It’s possible that Guilt is the most unifying characteristic of all mash-ups. WHY DIDN’T WE LEARN THAT LANGUAGE?
Here’s one of our fan favorites:
With the great joy of being a Mash-Up American also comes great guilt. You can choose the best of multiple cultures! But what if you ignore your mom’s — does that mean you love your dad more? You can kinda sorta speak four languages! But you can’t really communicate with your grandmother. You’ve fallen in love with someone from a different country and you get to taste and experience and learn so many new and exciting things! But you’ve made your parents sad that they won’t have [insert religion/culture/ethnicity/race here] grandchildren.
The guilt can feel insurmountable. But you’re not alone! We here at The Mash-Up Americans feel guilty every day! So let’s all release our guilt monsters, give them a little breathing room, and maybe they’ll decide they’re having so much fun together they’ll ditch us and go get some pupusas and beer.
Here, we’ll start.
"My Spanish is way better than my Korean, and I can communicate better with my husband’s relatives in Colombia than I can with my Korean halmunee in Chicago. I understand most everything that is said to me in Korean, but I can barely stumble through ordering soondooboo chigae and galbi without getting nervous and embarrassed. I mean, soondooboo and galbi are super important, and nobody can get away with talking smack about me behind my back, but I wish I’d made keeping Korean (my first language) a priority.” [Editor’s note: In an incredible turn of events, Amy ACCIDENTALLY EMAILED THIS STATEMENT TO HER MOTHER. Her mom said it was okay, and that keeping a language is hard if you don’t have lots of places to practice it. Amy still feels guilty, and it is somehow so much worse that her mother is understanding of the issue. Life is complicated.]
"My mom speaks 6 languages (Spanish, English, Hebrew, Portuguese, French, German) and speaks all of them really well. I am fluent in Spanish, although I feel embarrassed speaking to my family in Spanish. I just respond in English. I understand Portuguese very well and can communicate, but it’s really more Portunol (Spanish Portuguese hybrid). How will I teach my kids? What will this look like? Am I lazy? Stupid? Why didn’t I listen to my mom when I was little?”
Oh hey! Big things happening in Mash-Up Land. We are getting ready to launch a new site in the next few weeks….In the meantime we are going to be posting some of our fan favorites.
We cannot wait to share our new site with you.
Happy long weekend, all. We’re going to try and sleep off our sleep drunkenness.
What’s a Jewish girl to do when her Catholic in-laws say Grace before dinner? Co-founder Rebecca doles out advice in this week’s Forward about keeping an open heart and making new rituals based in traditions.
Mash-Up India! Some stories and recipes about the influence of Persians in Mumbai.
Hello Kitty is Not a Cat
It has been revealed that she is a permanent third grader from outside of London. Our response: Nope. She’s a cat in a dress.
Three Quarters of Whites Don’t Have Any Non-White Friends
Co-founder Amy just now learned that she is so many people’s Token Asian Friend. We still have work to do Mash-Ups! Get cracking.
Zara Offers Striped Star of David Shirt
Times of Israel
Zara is selling a striped shirt with a yellow fabric Jewish star on it. Um, how did not one person at Zara say, “Hey, that reminds me of the Holocaust.”
A story about Korean women that’s NOT about plastic surgery!
h/t Full Disclosure
We are not mad at this panda who realized that she would get treats if she pretended to have all the symptoms of pregnancy.
Long Read: A Russian woman who made matches for Russian girls came to America in search of her own match…a Persian doctor in California.
We love a good language map. Maybe we should learn Tatar?
Mira Jacob, author of this summer’s astonishing The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, has blasted her way into the literary canon with an epic novel about an Indian family grappling with grief, secrets, love, and life as they make their way through this American life in New Mexico. Now living in Brooklyn, Jacob sat down with The Mash-Up Americans to talk arranged marriages, cultural identity, and why she’s probably not the next Jhumpa Lahiri (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Let’s talk about names. What’s your maiden name?
Mira Jacob is my maiden name. I’m Syrian Christian, so it always fools people. My husband is Jed Rothstein. It’s funny because when his parents’ friends found out that he was marrying someone named Mira Jacob, they said, “Oh, a nice Jewish girl!” My parents came over in the late 60s from Kerala. I grew up in New Mexico. And it’s like, Oh, you have no idea.
Oh man. Does everybody make assumptions about your name, like I just did?
The thing about Syrian Christianity is that it started in India in 50 AD. But there’s this assumption that it came over with the British and colonization. My family really bristles that. Like, we were Christian when you people were still chasing Odin around the woods! It’s a point of pride with our brand of Indian.
You’ve written beautifully about your parents’ arranged marriage. When did you find out it was arranged?
When I was little. I remember understanding that there were love and arranged marriages. And love marriage to me sounded like a rock ‘n roll version of marriage. I’d watch all my friends’ parents, and think, That’s a love marriage for SURE.
Did your parents want you date and marry an Indian?
The good thing about my parents is that we were so far away from any other Indians they didn’t have that mindset, whereas I think when there’s a big Indian community, you can fall into that. They weren’t like “You must date Indians,” because that would have meant dating my brother. The first person that ever took an interest in me was an African-American guy in high school. Everyone said we should date because we looked so good together. I mean, because we’re kind of the same color? He was mixed race, half white and half African American – but at that point, the white kids were the ones who set the rules on who was black, and he was black.
What did your parents think of you dating a black guy?
They were okay with it, but they were pretty worried about what my grandfather would think of it when he came to visit because Indians and Indians raised in America are notoriously racist. My best friend, Laura, was white. My boyfriend was half black and half white. And when my grandfather saw him, he said, “Oh! Laura’s brother!” And my dad was like, "I guess there’s Indians and everyone else."
That attitude is probably true for a lot of people. So, were they were fine with you marrying a Jewish man?
Jed is actually from my hometown. New Mexico is its own country in America. My parents were so happy with the fact that I was marrying a New Mexican, they thought, Okay, you’re marrying one of us. I felt that way as well. Also, I was 31 when I got married, and they were just relieved that someone was going to marry me.
Do you seek connection with an Indian community?
I’m a writer. In writing, you have to have a point of view. For a long time I didn’t write about my experiences because I felt I didn’t know enough about being American, or about being Indian. And at some point, I accepted that I just know what I know. I take my son back to India to meet his relatives and I think about how when that generation dies, he won’t really have a connection to the culture the way I do. But I don’t feel the same sort of longing for an Indian community that maybe my parents did, because my community, the family that I’ve gone in for, is the creative community of Brooklyn. That’s the family that I’ve decided to make. I need people to understand my lifestyle and my ideas and the way that I’m going to bring up my kid. And I get that from the multicultural Brooklyn experience.
We think a lot about authenticity and the question that you raised, of “Are you American enough” or “Are you Indian enough.” Does that concern you with your son? Is there a way to be both?
Sand moves through our hands so quickly. You’re always losing your cultural identity. And that’s terrible. But I never paid attention to the sand right under our hands. What does that loss change into? And that is valuable thing, that unto itself, and it’s important that it lives out in the world. Our parents are in such mourning for what they lost, and that’s what translates into longing for us, as first-generation kids. But that’s not the only way into the cultural conversation, and that won’t be true for our kids.
So tell us about your kid. We agonize about names at Mash-Up. Zakir Rothstein is a big name for a Christian Indian woman with a Jewish sounding name and her husband Jed Rothstein.
I told Jed, listen, he’s gonna have your last name, he should have a name that locates him as Indian, from me. One of my favorite names has always been Zakir, after Zakir Hussein, who was a rock and roll tabla player when I was young. He toured with Neil Young and Pearl Jam and represented to me the ability of Indians to be rock stars. However. It’s a Muslim name. And the majority of Zakirs in the world are from Pakistan. So I chose an Indian name that’s not even of my culture. When we told my mother-in-law that we were going to give him an Indian name, she said “Okay, just be sure not to give him a name that sounds like a terrorist.” Like, great! Thanks. To her credit, when she says stuff like that I immediately say something and she’s great about it and understands why it’s wrong. So Jed calls them up after our baby is born and tells them his name. They go and look it up and the first definition of “Zakir” that comes up in Google is “eulogizer of Allah.” We didn’t think about the fact that the internet was going to give our Jewish relatives heart palpitations.
What is the best part of being in a mash-up marriage?
When you’re both to the side of mainstream culture, you learn that you have to scramble and find solutions that other people wouldn’t necessarily have to look for. There’s a natural curiosity that we both have because of it.
The most challenging?
I think it’s the incidental racism, which is not always worth discussing because it’s not worth disrupting the whole familial relationship. For example, we got married right after “Monsoon Wedding” came out, and Jed’s family kept coming up to us and asking, “Is this going to be like Monsoon Wedding?” And I’m thinking, What are you looking for? Indians jumping out of cakes? Want elephants running through? Need rose petals thrown at you? What is going to make this feel like enough of a party to you for you to feel like you’ve had an ethnic experience?
And they’re like, Is it rude for us to say that? YES, IT IS. I’m having a wedding, not something for your entertainment. And also, we’re in New Mexico. So let’s go with desert wedding.
We love desert weddings! What one piece of advice would you give to Mash-Ups navigating their in-laws?
Understand and expect that they will say something wholly damaging to your identity and that even in that, there is no point at which you should give up on your relationship. That ugly moment is going to happen and it still doesn’t mean the game is over. My in-laws, for example, are hard, but they’re really good. After I had Zakir, my in-laws went on a trip to India because they just wanted to understand where their grandson was partially from. That was the greatest gift that they could have ever given me. And they wanted to learn a little bit more about him, because they love him, and their love for him was even deeper after their trip. It was amazing.
What else is amazing are your book reviews, all of which are glowing, and all of which compare you to Jhumpa Lahiri. How does that make you feel?
It’s funny because it started with one review that was like, “Comparisons to Lahiri are inevitable.” Then the next one was like, “There have been comparisons to Lahiri.” And next one was “She’s no Lahiri!” And I just thought, you’re talking in a vacuum to yourselves. On the one hand, great! She’s a great writer, and I’m thrilled at the comparison. On the other hand, I have about in much in common with Lahiri stylistically as I do with Woody Allen, and maybe more with Woody Allen. But what are you going to do?
Before you wrote your book, did you feel there were characters and stories in the world that reflected you?
Some of Junot Diaz’s characters. Danzy Senna’s story in Caucasia. But the reason I wrote this book was that I didn’t see the kind of Indians in literature that I knew everywhere. The Indians that are doing drugs and cursing and living life and having these outlandish American moments. I didn’t see them anywhere and I wanted to write them.
Never miss anything from The Mash-Up Americans. Sign up for our newsletter.
LOVE MIRA? YOU’LL ALSO LIKE THESE GUYS, TOO:
This week was: being heartbroken; being heartbroken again; and finding healing in these tiny hermit homes. Peace and love, family. There’s a superhero in us all.
National Park Service Wants Minorities to Please Come Visit
New York Times
Only one in five visitors to a national park is nonwhite. Only one in 10 is Hispanic. The National Park Service is trying to attract more diverse visitors by sponsoring expeditions for minorities, hiring more diverse employees, and recognizing more minority figures at monuments. Change the ratio, yo.
The Iranian mathematician was awarded the Fields Medal, considered the Nobel Prize for mathematics, for her work that — no joke — may someday help explain how the universe came to exist, among other things. Raised in Tehran, she is now a full professor at Stanford, where she lives with her husband and mash-up daughter.
Our one and only papi chulo Roy Choi announced plans for a show on CNN called “Street Food.” He’ll collaborate with Jon Favreau, whom he worked with on Chef. Besitos, papi! We’ll be cooking galbi in your honor.
Acceptance of a transgender kid can be hard for any parent, and particularly for conservative, religious, first-generation mash-up parents. But for this extraordinary half-Japanese Mormon family in Utah, love for their daughter surpassed all cultural bounds. Our Cry of the Week.
A white American woman who took her Chinese husband’s last name asks our favorite advice columnist (after co-founder Rebecca, of course) about what to do when potential employers are surprised or disappointed that she’s not Chinese. [Editor’s note: Isn’t everybody kindof Chinese?]
The Guardian: “Diversity of opinion and perspectives, and of course the different lenses of people, are vital ingredients for a lively, balanced and enriched debate.” Vox: “A diverse staff should have a mix of racial backgrounds, sexual identities, and different genders. The team should come from different geographic locations and should have different economic, religious, and political backgrounds.” Mash-Up: We agree. Which is why this is disturbing.
Pope Francis arrived in South Korea this week and promptly squeezed himself into a Kia Seoul — er, Soul. Very un-Gangnam of him.
Our dear Iranian-Jewish-American Mash-Up Roben Farzad immigrated with his family to the U.S. from Iran in 1978 as a young boy, settling in Miami. He went on to serve as a cultural and financial translator for his parents, his community, and eventually, the general populace, as a prominent journalist at publications such as Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and a frequent guest on CNN, PBS, CNBC and others. He is the creator of Full Disclosure, a weekly radio show that blends culture with business and personality with finance, bringing it all down to earth in a Farsi and Spanish-inflected conversation that is all Roben, and all Mash-Up. We’d like to smack him with a bunch of scallions. Listen to his show, follow him on Twitter, and learn how a Tanzanian royal became a doorman and day trader in New York.
First, our Mash-Up Speed Round Questions! Who are you?
I’m a renegade of funk (funk).
How do you mash up?
I’m an Iranian Jew who speaks Spanish living in Richmond, Va., the one-time capitol of the Confederacy. I like to fix up my friends and get very different restaurants to collaborate on bizarre lovechild dishes. Moreover, I adore RC Cola.
Where do you feel most at home?
Holding my children. Smelling their hair.
What is your comfort food?
Persian food: Kabobs w rice, Shirazi salad and tadig (the crunchy bottom of the rice pot). Those of you in Manhattan have to hit the joint Ravagh. Those in the DC area should try this at Shamshiri.
What do you call your grandma?
Mamangigi was her name…she passed away in 2009. When we left Iran, she made me a red blanky that I could only part ways with at age 22. I see her smile and sarcasm in my son.
What is your bubbemeise? [Editor’s note: See Korean Fan Death.]
Jews can sanction strictly kosher Bacon bits! It’s true.
Speaking of bacon, let’s talk about who brings it home and how. How did you first learn about how money works?
When I was five, I casually shoplifted orange Tic-Tacs at the grocery checkout. I then proceeded to offer them to Dad on the ride home. He nonchalantly u-turned, walked me to the customer service counter and demanded the manager let me take the mic to apologize to the store. For good measure, Dad, ever the patriot, made me recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The poor manager was, like, “Sir, you really don’t need to do this. He can keep them.” But Dad gave me a dollar and I paid the manager. Never again did I touch Tic Tacs.
How many languages can you say “money” in? How many languages do you speak, anyways?
Three languages: English, Farsi and Spanish. In New York, a Korean co-worker taught me how to accost shop owners for a discount. I walk in to a dry cleaner or corner store, do a tomahawk chop and yell: “I love Korea. Everything Korean. Now, hook me up w/ a discount, sister!” [Editor’s note: It’s true, and it wasn’t even Amy.] And I once pulled this stunt.
How would you define your family? Working class, middle class, upper middle, professional, educated, intellectual?
Proud workers who value education and family above all else.
Do you think how your family deals with money has more to do with being an immigrant, or being Persian, or being Jewish?
I come from a long line of illiterate merchants. My Dad’s father completely mortgaged his life to break the cycle and send his children to medical school. Iranian-Americans as a whole, I find, still stick to old half-truths about the can’t-lose nature of property, oil and gold. They are skeptical of the stock and bond markets. Many — particularly in “Tehrangeles” — still do self-destructive things like taking out loan-shark loans to marry off their daughters in spectacularly wasteful fashion. I’m grateful we opted for the East Coast stay-in-school route over the West’s Shahs of Sunset track.
How do you think your family’s immigrant experience shaped their relationship to money?
When you lose everything you’ve inherited and everything you’ve worked for to give your child a better life in America, you take nothing for granted and cherish financial self-determination.
Do you pay for your parents? [Editor’s note: We agonize over it here.]
I do. I owe them so much. We fight over every dinner out, every plane ticket.
Was your family a cash family? A credit family? A put-it-all-in-the-bank family?
All cash. No credit = no problem.
Do they trust others with their money? Do you?
I wouldn’t trust Mother Teresa with my parents’ savings.
How does your background shape how you report on money, and the questions you ask about it?
It informs everything I do. In hindsight, I first became a journalist at age 6, when I’d fill in my parents on world affairs, science and Burger King’s horse meat secret when they picked me up from the school bus stop. I still judge my efficacy as a journalist in terms of how well I can explain things to Mom and Dad — and my kindergarten teacher.
How do you see culture has shaped how different guests you have talk about money?
Just listen to all the shows we’ve done so far. See, for example, how my old day trading doorman from New York had to shed much of his world view as Tanzanian royalty in order to reshape himself as a successful U.S. investor.
What IS money to you? Power? Security? Duty? Another kind of currency?
A placeholder for status and power that too often distracts us from the important things.
We’re ready to go home and hug our kiddos, too. Thanks, Roben.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH DOLLARS?
Never miss anything from The Mash-Up Americans: Sign up for our newsletter.
Like this? Try these:
Jewish Daily Forward
Co-Founder Rebecca goes all Dear Abby on an Orthodox woman in college who wants to know if she can still really be Jewish if she lives with non-Jews.
Who couldn’t watch 6 hours of Pride and Prejudice-like romantic dramas? No, seriously.
Coming to America! This article could also be called: A Mash-Up Journey Through Books. Great book list, btw.
How Children of Immigrants Will Sway Future Politics
Center for American Progress
These kids are basically the future of everything. In 2032,19.3 million citizen children born today to Latino & Asian immigrants will turn 18. And they will be voting.
This is disgusting…right? Maybe we have to try it just in case.
Codeswitching, for a living: Jeopardy champ & voice actor Arthur Chu, a Chinese-American, speaks in Chinese accents for roles.
Yes, we are the future of America. Thanks!
International expansion for Kabbadi? You be the judge: apparently this game includes a game of telephone, some wrestling, and not breathing while you play it.
Dear LA Times: Please never use the word “hootchy-kootchy” in a headline again. That being said, a USC study finds that when Latinos actually get onscreen, they are usually naked.
Robotic Exoskeleton Turns Korean Workers into Ironman
Oh, you know, just sci-fi movies happening for real. No big deal.
Forgetting and Remembering Your First Language
We could not relate more to this! (See: GUILT.) You understand a language perfectly, but you can’t get the words out in conversation. And then you’re traveling and visiting family and embarrassed by your lack of abilities. That being said, having a first language that becomes your third language is still pretty bomb.
The struggle with being a Mash-Up American is that the American part is pretty darn important, and takes on a life of its own.
Watch: Intensely Awkward Congressional Hearing
Oh, this hurts our feelings: Ever hear the story of the U.S. Congressman who talks to two Indian-American State Department officials, and asks questions about “their” country, India, assuming that they are not American?
#Longread: Making your eyes more “white”? Easy. Does that make you more white? Confusing. Plus: Getting butt implants!
Lesson: Smoking is bad for everyone. But who’s still smoking? Gays smoke more than straights. Native Americans and “Multiple Race” people smoke way more than Hispanics and Asians. Oh dear.
A series of portraits that show how intimacy breaks down a lot of prejudice. Sometimes new things just take some getting used to.
Diverse Boards Pay More Dividends, Study Finds
Diverse corporate boards do way better than others. DUH.
At The Mash-Up Americans, we take it as an article of faith that being mixed opens a world of possibility. But both faith and possibility are tricky. Are we born into a faith? Are we what we were raised to believe? Or are we what we choose? If you are half, can you ever be whole? Our Black-Indian-Baptist-Hindu-American Mash-Up Sharda shares with us how one Southern Baptist peeled back the layers to find her inner Hindu. It might have a little something to do with Donkey Kong.
When I was a kid living in Jamaica, Queens in the 1980s, I remember asking my mom what she thought about reincarnation. I didn’t know that word, “reincarnation,” but I was curious about the concept. “What if you kept coming back to life again and again until you learn how to get it right?” I asked my mother. I remember her looking a bit surprised. She said, “I think you just explained Buddhism.”
I was also describing a core belief of Hinduism, not that I knew it at the time.
Other than being a vegetarian, I knew very little about what it meant to be a Hindu. My father was out of the family picture, and had been since I was a baby. He was a Hindu and came to the United States from India as a graduate student. He met my mother and committed his first act of shameless rebellion by consuming a burger. Fathering me and marrying my mom, a black woman from Detroit, was his next bold affront to family convention and tradition.
However, he soon got cold feet and ran away, presumably also renouncing burgers and returning to Hinduism. He gave me my name, but not much else. “Sharda” represents a manifestation of the Hindu goddess Saraswati, associated with wisdom, art and beauty. I thought of Sharda/Saraswati as an Indian version of Athena or Diana because, you know, I was in the U.S. getting a Eurocentric education and ancient Rome and Greece were my go-to pagan points of reference.
I was far more attuned to the Southern Baptist traditions of my mother’s black family – with the booming baritone of charismatic ministers, theatrical shouts of joy and stunning Sunday fashion statements. I have no idea where my “coming back to life to get it right” idea came from. Maybe it was the Donkey Kong I played as a kid?
I was in junior high when I first experienced anti-Hindu racism. In Queens at the time, East Asians had the intrigue and danger of gangs surrounding them. But South Asians were a favorite ethnic punching bag. Common insults were “Hindu,” “Red Dot,” “Patel” (because a bunch of Indian classmates had the last name Patel), “Apu from the Simpsons,” “Chicken Curry,” etc. I have a chicken pox scar in the middle of my forehead, which was naturally hilarious for my anti-Hindu tormenters.
I was bussing from Jamaica to Rego Park, where the middle class community was predominantly Jewish. A group of boys from school stood outside of their synagogue (monstrously, right in front their families) taunting me as a chorus, yelling “Hey Hindu! Hey Hindu! Why don’t you come over here and learn about a real religion?”
As someone who was baptized in a Detroit church – abruptly immersed in a small pool under the pulpit while the choir sang “Wade in the Water” – it was, pardon my French, kind of a mind fuck.
Does being tormented as a “Hindu” make me Hindu? Does my name? My belief in reincarnation? Did my father give me an innate Hindu-ness?
In college, I began to study yoga. I’ve had the distinct awkwardness of taking many yoga classes full of white people, and feeling on the spot for some sort of Indian authenticity that I wasn’t sure I had. However, the more I studied the principles and history of Hinduism, the more I connected to the religion, which allows for a very personal concept of what it means to practice and be devout. I’ve discovered that whether or not I am Hindu or identify as one [Editor’s note: Is there a difference?], I seem to have significant Hindu tendencies.
Being mixed forces you to see the world from different angles, which is both fabulous and isolating. The mutability can be frustrating, but it offers gifts. One of them: The ability to be asked, “Baptist?” “Hindu?” “Indian?” “Black?” And to respond with “Yes.”
To you, Sharda, we say yes.
Never miss anything from The Mash-Up Americans. Sign up for our newsletter.
DO YOU LIKE DONKEY KONG? YOU’LL ALSO LIKE THESE: