The Daily Beast published an interview — a bit of a back scratching set of questions and answers, really — that Meghan McCain did with First Lady of Lousiana Supriya Jindal. I read it and recalled Governor Bobby Jindal’s interview on 60 Minutes. It rubbed me the wrong way for a lot of reasons. I don’t doubt that Bobby Jindal is extremely intelligent and sincere in his love for America. His resume is really impressive. It doesn’t bother me that he changed his name from Piyush to Bobby and converted from Hinduism to Christianity. A lot of these things that many Indian Americans look askance at when they talk at the kitchen table don’t concern me much.
If Bobby Jindal truly is the next leader of the Republican Party, however, his rhetoric about being American does concern me. So far, that rhetoric has come from his wife. When the couple was asked on 60 Minutes if they have maintained any Indian traditions, they responded this way:
Morley Safer (correspondent): Does your family maintain any of the Indian traditions?
Supriya Jindal: Not too many. I mean, not…
Bobby Jindal: They’ve been here for so many years that…
Supriya Jindal: … that we’ve sort of adapted. We were raised as Americans, you know? We were raised as Louisians. So, that’s how we live our lives.
To me, this line, “We’re not Indian, we’re American” begs the question: If you maintain traditions and do not completely assimilate, does that mean you are less American? Mrs. Jindal reiterated her stance on this issue with the The Daily Beast:
[McCain] One thing that I think is really interesting about you guys is that during the election, President Obama’s culture was so much a part of his narrative, stump speech, rhetoric, and books. But with you and the governor, your culture is there but it’s not as emphasized as much as it was with President Obama. Is there a reason?
[Mrs. Jindal] Well, you know, we share with our kids about their ancestors and why they decided to come to America, and they have created this wonderful life for themselves here. They were able to raise their children here. Like we talked about earlier, they were able to create a better life for their children here than they had growing up. The reality is, is that we were raised as Americans. The American dream is alive and well and that is what we try and teach our children. We can do anything in America, especially in Louisiana. You can grow up to be an astronaut or whatever you want to be in this country. I think we instill it in that way with our family. It is not something we hide or aren’t open about.
Mrs. Jindal uses the word “ancestors” here, though both her and the Governor’s parents grew up in India. And even if their parents brought no Indian culture with them or passed nothing that looks like Indian traditions down to their children, I wonder about the implicit assertion here that less immigrant culture equals a more American upbringing. If she asked Forbes magazine commentator Jason Richwine, Indians are the model minority in this country — that helps them be more American, right? President Obama has given first- and second-generation immigrants a chance to believe that they are truly American. I wonder if the Jindals are sending the opposite message to those who have maintained traditions from abroad.