In his speech announcing his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Bobby Jindal said Wednesday that he was “done” with being seen as Indian-American.
The Louisiana governor called for the end of “hyphenated” identities that point to origin, ethnicity, or wealth. The statement drew cheers from the Kenner, La. audience but has since prompted critics to accuse him of denying his Indian heritage. He is a native-born American, as the Constitution requires, born in Louisiana four months after his parents immigrated from India.
"We are not Indian-Americans, African-Americans, Irish-Americans, rich Americans, or poor Americans. We are all Americans,” Governor Jindal said in his speech.
Using the hashtags #Jindian and #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite, Twitter users, many from India, mocked Jindal’s words and his attempt to distance himself from his Indian heritage. Many found comedy fodder in the fact that while he goes by Bobby – a name he apparently took from the “The Brady Bunch” – his given name is Piyush, and that he converted from Hinduism to Christianity as a teenager.
Others took more critical stances, like pointing out that Jindal appears white in his official portrait, or highlighting the racial ironies of Jindal tweeting, “I’m tanned, rested, and ready for this fight.”
But while the social media universe is just taking note of Jindal’s proclamations now, he has been advocating for a more homogeneous American identity for months, at least.
In January, Jindal gave a speech in London in which he made similar remarks regarding ethnicity.
“My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans – not Indian-Americans,” he said.
He spoke in favor of the idea of the United States as a “melting pot,” calling for the assimilation of immigrants and the adoption of a single cultural identity.
The notion that “it is unenlightened, discriminatory, and even racist to expect immigrants to endorse and assimilate into the culture in their new country,” he said, “is complete rubbish.”
In April, he said again, ”I'm tired of the hyphenated Americans,” in a speech emphasizing renewed vigor for the “American dream.”
He certainly seems to be trying hard to shed any markers of Indian-ness. For one thing, he has made his conversion from Hinduism to Christianity a centerpiece of his public life. His official announcement video includes him saying, "The single most important moment in my life was the moment I found Jesus Christ – the moment Jesus Christ found me." In a 2009 “60 Minutes” interview, he and his wife said that they do not observe many Indian traditions, though they did have two wedding ceremonies, one Hindu and one Catholic.
“My mom was fully committed to raising us as Americans,” Jindal told the Washington Post. “That was a conscious decision. We ate food that would be familiar to other families in south Louisiana. She wanted to raise us like other kids in the neighborhood.”