I want to talk about class and how it affects queer desis. Desis, perhaps especially in the U.S., have known to become a financially privileged social class, however we must acknowledge that this is not and will not always be true. First of all, this has not always been true for small desi business owners but this has not always been true (statistically) for queer desis. Why? I’m thinking because queer desis are more likely to face workplace discrimination and are also more likely to go into low-paying jobs and public-sector jobs. Well here’s some of my personal background as always:
I was born in England in a family of five. My two siblings were five and eight years older than me, my father was a professor and my mother was self-employed as a caterer, a dress maker, a child-minder, a nursery worker, a cooking class teacher, and many, many other things. The concept of desi’s living in palaces, which I quickly became familiar with when I moved to the U.S., was completely foreign to me. It wasn’t until grammar school in England when I met the rich white girls who came from private schools. My family, we traveled a lot with my father on his University conferences, but we never went on a vacation. I was embarrassed of the house we lived in, I never invited anyone home although I lived far enough away from everyone that I didn’t have to. And I never left the house in Indian clothes until I realized that the girls at school thought it was cool.
After my father got offered a special position to teach and do research in a University in the U.S., we decided it was a good idea for my mother and I to move there with him while my brother and sister stayed behind to finish University. Living in a house with a swimming pool, I thought that was unbelievable, and having a flip-phone! I went from knowing a maximum of five desi families in England, none of whom were overly rich or conservative, to living in a town with SO MANY rich, conservative desi doctors and surgeons. With their in-door heated swimming pools and marble floors, they made no sense to me.
Although I later figured out how to navigate the desis, I didn’t fit in well with them at all to begin with. My friends were mostly European-American, African-American, and Latino. The desis didn’t get it at all. They thought I was trying to be rebellious, but really I just wasn’t trying hard enough to be like them. The boy I was “dating” during my senior year of High School and freshman year of college (long-distance), was African American and working class. This boy told me he was Filipino – one of the first things he ever said to me. I have no clue why, because I met both his parents and his mum definitely wasn’t speaking Spanish like he said she did. I didn’t get why he thought he had to impress me, and at the time, my naïve mind just found it annoying. But I liked him so I played along.
But what got me thinking about class recently, especially the concept of class as it pertains to queer desis, is that desis have often become accustomed to this lifestyle of living in mansions, or at least pretending to, and wearing the designer clothes.,, but what happens when we’re queer, we face discrimination in the job market, and/or we want to work in the realm of social justice for the cause of queer activism? How does this affect our social interactions?
Since my family is relatively large, we’ve had pretty steep expenses. My parents have had to pay to put three children through University (in different countries) as well as pay for the expenses that go with me having an increasingly severe disability. And obviously we sometimes like to celebrate our new, more comfortable lifestyle by going on vacations, but it is not always as indulgent since we are not accustomed to doing vacations. We have to be so much more careful, and this always reminds me of how I need to prepare myself for my inevitably poor future. I am about to go into the field of Social Work, and I am going to become working class again. I am so terrified and it is even more difficult now that my parents and siblings are all getting quite comfortable with their middle-upper class lives. I can barely afford to go on vacation with my own family. Is this just trivial? In some ways I am very, very lucky that my parents made it out the other end.