< < <
Date Index
> > >
American Universities Stereotype Int'l Students Intentionally??
by Saima Alvi
07 July 2002 14:25 UTC
< < <
Thread Index
> > >

Limiting Images Or, Why I Hate My College Magazine 
by Bina Shah

Four times a year, I receive a large white envelope in
the mail. It's usually already slit open, the corners
are battered, and it always looks like it's spent a
long time in transit to get to me. But whenever I get
this piece of correspondence, I stop whatever I'm
doing and open it quickly. Then I sit down and read it
from cover to cover. 

This is the alumnae magazine from my alma mater,
Wellesley College. 

I admit the first thing I read is the Class Notes for
my year, 1993. I scan them to see, first of all, if
I'm listed in them, and second, if my friends have
made it, and third, to see which of my classmates are
better than me and which are worse off. The
achievements include job promotions, books written,
children birthed, husbands collected. It takes a rare
and very strong Wellesley woman to admit to a painful
episode in her life, like a divorce, being fired, or
illness. The one time I saw something moving was a
woman who wrote in with her account of having been
abused throughout her three-year marriage. Most
Wellesley women are too uptight to admit that they can
make mistakes like that. 

The marriage photos always rankle with me. The women
who send these photographs always seem to be saying,
"Look at me. I've succeeded; I got married. Nothing in
my life can compare with the sweet bliss of being a
bride. Eat my shorts, you unlucky single women." I
would really like to see, alongside the wedding
photos, pictures of the women coming out of divorce
court. At least it would give you the feeling that
there is some balance in the world, instead of
perpetuating the myth that every Wellesley woman's
fairy tale life ends with a perfect storybook wedding.

Over the past five years that I've been receiving the
Wellesley magazine, I've noticed a new type of article
starting to appear in its pages. This article is the
salute or tribute to multiculturalism, to diversity.
It's the attempt of Wendy Wellesley to tip her hat to
her less waspy, Third World sister, Waheeda Wellesley.
And it makes me want to throw up. 

The articles are all formulaic. Especially the ones
from the South Asians at Wellesley. They're all about
how the author of the article has managed to reconcile
her South Asian parentage with her American
upbringing. Or how the Muslim woman has thrown off the
shackles of her patriarchal culture to marry Tom,
Charles, or Harry. Sometimes they're even more
patronizing than that, but in a much more subtle way. 

Take, for instance, one particular article - which
just came in yesterday's Fall edition of the magazine
- called "Kavita". It's the story of an
Indian-American and her friend, Kavita. While the
American girl is attending prom, taking driving
lessons, and studying for her SATs, poor Kavita, stuck
somewhere in Bombay or Mysore or GaiPajama, is
undergoing the torture of an arranged marriage. The
narrator of the article writes about how Kavita weeps
for days before her wedding. 

But five years later, the narrator goes to India to
visit Kavita and her husband. And what does she see?
That Kavita is happy, that her husband worships her,
that she is content with her two little children. The
highlight of their lives is the husband taking the
kids out on a scooter ride round GaiPajama High
Street. And the narrator, seeing the love in Kavita
and her husband's eyes, realizes that things aren't so
bad for Kavita! Maybe she's even better off than the
narrator, with her B.A. degree, her job experience,
and - no husband! 

Well, hey! How politically correct. How big of you to
be able to even let the thought cross your mind for a
moment. And how BIG of Wellesley to publish the
article in the magazine. 

See, the Wellesley Magazine will allow
multiculturalism, as long as it doesn't cause any
tremors in the peaceful foundations of its own
prejudices. Kavita only serves as a lesson to the
Americanized South Asian, a comparison point if you
will. The American is supposed to learn lessons from
the long humiliation and suffering of the South Asian.
Kavita is not an individual in her own right but only
the alter ego of the American, the woman the American
might have been had she not been fortunate enough to
grow up in the enlightened West. The author leaves the
ending ambiguous, but you know that after playing with
the fantasy of being a docile, well-loved, and
overworked South Asian woman, she's going to go back
to her apartment, car, and job at Goldman-Sachs,
shuddering at the thought of her near-escape from the
vortex of her (backwards yet still compelling)

I can imagine the hundreds of white women, no
thousands, reading that essay and thinking, "Well,
gosh, maybe those Eastern women really do have it
right. No - wait - I still wouldn't give up all the
freedom I've got here for the so-called security that
poor Kavita thinks she has. It's just oppression all
the same, no matter how you justify it. Poor stupid
Kavita - she's never seen any better." 

Turning the pages of the magazine, I saw another
picture of a South Asian student. This woman was
performing a classical Indian dance. She was dressed
in the full regalia of the Kathak dancer: exotic
outfit, mehndi on her hands, bindi, flowers in her
hair. In the background, a white woman in a suit sat
and nodded appreciatively. Probably thinking how
cultured she was to be sitting there watching this
beautiful and oh-so-fabulous Indian dance. 

See, those are the only images they want of us. The
downtrodden Asian woman. The beautiful dancer. The
Westernized, educated South Asian who rejects it all
in favor of the American way of life. They can't deal
with the intricacies of reality. They don't want to
hear about the Wellesley woman who left America to
return to South Asia. Or the one who rejected Richard
to marry Rizwan. Or the student who wears hijab. To
them, those women are moving backwards, not forwards,
and Wellesley is not interested in their stories. 

I loved Wellesley, loved every moment of it. But
sometimes, five years on, I feel like they wanted to
take me and turn me into a browner version of them -
complete with PhD, white husband, a glass of wine in
my hand, and strings of pearls around my neck. 

And the frightening part is how happy my South Asian
sisters and I were to participate in the
transformation. It was far too easy to relegate the
shalwar kameez to the back of the closet in favor of
jeans and skirts; it was far too easy to forget about
eating halal food, praying five times a day; it was
far too easy to take on American accents so that we'd
be better understood. 

They may have understood us better, but trying to fit
ourselves into their limited images, we created far
deeper misunderstandings for ourselves in the end. I
can bet you that any article which says that will
never published in the Wellesley Alumnae Magazine. At
least, not in my lifetime. 

Do You Yahoo!?
Sign up for SBC Yahoo! Dial - First Month Free

< < <
Date Index
> > >
World Systems Network List Archives
at CSF
Subscribe to World Systems Network < < <
Thread Index
> > >