What does it mean to be a “brown” American? In 6th grade–this was around Bush Jr.’s administration, after 9/11 when we were strengthening our presence in the Middle East–a Caucasian boy called me “sand nigger”. Said boy seemed to be of middling intelligence, so I was not very offended.
9th grade (my first year of high school) is when my brownness became more explicit, to a point where I felt I should take my identity into my own hands. I was part of frosh/soph soccer at my school: we were a diverse group, but I was one of (at most) two total Indian-American folks on the entire soccer team, including JV and varsity levels
I was subject to a number of brown jokes during soccer. Like before, I took it in stride; this was even easier to do than before, given our team’s cohesion and comfort level. I even went as far as to lead the creation and playing of a “7-11 song”, which is (for better or worse) no longer accessible via YouTube.
Anyway, Bush era came and went. We remained in the Middle East and are still there today. Obama began withdrawing us, once we’d dealt with al-Qaeda’s leader bin Laden. During Obama, I played in an American rock band (high school) and entered college (UC Santa Barbara). Though I was something of an anomaly in the former–I have not known of American-Indian rock musicians playing seriously–I was simply more of a minority at UCSB. Still, as in my education prior, I was able to strike a diverse balance in my social network, and even found myself more surrounded by Indians at UCSB than I’d been since living in Cerritos (from birth on to mid-3rd grade).
During my first job out of college and in graduate school, I still did not really feel my brownness. I’m currently a psychology Ph.D. candidate at the University of West Georgia (UWG). Our department has had its fair share of Indian-Americans*, so despite living in the Deep South for four years, my brownness was not a factor (outside of curious inquiries into my heritage, and a comfort in my first Georgian dwelling place among housemates who were comfortable bantering about our ethnicities).
Now, I’m back home in California. I’d started to feel my brownness in Georgia as a function of my being a Hindu not surrounded by many other Hindus.
It’s hard to say how Indian-Americans will experience their brownness given the recent, increased fallout in U.S.-Middle East relations. I hope no one else is called a sand n**ger. But I also know that we can be a wily and resilient bunch when we need to be: I’m not worried about my ethnic people!