Monthly Archives: September 2013

Oh Canada!

I had to make a quick trip to my favorite country just north of the border. It has always amazed me, especially being this close, just how different Canada is from the United States.

I have known many Canadians (what a pleasure!) and their attitude to just about everything could not be more different from the average American’s – especially those conservative, upright, puritan citizens of ours. You have to look hard to find someone who takes life so seriously in Canada. At least, that’s the way it appears to me…

TorontoFlaginBreeze

As soon as I land, I find myself in the actual land of diversity (especially true in the larger metropolis areas of Canada).  Aah, so this is what a diversified population in the West really looks like. America, are you listening?!

And then I experience something else that tells me what “liberal” really means.

I am to introduce a provincial minister (read U.S. Senator or Congressman) to the audience at a very focused conference – not a large one but there are probably a couple of hundred interested people in the audience.  Given his portfolios (he has two) and the province in question, this Minister is quite a powerhouse, controlling several billions of dollars of spend each year, and he has the additional onus of having to show visible progress that makes a difference to citizens’ lives.

Definitely a well-known icon in the public there!

This Minister was quite a personality, and I say that in the most positive sense. He was passionate about his vision and goals for the province, and he was convincing in his articulation of these to the audience at this particular conference. Interestingly, he was not playing at a popularity contest but instead laying out the challenges he faced while he worked towards his objectives.

As he was making his speech, he said something that to my Indian-American mind, was quite amazing. Amazing because I would be hard-pressed to hear anything close to this in public, either in the US (or India – well, fuggedaboutit).  What’s even more amazing to me is how casually he said what he did.  The thing is that it probably didn’t even register with those liberal Canadians. It did register with this liberal American because I had never heard anything like it.  In public. By a politician no less.

As he made his speech, he started on a story in order to make a point.  And then he slipped in a comment that didn’t even make the audience blink (that’s really what is so remarkable!).

He said (and I paraphrase) –

I was telling my 86 year old mother that we needed to go to a wedding.  I’m gay so my mother asks me – is this wedding boy-boy, girl-girl or boy-girl? Pretty nice for an 86 year old, eh?

How many politicians do you know who would even admit that they are gay? Does your culture and society even allow it?? Gay rights? Nah, I call it human rights.

I aspire for a time when American and the world treat this just as naturally and freely. I hope that, notwithstanding a strange tea party dynamic that has entered the scene here, we can say it’s on the horizon finally. I hope. We can even say the pope agrees now! [Well, almost].

But oh Canada, I do admire you so!

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An Indian-American Beauty (with Brains) Makes History

After living in Bombay and reading the newspapers there every day for a couple of years, it comes as no surprise to me that Indian women can be recognized for their beauty. And their brains. I used to often see pictures of stunning Indian women on the runway, in the movies or competing in various beauty pageants there.

So, the fact that an Indian could win a beauty pageant…big deal! Aishwarya Rai was Miss World and Sushmita Sen Miss Universe back in the days after all. And there were more as well.

Nina Davuluri – Miss America 2014

However, what gave everyone pause was that this particular Indian-American became Miss America, not Miss India nor a Miss “global”. It gave people pause – the many admirers and the few haters.

For the admirers, it was that this country was open and liberal enough that it could choose someone who looked so different from a “classic American” to be crowned as its beauty icon. The runner-up was also of Asian descent, Stanford graduate Miss California, Crystal Lee. And prior to this there have been other ethnic minorities who have won the competition, which is subjective at best.

[Now whether a country should even have a beauty icon is a topic for an entirely different discussion…].

For Indians here, it was the novelty of recognition beyond and so different from spelling bees, IT outsourcing, engineering and medicine.

The few haters, well, they had some hateful things to say but do we really care what ignorants, racists or bigots may think? They have already been given too much press, in my opinion. Best to just laugh it off as the exception that prove the rule.

The American cliche of everyone being equal, no matter what their origins, quietly and not so quietly continues to gather strength. For all of its faults, America is beautiful. And that is one reason why so many of us are staying put.

And here’s kind of the icing on the cake. There were comments from Indians who said that an Indian as dark skinned as the new Miss America would be hard-pressed to become Miss India, in a country that worships fairness. That’s food for thought. True but painful to hear.

Back to America…..did I say it? A country, for all of its faults that is beautiful enough for many of us. It’s all relative, isn’t it?

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