What better time to discuss identity than during the Fourth of July weekend?
The bus driver at the airport asks me if I am Indian or Pakistani. I think about the question for a second and tell him I'm from India. "I am Baghdadi", he says and I can see ripples of pride, caution and sheepishness sweep across his face. He then asks me if I am Hindu. Again, I think about it for a second and tell him, yes, I am one. What can I say, airport parking lots are hardly the best place to launch into a "just what is *your* definition of a Hindu?" debate.
"That's very good", he says, sounding relieved. I ask him how my religion mattered. He says he doesn't like how *some* religions force people to think and act in a certain way and that Hinduism was not one of those religions.
That brief exchange made me a little sad - here he was, an old Iraqi man, living in heartland of America, sounding a bit eager to disassociate himself from an identity he was born into and probably doing his best to pass himself off as someone who is comfortable making a living in a country that has, well, shall we say, re-arranged his native land beyond recognition.
There's a price we all pay for leaving home and coming home.
The other day while at lunch with some co-workers, I referred to Fourth of July as "my country's Independence Day". That phrase, coming from someone who's obviously not "originally from here", makes some people uneasy. Makes for some great trolling. Try it sometime.
Sure enough, my words rattled at least one person in the group who lost no time in pointing out that my citizenship was merely the end result of filling out an application form. I was tempted to remind him that his Indian citizenship was merely the end result of nine months of gestation, a biological process in which he had no choice. But just then a burger materialized on my end of the table, so I pushed aside all thoughts about identity and like the good Hindu I am, bit into some of that medium-rare magic.