Desis in the American media…rising profile

America is thought of as a melting pot, or a salad bowl, where people with different ethnicity blend together to make a tasty, and unique, combination. American media (Hollywood and TV) is a reflection of this phenomenon. People with Indian ethnicity form about 1% of the American population.

Of late, however, there is a rising trend of desi names in the American media- mostly in a good way. The old snake-charmer and elephant stereotypes (along with the complex name structures and strange accents) have given way to the ultra-modern, ultra-American desi representation. Cool, very cool.

Here’s an article in the American blogosphere about the sudden increase of Indian actors and characters on American TV. The latest MTV Music Awards was hosted by a desi comedian- Aziz Ansari- and he was apparently a big hit! Likewise many other characters have been portrayed recently- and many in non-stereotypical roles. The Brits, of course, had their own impressive genre of Brit-Asian comedies a couple of decades ago.

Link to article by Nina Shen Rastogi (no relation) about Indian actors on the US Entertainment scene.

According to my count, primetime TV now has about a dozen South Asians in regular or recurring roles—and that’s after the loss of Kal Penn on House, Parminder Nagra on ER, Naveen Andrews on Lost, and Sendhil Ramamurthy on Heroes. Meanwhile, a handful of new South Asian faces are waiting to make their debut next fall, and NBC is about to out-Indian everyone with its new sitcom Outsourced, based on a low-budget 2006 film about an American novelty company whose call center gets relocated to India. Why are there so many Indians on TV all of a sudden?

Another thing to note has been the sudden rise of Indian-American politicians in America’s formerly-racially-divided south…where Nikki (Nimrata) Haley is a front-runner for Governor in one state, and Bobbby (Piyush) Jindal is already Governor of another.

Here’s an article (by another Indian author, of course), about the rise of these two Indian-Americans.

Nikki Haley, née Nimrata Randhawa, is almost assured of the Republican nomination for governor of the state of South Carolina. And if she does win her runoff on June 22, she is almost certain to be elected governor in November, which would give rise to the remarkable fact that two deeply conservative Southern states—South Carolina and Louisiana—will be home to governors of Indian descent, one the son of Hindu immigrants, the other the daughter of Sikhs.

And finally, to round up the other Indian-Americans in the American media recently, another desi kid won the spelling bee competition. This is not news- desi kids have been at the top of the Spelling bee since 1985, and are a disproportionate part of the finalists.  Here’s a post from Basab Pradhan from way back in 2006 about his theory behind this phenomenon.

How do you explain this mystery? Do Indian genes or the Indian family environment predispose us to be good at rule-based logical tasks (spelling bee contests are all about spelling rules and not about memorizing wayward English word spellings)? Does that explain the success of the Indian computer programmer as well?

And finally, here’s a more recent article wondering about the same question.

Consider the facts: Indian-Americans make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population; this year, an estimated 30 NSF-ers will compete at Scripps, 11 percent of the 273-kid field. Recent winners include Sai R. Gunturi from Dallas, who nonchalantly reassembled pococurante for a national title in 2003. Sameer Mishra from West Lafayette, Ind., nailed guerdon in 2008. And four-time finalist Shivashankar made it back-to-back titles for North South Foundation competitors last year, air-writing Laodicean for the win. If Shivashankar hadn’t come through, it’s possible another North South graduate would have: Four other NSF kids cracked the top 10 behind her.