Stereotype, Image, construct are all different names for the same thing, It loosely defines popular belief or ideas about a particular group and characterize all the individuals within that group . And, let’s face it, India and Indians living in America attract a lot of stereotypes, some are funny and some can get impudent. I have hundreds of stories and instances where I would be questioned, cornered and asked to confirm a stereotype against Indians which could be based on accent, ethnic dressing style, food, names, festivals and weddings. Thanks to shows like Jesse and Big Bang theory that have characters that add to the already existing list of stereotypes. With 70% of the 25 and above Indian Americans holding a college degree and advanced education, we are considered a model minority and far different and evolved from a lot of stereotypes both good and bad.
My first exposure was in middle school. “How can Indians worship millions of Gods?” said a white girl in one of my classes who was completely unaware of Indian traditions. That actually got me thinking for the first time, Growing up here most of my so called aware or adult life and still trying to understand or develop my religious mindset, swinging between being spiritual or there is only one God, volunteering at churches and remembering Jesus whenever in a situation ( a lot more when angry J)
It’s not that I had not heard about the multiple Gods, When I focused more on the question and tried to visualize my mom’s alter at home I could easily recall 14-15 deities placed there, Are they all Gods? Or which of them are real Gods? I was so inquisitive that I had decided to get more insight and discuss this with my grandparents who were luckily visiting us from India. The response was startling and eye opening. There are 330 million gods in Hinduism with multiple heads and arms. Sounds crazy right. Actually, it’s not how it seems.
Hinduism promotes that god is in everything, it’s all manifestations of the one source, Therefore every living and non-living thing is viewed as sacred. Each of Hinduism’s many gods and goddesses also represent individual aspects of God. For example, Ganesh is worshiped for good fortune and removing obstacles. Women goddesses represent power, Hinduism doesn’t prescribe any set path but more a way of life, the followers can worship whichever deity they feel the need to or feel more connected to. I had never felt so enlightened in my life. There are a lot more stereotypes. Some are interesting such as all Indians do Yoga and Say Namaste – The growth in New Age spirituality in the West has brought about a corresponding interest (and fascination) in the spiritual side of India.
Many foreigners think of India as a spiritual mecca with a mystical culture. Yet, the yoga widely practiced in the West is different to the centuries-old tradition that is practiced in India. What’s more, not everyone in India incorporates yoga into their daily lives. While namaste is integral to Indian culture, it’s no longer a universal greeting in modern Indian society. These days, in urban areas, it’s usually reserved for formal situations and interaction with elders. It’s most common in regions where pure Hindi is spoken and is less relevant where Hindi is not the first language (such as in south India).
Indian Weddings are Big and Loud
The infamous ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ goes on for days with much feasting, singing and dancing, and a groom who arrives with fanfare on horseback. It’s designed to be a display of wealth and social status. In reality, not all Indian weddings are like this though. Just like food and language, different states and communities have their own wedding rituals. Large ostentatious weddings are much more common in north Indian states, such as Punjab, than in the south. In Kerala, for example, wedding ceremonies are quick and quiet affairs — so much so, that they’re done in 15 minutes! And, they usually take place without the sangeet (celebratory night of dancing and partying before the wedding ceremony) and mehendi (application of henna to the bride’s hands and feet) events that are important parts of north Indian weddings. (However, that’s not to say wealth isn’t shown. Brides in Kerala are traditionally heavily adorned with gold jewelry).
Arranged Marriages are Forced
The concept of arranged marriage in India may be difficult for foreigners to understand. India has evolved but these marriages undeniably remain the norm. Yet, the way they happen is usually different to the widespread perception about them. There’s a notion that arranged marriages are forced, the couple meet for the first time at the wedding, or they involve child brides. However, many people readily choose to have arranged marriages, as it’s a convenient way of finding a compatible partner when they want to settle down. Not all arranged marriages involve advertisements for brides or grooms on dating sites or in newspapers. Often, they’re as innocuous as friends or family members recommending someone (which isn’t that different to a blind date). In the modern arranged marriage, the potential couple spend time getting to know each other before agreeing to go ahead with the marriage. Rejections are common. Not everyone marries the first person they see!