separated by a canal, still has that colonial look.

Neither Josh nor I had been there before, and the town was on both of our must-see-in-India-before-we-leave lists. Despite it being early June during our visit (that is, near-deadly hot and humid), we took the trip. I thought I’d write about our trip there.

Transportation

Getting there: We weren’t sure how to get to Pondicherry from Chennai. There were air conditioned private buses that we found on Goibibo and Redbus, but those tickets were Rs 500 per person. We knew we could do better. Josh’s dad recommended that we head to Chennai’s government bus stand at Koyambedu and see if we could find any air conditioned public buses. Sure enough, we found the Pondicherry Road Transport Corporation buses that were located at the right side of the bus stand after entering through the main entrance. One ticket in an air conditioned bus cost Rs 200, and we could pay onboard with cash. Our bus left at 5:30pm, and it took us four hours to reach Pondicherry (one hour was spent trying to get out of the massive urban agglomeration that is Chennai).

Getting around: We rented pedal bicycles to get around Pondicherry’s French Quarters. There’s a row of bicycle rental stalls on Mission Street. I think we were overcharged for our bicycles, though — we paid Rs 75/bicycle/day, and I later learned that the going rate was around Rs 50. Alas. You can also rent scooters and motorbikes from some of these stalls, if that’s more your style.

What to Do 

What is there to do in Pondicherry? Josh and I aren’t the type to visit ashrams and temples, so to be honest, there’s not too much to do. Hence, it makes for a relaxing vacation. We also went during a very hot summer month, so we spent most of our afternoons in an air-conditioned cafe or our hotel room.

The beach and promenade: Pondicherry situated along the Bay of Bengal. However, the beach is a rocky one, not a sandy one. What’s nice about the beach, though, is that the road along the beach is closed to all vehicular traffic from 6:30pm to 7am. In the evening and early morning, it turns into a large pedestrian street with folks strolling along the paved road, sitting on the rocks at the coast, and little people climbing up and sliding down important monuments like the Gandhi statue.

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Josh and Diana at the beach.

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It’s like the entire town was out and about in the evenings and early mornings.

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The kids and Gandhiji along the beach.

The sunrise: One of my favorite activities was watching a sunrise at the beach. Josh and I woke up at 5am to head toward the beach by 5:30am. The sunrise was at 5:45am, but because of the clouds, we couldn’t see much until around 6am. The view wasn’t super spectacular (that really just depends on atmospheric conditions), but it was a fun experience. Afterward, we attempted to find a breakfast place that was open … and didn’t quite succeed. Pondicherry commercial establishments wake up late.

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5:45am-ish sunrise over the Bay of Bengal.

The French Quarters: We stayed in the French Quarters, and a highlight was riding our bicycles through the small streets of White Town and Heritage Town. The traffic was relatively light so that I, an unconfident bicycle rider, could still feel relatively safe. The tree-lined roads and heritage buildings were scenic.

The eats: This was probably my favorite part of Pondicherry. The French Quarters are littered with small cafes and restaurants. I wouldn’t say that the food is particularly cheap, but the variety is good. I’ve noticed, though, that restaurants shut down quite frequently or are closed during hours they’re publicized as being open. Try calling ahead before attempting to follow Google Maps to the location.

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Cafe des Arts had rave reviews on Zomato and Google, but it wasn’t open when we tried to eat there! Evidently, they’re closed for a month.

For pizza: I’m not sure why, but there are at least five pizza joints in Pondicherry. Of the ones that Josh and I tried, Cafe Xtasi on Mission Street is our favorite. The variety of pizzas on its menu is quite astounding (more than I’ve seen on menus in Bangalore), and the thin crust is actually crisp and not soggy. We went for lunch on a Saturday, and it was pretty crowded. Also note that the air conditioning doesn’t work if there’s a power cut, and their brick oven can make sitting indoors quite brutal.

For burgers: Canteen 18 on Canteen Street. I actually wrote my first Zomato review for this tiny restaurant, since I agreed to do so after the guy at the counter asked me to. Anyway, these beef burgers are juicy (unlike the overcooked ones I normally get in Bangalore), come with special sauces (I got barbecue), and are completely made to order. There’s only outdoor seating for perhaps 10 people, but at least there are fans that make it pleasant enough.

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Much beef burger juiciness at Canteen 18.

For croissants: Baker Street on Bussy Street. The quiches and sandwiches are overpriced, but the croissants are affordable and delicious. However, Josh likes to note the cafe’s confused identities: the place is named “Baker Street” and has signage that invokes Sherlock Holmes, it sells French foods, and there are paintings of geishas hanging indoors.

For gelato/ice cream: Gelateria Montecatini Terme (GTM) on Beach Road. This place probably had the best value for money for food items. I mean, Rs 40 for a legitimate cup of ginger and lime gelato is a great deal, and that little cup packed so much taste. The spread of flavors was very wide, including everything from mango and guava to mocha and more traditional and decadent Italian flavors.

For an air conditioned cafe: The Indian Kaffe Express on Dumas Street. The cafe sports a decent list of coffees and non-coffee beverages to choose from, as well as waffles and other small eats. Josh and I spent hours in there to beat the mid-day heat.

For South Indian: Surguru, in multiple locations. This is Pondicherry’s South Indian food chain. There was even a map of Pondicherry’s French Quarters on the door of the restaurant that we went to. Josh was craving a Tamil Nadu-style ghee roast, since they’re more difficult to come by in Bangalore. I wanted a masala dosa, and we were both satisfied. Service was meh, but the air conditioning was super strong.

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You can’t see it, but the door of this Pondicherry South Indian food chain has a map of Pondicherry on it.

For date night: Le Dupleix on Casern Street. This restaurant/hotel is the restored house of a French general. His mini-biography is in the restaurant’s menu, and it’s pretty sad, actually — by the end of his life, he was professional and personal failure. However, some smart people did do some beautiful things with his Pondicherry home, so I suppose that all was not lost! The food is a mix of Indian and “continental.” We had the French onion soup (not beef brothy-enough), the tenderloin (very tender), and the pork chops (covered with pesto sauce — good for me, not good for Josh). The highlight was the decor and also the white guy playing a violin. We made a reservation that evening, so we got to sit indoors (with air conditioning) instead of outdoors (with mosquito coils).

The Countdown

Posted in Essmart, Faith, India, Personal by Diana on May 23, 2016

After nearly four years of living and working in India, I’ll be heading back to the US (along with my husband) to start a new chapter as a PhD student at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Although I’ve been living the social enterprise start-up life, it has honestly been taking a toll. I have a lot to unpack from my experiences on the ground, but I require the space to do this in an analytical and unbiased way. Being an entrepreneur provides very little space to question the work that we do (because I’m perpetually projecting “We are awesome, give us money!”), but my research-oriented mind tends to be more critical. Of course, I still believe in Essmart’s mission and its operations, and I’ll still be involved to some degree and through research, but I need the renewed perspective and refreshment of taking a step back.

My husband and I have about two more months left in Bangalore. I’m already starting the countdown to our departure. One of my Echoing Green chaplains said that instead of sprinting to the finish line, I should consider taking a “cool down” instead. Honestly, that term just justifies what I’ve been feeling already. By the time I leave, all of my responsibilities have to be handed off to other people, and I should effectively be doing nothing.

Additionally, the chaplain mentioned that I should be intentional about honoring the years that I’ve spent here, which have been life-changing for me. The Lord has been incredibly faithful, providing an excellent home-away-from-home through a new family (through my husband and his), a church family, and my Essmart family. I’ve learned a ridiculous amount — how to lead in a style that suits me in professional and faith/church-related settings, how to open my life and home to more people in a way that’s sustainable, how to think more about business, how to cook a number of foods from scratch, and so much more. There is so much to honor, and there are so many people to honor. I cannot easily leave this place, and for this I am thankful.