Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) has the sort of resume that would make any Indian (including yours truly) jealous. A graduate of Brown and a Rhodes Scholar, Jindal worked at top consulting firm McKinsey and managed the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, all before the age of 30.
In watching his recent response to Obama’s joint Congressional address, there was also this sense of pride in seeing one of us receive so much media coverage (for once). But obviously, that’s where the love ends, unfortunately. Because, while I’ve always thought of Jindal’s meteoric rise as a proud accomplishment for Indians here, he hasn’t returned the love. Quite the opposite. Even before running for public office, Jindal carefully neutralized his racial and immigrant background and a large part of it was by design. Immigrants, and by extension minorities, are in a constant bind where despite attempts to “assimilate” into mainstream white America, there is a tendency to otherize us and exaggerate our differences as indicative of our inherent outsider status. Besides, in order to win in Louisiana, Jindal had to repeatedly counter some racist bullshit from Democrats as well as the general public. From his first (unsucessful) gubernatorial run in 2003-
“If there was a racist backlash against Jindal anywhere, it would be in north Louisiana, in Duke country,” Louisiana political analyst John Maginnis told Rod Dreher of National Review Online after the race. To some extent, Blanco laid the groundwork for a such a backlash herself. She dusted off her maiden name and campaigned as Kathleen Babineaux Blanco. Voters encountered the full name on the ballot, where her opponent was listed as “Bobby” Jindal, complete with quotation marks (Jindal’s given name is Piyush). Appealing to tribal instincts in the only state where Frenchness is still considered a virtue, Blanco’s packaging of herself was designed to make it clear who had the deeper roots in Cajun country.
…There was a small amount of coverage of northern Louisiana’s racial politics during the race — Adam Nossiter’s AP dispatch from last Friday, a set of quotes culled to make the town of Amite, Louisiana, sound as awful as possible (sample: “Really, you got a foreigner and a woman. So it’s a hard choice to make”), was typical — but the “Babineaux Blanco” appeal to “Duke country” has gone mostly unnoticed.
So, in that sense, I’m astounded that Jindal even won, despite the tensions. But, I can’t help but wonder if his ascendancy has come at a price. There is disappointment, to be sure, over Jindal’s silence on his heritage and racism in Louisiana. Moreover, his abysmal record on immigration seems to fly in the face of his own background and hurts the community as a whole. I worry that in criticizing Jindal, though, that I’m indulging in similar antics as when some claimed (and still do) that Obama wasn’t “black enough.” I hated those arguments and yet, here I am, trying to do the same thing to Jindal. While I’m not expecting an endorsement of the issues affecting the South Asian community, am I wrong in asking for at least of an acknowledgement? I’m not the only one, apparently.
“My children ask, ‘Why does Uncle Bobby never visit us?’ ” said Asha Jindal, who has never spoken to Bobby Jindal although she is married to his cousin. “He is a famous American now, but this is his real home.”