Washington : Time magazine has apologised to Indian Americans after some of them took umbrage at a humour piece, which they said has racist overtones, about the community in Edison, New Jersey, where every fifth resident is a native of India.
“We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by Joel Stein’s recent humour column My Own Private India. It was in no way intended to cause offence,” the prestigious US magazine said as the community protest snowballed.
“I truly feel stomach-sick that I hurt so many people,” wrote columnist Stein, who had given his own take on he had seen Edison, where he had grown up, change over the years with the desi influx.
“I was trying to explain how, as someone who believes that immigration has enriched American life and my hometown in particular, I was shocked that I could feel a tiny bit uncomfortable with my changing town when I went to visit it. If we could understand that reaction, we’d be better equipped to debate people on the other side of the immigration issue,” he wrote.
The advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) launched an online petition asking the editors of Time to organise a panel discussing the article’s impact and to dedicate a special space in the magazine’s upcoming edition to response from the Indian-American community.
Indian American actor Kal Penn, former associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, too weighed in on the issue with a column titled “The Hilarious Xenophobia of Time’s Joel Stein” in Huffington Post.
“I want to applaud Joel Stein for his hilarious account of Edison, New Jersey in his Time magazine article this week, ‘My Own Private India’; it is unique and groundbreaking as Thomas Alva himself,” he wrote.
“Critics might call Mr. Stein’s humour super-tired or as played out as the jokes about that cheap Jewish car that stopped on a dime to pick it up, or that African American kid who got marked absent at night school.
“Although unlike Stein’s Indian American piece, in 2010 those other jokes don’t show up in mainstream media like Time magazine. I wonder why that is…,” Penn added.
Writing about the changes in his home town, Stein had written: “Eventually, there were enough Indians in Edison to change the culture. At which point my townsfolk started calling the new Edisonians ‘dot heads’. One kid I knew in high school drove down an Indian-dense street yelling for its residents to ‘go home to India’,” Stein wrote.
“Sometime after I left, the town became a maze of charmless Indian strip malls and housing developments. Whenever I go back, I feel what people in Arizona talk about: A sense of loss and anomie and disbelief that anyone can eat food that spicy.”
“I never knew how a bunch of people half a world away chose a random town in New Jersey to populate. Were they from some Indian state that got made fun of by all the other Indian states and didn’t want to give up that feeling? Are the malls in India that bad? Did we accidentally keep numbering our parkway exits all the way to Mumbai?” Stein wondered.