There is an anecdotal opinion among non-Malayalee Indians that there is no spot on this planet where you would be hard-pressed to find a Malayalee. While I am unsure of the veracity of that theory, Malayalees have certainly flourished in the United States of America. The dichotomy of being both Malayalee and American can often be an interesting experience, and most Malayalees embrace this clash of cultures with a belligerent and yet cheerful approach. I often find myself telling people that I am not just an Indian American but that I am particularly a Malayalee American. Now that may be awfully specific, but my Malayalee identity forms the core of my persona and it’s fairly impossible to look around that.
One of my pet theories as to why Malayalees effortlessly assimilate into American sub-culture is that we don’t have a dietary block when it comes to American food. Kerala is one of the few states in India where any four-legged bovine animal is at any arbitrary point in time at certain risk of being slaughtered and consumed for food. I never get tired of reminding my American friends that unlike their other Indian acquaintances, I have no issues in consuming substantial quantities of filet mignon, pork chops, and bacon. And boy, do we love our liquor or what? I am yet to meet a Malayalee American who wasn’t scholarly about various kinds of wines, scotch whiskies, and beers. We may have travelled half way across the globe to lead new lives, but we’ve taken our fondness and tolerance for booze with us.
Malayalee Americans may listen to Katy Perry and The Black Eyed Peas, but at the faintest hint of a tune by K J Yesudas or K S Chithra, we go back to being Malayalee music enthusiasts. Mohanlal, Mammooty, Suresh Gopi, and Prithviraj continue to occupy the same ranks in our hearts as Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves, and Bruce Willis. The cliché that you can take a Malayalee out of Kerala, but that you can never entirely take Kerala out of a Malayalee holds surprisingly true. This detail can be quite simply observed at any Malayalee cultural event across America, including events organized by our very own COMA. Kids who were born here and some of who have never set foot in Kerala sing and dance to the beats of popular Malayalam songs. Many of them watch Asianet and Surya TV when they come home from school, although it’s questionable as to whether that’s a great idea these days!
That said, at the end of the day, the one absolute certainty is that we Malayalee Americans are all the same, more or less speaking. Husband and wife looking to grow their careers, hoping to send their children to top colleges, saving up to buy a comfortable home in a nice neighborhood, keeping our weekends free to socialize and have fun with friends and family – yeah, we really are all the same. We are Americans and we are Malayalees, and we are proud of those independent identities. Cheers to all my fellow Malayalee Americans!