The sandwiched generation. The best generation!
[Editor’s Note: The author of this post, Rajat Mukherjee, lives in Silicon Valley and works for Google. This post originally appeared on his Silicon Thoughts blog and is reproduced here with his permission. Rajat is a classic lay-down-rooter, a term I defined in this post.]
Last week, we were at the Bellarmine Speech and Debate team banquet, where we heard a great student speech, in which Mr. Rogers (of the TV show) asks each member of his audience to take a few silent moments to remember who made them the special (imperfect, but unique) person they are.
I remembered my parents, who are responsible for who I am and where I am today.
Being in Silicon Valley during the most vibrant technology era in humanity offers us absolutely unique perspectives and opportunities, while also throwing challenges our way as first generation immigrants from a distant place.
Being a first generation immigrant, we’re caught in a middle ground between who we are and who we (really) are. Or who we were and who we are. Or who we are and who we’re going to be. I’ve just crossed over in terms of spending more of my life in the US than in India. India still means a lot to me, but in day-to-day happenings, e.g., elections, business changes, etc., I’m not impacted – it’s not personal any more. My roots are there, my life is here, my parents there, my children here, my heart wanders there, my mind stays here. My citizenship has flipped, but my accent hasn’t. Proud of India’s accomplishments, derisive of the system, politics and corruption, yet hopeful of what India will become.
We’re bound by old traditions, but liberated by free thinking and the worlds we’ve been exposed to, starting with a liberal upbringing. Actually, it is not my son who is the American Born Confused Desi (ABCD) – I am the Indian Born Confused Indian-American!! The kids are actually reasonably clear in that their ties are just to us, not to a faraway country they were born in. I have half-baked ties to my relatives, even to those I was reasonably close with during my childhood. The kids have just a few clear relationships, and they seem pretty matter-of-fact about them.
My identity is like that blurred face in the airport scan. I feel like I’m on the Berlin wall, while someone’s pounding on both sides to bring it down – I don’t even know which side I’m going to land on. Maybe I don’t really care.
I’m the spicy mint chutney in a sandwich with wheat bread on one side and white on the other.
For my children, the extended family just got an order of magnitude smaller. They don’t enjoy the relationships that we’d have otherwise nurtured – their grandparents are not a strong force in their lives. Our family is so small out here! I have to PLAN to be with my parents!! That’s sad!
Now, for the good part!
There’s nothing like living in a sunny part of the world with the best technology minds in the world (yes – most of them are indeed working on making you click more on ads :-)). Technology is moving so fast that I’m almost obsolete before I write my next blog post! We’re not just consumers in this new connected world, we’re the ones creating it!! That makes us a special generation!
The best part – I can enjoy gooseberries and mangoes as much as I do crunchy persimmons, and salt-rimmed margaritas and caipirinhas just as much as a masala-chai (at different times :-)), crepes as much as masala-dosas, kababs as much as sushi. That makes me a special generation.(I still don’t get sauerkraut and tripe!!) I no longer need to stare at someone because he or she is from a different place – I stare at myself in the mirror and wonder where I’m from.
I’ve taken salsa lessons, been a soccer coach to kids from all parts of the world, watch football and basketball (and the Sharks choke every year on ice in crystal clear HD). I can watch Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in concert, followed by U2 in a few weeks. I can appreciate ghazals and the magic of Bollywood music, while also tuning in to classic rock and rap and Lady Gaga and … Friday (that’s talent!) I can choose to ski or go the beach this weekend (or watch TV!). You can do some of these things, but not all of them unless you are in the right place, like Silicon Valley.
I can appreciate a variety of things, because of where I am, and the generation I belong to. The next generation will never understand the magic of Kishore Kumar or Jagjit Singh. My kids have lost the ability to relate to good Bangla folk music, or even western music from the 80s and 90s (Michael Jackson?). I don’t believe this is just a generational thing, it is a timing issue – we’re the right generation. The next generation will not appreciate the automatic respect we have for the earlier generation – the appreciation of hard work and experience and integrity and loyalty. Ask yourself how long you’ll work for a single company!
Yes, each of us brings a uniqueness to the world, to the neighbo(u)rhood, as stated by Mr. Rogers. But our generation, and our first-generation status in the sunniest part of the world brings a certain uniqueness to our lives.
Am I a citizen of India? A citizen of the US? A citizen of Silicon Valley?
I am a citizen of the world!