time out of a hectic vacation for a few hours to recoup and reflect in a
dark hotel room with a slit of light through the curtains and the whirr of
the air-conditioner as distraction is absolutely necessary in America
unless you want to be swallowed up by this vast country.
children and their father were out sightseeing, a treat I was glad to miss
in this heat which has left much of America limp with fatigue. Our first
stop was Washington - actually a suburb of it - where we were to attend a
typical Punjabi Indian wedding. The daughter of Indian parents who moved
to Tobago when she was just three, and later Trinidad, was getting married
to a boy whose parents moved to America when he was just six months. They
are perfectly matched, both engineers, both qualified in the States.
we got an inside look at what is normally only guessed at: the many
bubbles in which immigrant communities in America live. The difference
between immigrant communities in Trinidad and those in America is that
here the original country or culture is copied and stamped on to where
ever migrants settle. (We have had to reinvent ourselves since even many
of our parents haven’t experienced an original mother country.)
is a country of immigrants who live in bubbles of their original or
parents’ homeland, who, despite their American status, call themselves
Indian, Korean, Mexican, Pakistani, or whatever, and refer to the white
settlers as “Americans”. In Washington and its suburbs, the Punjabi
community alone is 50,000 strong. The language, religion, apparel, food
are maintained almost in toto. Fashions and trends are updated by frequent
visits “home”, in states, countries, and continents of their birth.
in India there were several ceremonies leading up to the actual wedding,
including the mehendi - where henna is applied in intricate designs on the
bride’s hands and feet, and then to those of the women around her. On
this occasion there is robust dancing to the catchy beat of the bhangra -
a long-standing craze among young Indians, in and outside of India.
I meet young pretty women, married and single, dressed in salvaar khameez,
eagerly holding out their palms for henna, dancing and mouthing the latest
crazes in Indian film music, speaking Punjabi, Hindi amongst one another -
looking as if they’ve lived all their lives in traditional India. But
once they open their mouths, the reality is that almost every young woman
in this room, including the bride, is highly qualified, in traditional
male fields: computers, engineering, medicine.The girls work, and even as
they observe all the tradition of respect towards their elders, and live
in a largely Indian community, they are as independent as their
“American” peers for one simple reason: they have earning power.
surprise is that despite the world’s worship of America and all it
represents, despite the impressive freeways with seven lanes, the
never-ending highways, the overt affluence of public buildings from
theatres to banks, the private excesses, the ability to create and market
celebrities and commodities, there is no such thing as an evolved American
only difference between us and them, as a young woman explained to us in a
downtown outdoor cafe, is that everyone, from the chairwoman to the CEO,
takes immense pride in their work. “We define by our work ethic. We take
pride in every job we do.”
is not politically correct to applaud America. Immigration has given rise
to more than its share of hate crimes towards non-whites. Blacks, despite
the fact that they are rooted in the history of this country, still have a
long way to go before they are assimilated here. But America has also
given asylum to more refugees than any other country in the world. The
success stories of immigrants are apparent everywhere - in banks and
businesses, in universities and on the sports field, in entertainment and
actual wedding, in a five-star hotel in Washington’s suburbs, was an
overwhelming example of the affluence that immigrants have obviously
earned here. Here, well-heeled guests, all Punjabis dressed in expensive
silks and loaded with jewelry, drank scotch, ate the rich food of the
North, and danced the night away to the Bhangra beat and, to the delight
of the party from Trinidad, a calypso or two.
may have been the heat - white sun bouncing off white marble-faced
buildings - monuments to Presidents, Capital Hill, tall Smithsonian
buildings, but in the day, Washington, with its lifeless streets and wide
inaccessible roads, struck me as one of the most boring cities I have been
to. It lacks the soul and energy of Chicago, New York, London, Paris.
is lovely though is the landscape in the parks and outside the cities -
endless pine trees flanking wide streets, wisteria climbing walls, the
smell of freshly hewn grass, and a plethora of summer flowers - from the
common daisies to large gaudy roses.
one thing I will never get over - and it will probably be a recurring
theme in these travel pieces - is America’s ability to produce, market
and consume. Everything is big, huge: the cars, the servings, the people,
the roads, the shops. The image of a person who is obese, gluttonous but
never sated comes to mind.
week: San Fransisco and LA.