Rajbhog Streetz

This is a class project for our Latino-Desi Studies final. Write us: rajbhogstreetz [at] gmail.com

Jun 8

#selfie

They like: ain’t that you with the Libyans?
Tongue quick like an amphibian
N-Y to the Caribbean
So why dem hataz wanna do me in?
Cuz of melanin?
And I’m hella thin
White girls like: you can eat anythin
Totes jeally like they gelatin
I’mma keep it brief
#Pelican

-rv


May 1

"Mean Girls and Brown Boys: Ten Years of Kevin G"

America is celebrating! Mean Girls turned 10 in April and the most quotable movie of my generation has inspired commemorative pieces all across the media landscape. And most are touching on the film’s savvy exploration of teenage politics and/or the web-fueled staying power of its most memorable moments. Here on Rajbhog Steetz, we’re going to explore another significant angle: everyone’s favorite freestyle rapping Mathlete, Kevin Gnapoor, played by Rajiv Surendra.

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Thank you Kevin, that’s enough!

The truth is, for cis male Desis (Americans of South Asian Descent, or “Brown Dudes”), until Kevin G in the 200+ years of American history there had never been a character that so knowingly depicted what we are actually like. “Mean Girls” came out in spring 2004, the same season I graduated from college. What this means is that it wasn’t until I was a college graduate that I saw someone similar to myself in my own popular culture. And most Brown Dudes my age would likely tell you samesies. America made “Alf,” “Dinosaurs” and the “Air Bud” trilogy before it gave space to one Brown Dude. On the scale of visibility we are somewhere just below Puppets Making Prank Phone Calls.

First, a brief history of our time here:

South Asians have been in the United States since the time of the first English settlement, when they were first brought to the Western Hemisphere through the American tradition of slavery. There is evidence that Desi slaves were imported by the British Crown to Virginia’s Jamestown colony in the 1600s.

The more well-known history of Desi Americans starts in the 1880s, although I’d still guess that you never learned this in U.S. History class either. A generation of Punjabi lumber workers settled in the Northwest and Northern California after trickling in from British Columbia. The story goes that many of these men, longing for rice, beans, flatbread and bad Brown girls with fly dance steps wound up falling in love with west coast Chicanas!

Many Americans, especially outside of cities with large Caribbean populations, also remain blissfully unaware that South Asian labor was brought to the British Caribbean after slavery was abolished. These indentured servants were taken to Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and other British colonies. Places like Brooklyn and Queens are filled with Americans of what is sometimes called Indo-Caribbean origin. That’s why Nicki Minaj.

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With the Bad B that came from Sri Lanka

In the 1920s, the Supreme Court officially codified that Americans from South Asia were of undesirable racial status. A light-skinned World War I veteran and desperate assimilationist named Bhagat Singh Thind argued that since North Indians could characterize their lineage as “Caucasian,” they should be eligible for citizenship and the right to own property in the U.S. To which SCOTUS essentially said: “Yeah bruh but c’mon, I know a n-word when I see one.” Thind remained in the U.S., eventually gained citizenship in New York state and his heroic act of selling out his people and trying to promote himself at the expense of other People of Color is known in contemporary circles as “Bobby Jindal-ing.”

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Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask people why they’re white

In the 20th century, when the U.S. had exclusionary immigration laws and was diseased by world-renowned racism, a number of Bengalis arrived in this country while working on British steamships. Many of these men quietly slipped into the African-American neighborhoods of New York, Baltimore and New Orleans. The story goes that even Malcolm X himself would hang out at the Uptown Halal Restaurants these families would run. For a comprehensive look at this experience, see Vivek Bald’s book “Bengali Harlem”.

In 1965, after the Civil Rights Act, LBJ signed the Hart-Cellar Act which changed American immigration patterns and demographics for the final quarter of the 20th Century. And innumerable families from all over Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America came to the U.S., many with advanced degrees or the prospect of obtaining one.  This is the movement that shaped our contemporary understanding of South Asian immigration to the United States as our numbers exploded across the nation and in places like New York, Chicago, The Bay Area, LA, DC and Texas.

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Ladies leave your man at home… 

Concurrent to these waves of migration was, of course, the subjugation of the people of the Indian Subcontinent by European colonial powers. And while that experience and subsequent freedom struggle is well-known in the United States especially to followers of Dr. Martin Luther King, the dehumanizing and grotesque imagery used to propagate the falsehood that South Asians were backward savages that needed civilization and suppression was also spread around all the European settler states, including the U.S.

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Woah, that coulda been ME giving that dope pedi. 

So in the 20th century, several films regarded as American movie classics perpetuated these stereotypes. “Gunga Din,” starring screen legend Cary Grant, portrayed colonized Indians as primitive and murderous. Similarly, “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer,” about the quashing of an anti-colonial uprising and starring American alpha-male archetype Gary Cooper, was apparently so effectively racist that it was among Hitler’s favorite movies.

Flash forward to the ’60s and Peter Sellers is revolutionizing American film with  ”The Party,” a movie known for its unconventional structure and horrendous use of Brownface. Disney, on the other hand, chose to dip back into the Kipling pool for source material and in “The Jungle Book" rendered a magical world of scrawny boys in loincloths being raised by animals. And in the ’80s, a halcyon era for racist and orientalist movie imagery, "Indiana Jones" invented a stereotype that we eat monkey brains instead of like, rasmali.

More recently, America’s sweetheart Ashton Kutcher appeared in Brownface in a national ad campaign for something called PopChips and both MetroPCS and the NYC sports channel SNY ran concurrent ad campaigns depicting accented, cow- and mongoose-referencing, staid Desi store clerks.

But I told you I was going to talk about “Mean Girls.”

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You now know the history of our mischaracterization in America. And that our denigration is not simply anecdotal or limited to current racially motivated violence or profiling. It is part of our roots in this country and is in many ways structural and systematic and wielded as a tool to engender or promote various forms of exploitation and/ or exclusion. And the psychological net effect that this has on individuals born and/ or raised in America is profound.

So imagine what it’s like to live the first 22 years of your life, to graduate from high school and college and to vote and already begin to contribute to the only place you’ve ever known but never see your experience reflected back to you in any type of cultural way. To live with the mental and emotional heft that comes with centuries of disparagement. And the guilt and self-doubt that comes from the time you spent running and hiding from who you really were because it seemed like a better alternative than owning your identity, no matter how maligned.

And then there’s Kevin G.

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Who was an actual, American human being.

Who was three-dimensional.

Who was funny and flawed.

Who had his own catchphrases.

Who was both American and Brown with no suggestions of contradiction.

Who excelled at after-school activities and *also* spit hot fire.

Who encouraged Cady to succeed *and* pulled Janis.

So, think about the Brown Dudes in your life. Do you know any who are equal parts proficient and ridiculous. Who are passionate about both academic success and exuding swag. Who encourage girls to excel and march proudly in solidarity with Womyn of Color. Whose freestyle name checks range from James Bond to Shaggy. Are the people you know more like Kevin G or The Murderous Thuggee Cult, Apu from “The Simpsons” or Kal Penn’s shuck and jive show in “Van Wilder”

The world has changed since “Mean Girls”; Mindy Kaling has her own TV show (the particulars of which we’ll discuss another time). Aziz Ansari may be the biggest contemporary comedian in the country, hosted the VMAs, introduced President Obama at a Harlem fundraiser and appears on TV every week sharing screen time with stars like Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe. And “Pitch Perfect,” another ostensibly female-oriented American comedy written by “30 Rock” writer and Tina Fey associate Kay Cannon, included another memorable and lovable Brown male character in Donald, a beatboxing member of a campus signing group, played by Utkarsh Ambudkar. It’s almost hard for me to conceptualize what it’s like for Brown kids growing up today in America; the specter of racially motivated violence is so well-known now but at the same time we have so much more of a presence in the culture.

Kevin G’s full legacy is not written yet and we have much more work to do for true inclusion. Perhaps the next incarnation of Aziz Ansari’s “Tom Haverford” character is just as much of a baller but chooses to abstain from meat or alcohol. Maybe the next Mindy Project stars a hijabi actress/comedian. Maybe the next teen ensemble comedy is about spelling bees (but, you know, funny and well written).

So thanks for a great ten years, Kevin G. And if nothing else, America, remember these sage words of guidance from our hero: Don’t let the hataz stop you from doin’ your thang!

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-rv


Apr 18

Por Gabo

It was never magical realism to me
It was my history
The surreal way banana plantations swallowed the best land
The absurdity of low wages and hunger
The uncanny accuracy of bullets cutting down labor leaders
The bizarre stacking of corpses in boxcars
The fantastic sight of three thousand bodies
Tumbling into a starving ocean. 
"Always remember that they were more than three thousand
"And that they were thrown into the sea." 
This is the heart of my Cien años
The massacre that Macondo chooses to forget
Eyewitnesses swear there were no strikers
Only old, obsessed José Arcadio
Repeats the gnarled rosary of exhausting memories: 
Pirates stole the gold and killed the Liberator
Pirates sold our coffee and sold us woolen suits
Roosevelt stirred up civil war and stole The Canal
We left behind a trunk full of gold coins
The siblings died, one lone aunt raised the children
A blond-haired assassin fired a CIA handgun
Blood-crazed neighbors pulled out tongues through slit throats
Steaming gore and bodies clogged the whole river
A million died. No, two million. And three million fled.
This is my Macondo. I remember the three thousand
Mowed down on the picket line, dumped in the sea.
These yellow butterflies, the drizzle of teeny flowers, 
Not even the shock of stinging hands on ice
Could convince me this realism is only magic.
~ Wheelz
Gabriel García Márquez 1927-2014
Que en paz descanse.

Dec 15

"Brave" — Fake Das Racist feat. Fake Big Babay Gandhi

Rajbhog Streetz pays homage to some great performers. Happy Holidays & enjoy a laugh!

~ Wheelz


Nov 19

Eulogy

i’m pretty confident that
Paris would never tear down the Louvre
That the Sistine Chapel will always be with us
And that Nashville treasures the Grand Ole Opry

but New York
in my lifetime
i’ve seen CBGB’s close
and 5 Pointz painted over

-rv


Aug 16

The Kal Penn Diss Track

Editors Note:

http://theaerogram.com/kal-penn-tweets-in-support-of-stop-and-frisk-and-we-become-really-sad/


The Kal Penn Diss Track

I know cats who knew you
Back in Jersey, Blood
And all you ever cared about
Was the drama club
Twinkletoes danced your way
Into Obama’s club
And now you started some shit
#HellaDrama, Cuz
But don’t think we forgot
Your shuck and jive show
The fuck was ‘Van Wilder’?
Did Peter Sellers give you notes?
More like Peter Sell-out
Money can’t buy back your soul
When did losing your own fam
Become your goal?
So a cop never threw you
Up against the car?
Went in your pockets?
You think you a star?
You even know what happens
To real life Brown people?
While you tryna just get
A mention in “People”
Queens, Jersey, the Bay
Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus
Man, fuck your whole game
And fuck Bobby Jindal
We don’t need you my Brother
We are not Nikki Haley
Learn your Roots, motherfucker
Step up your Alex Haley
The Bellingham Riots
Dotbusters when we were babies
Oak Creek, Wisconsin
you just a Hollywood Desi
And we do not need you
Motherfucker, we balling
With some light skinned girls
And some Mindy Kalings
Aziz Ansari
At the VMAs
Zayn Malik, Kevin G
the OG M.I.A.
Utkarsh from B’More
The boss Dev Patel
Hari Kondabolu
Writing with W. Kamau Bell
Punk, you best find a Mandir
Your career is White Kurtha
And it was your own Bhais
Who committed the murder
Your wife they call showbiz
Just jumped in the funeral fire
You’re the Sepia Mutiny
Version of Mark McGwire
Get used to life being
Someone no one admires
Your Lushlife is over
And your BS is tired

-rv


Jul 14

Blended America

"[Zimmerman] was frequently referred to as a “white Hispanic,” a term that, for some, reflected a newly blended America and, for others, felt like an uncomfortable middle ground.”  - Washington Post

Reality was never
black and white
bad and good

You can be racist
and not wear a hood

your victim could

~ Wheelz


Jul 4

Triple Threat

She speaks three languages
Her Haitian and Dominican parents
Raised her in America
Raised her tri-lingual

And America
You don’t even try
To understand her.

Listen up,

You live in a country

Where you believe intelligence comes down to a magical number from a
test you made up

Where you think ivy growing on some wall
Means the piece of paper you got in exchange for your hard earned paper
Means something

Where you believe a person’s worth comes from the names on the clothes they wear, the speed of their metabolism, their eye shape, their skin.

And the way they speak a language that has nonsensical words like
‘language’ in it.

You’re mean, America.
Nah Mean?

You have nothing better to do than pick on a nineteen year old who
found herself on national TV only because her close friend was killed?

And SHE is the one who has something to feel bad about?

You spent your entire life swimming in the same stream
You went to a lot of school.
And you learned a lot of words

You never learned how malleable language is

tho.

You know what malleable means, but you don’t know what it means to Code Switch.

You’ve never had to.

Except for that time at karaoke when the Hov song came on.
And then you tuned out again when it was Daddy Yankee.
“What is this?” you asked, more incredulous than curious.

You voted for Obama. Twice.
How do you treat the guy who drives your taxi
tho?

"This guy doesn’t know where he’s going" you say before you vomit in
the backseat and forget to tip.

Who do you mob with in Bushwick, Uptown Oakland, Echo Park?
And do you even like your neighbors that you didn’t go to school with?

Even when you moved in, you didn’t have to Code Switch.
Somehow you expected Them to switch for you.

You respect difference until you are forced to see it.
You embrace diversity until you are forced to live it.

And you only speak
one
very, very specific brand
of English.

She’s speaks three languages.

Friend.
Star Witness.
American.

And maybe, America,
if you’re smart enough
you’ll learn something from her.

-rv


Jun 30

The Times Translated: A Nation of Rich Assholes

Rajbhog Streetz continues its public service by translating the latest op-ed piece from David Brooks: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/opinion/brooks-a-nation-of-mutts.html?_r=0

"A Nation of Rich Assholes"
By: David Brooks

Once upon a time, between 1950 to 1985, when all of my favorite TV shows were produced, only 5 to 6 percent of U.S. residents were foreign-born. What I neglect to tell you is that that’s because a previous generation in 1924 passed an immigration law that severely limited the number of immigrants that could come into the United States, and completely blocked immigrants from a large number of countries.

What I don’t want you to do is to look at this link below, which will show you that the percentage of foreign-born people in this country is roughly at the same level as it was in 1920:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/national/the-state-of-immigration/

There was also a time when 100 percent of people in this country were foreign born — sometime in the late Pleistocene — but I digress.

What’s different about today’s U.S. population, compared to that of 1920, is the vast majority of foreign-born are not from Europe, but they are from (thunderclap) Latin America and Asia! (loud gong sound and beating of drums) “Soon, we will no longer be an outpost of Europe, but a nation of mutts.” With all these Americans coming from all these countries my wife and I would never tour, an important question needs to be asked: “Can we absorb this many immigrants without changing something fundamental?”

When I picture the homelands of where these many immigrants are coming from, I picture a teeming jungle full of squalid huts, where inhabitants wear raffia skirts, sacrifice children and blond virgins, and worship the devil. There’s no way they could have become familiar with U.S. and “Western” culture through increasingly globalized popular entertainment. I also assume they were educated like American children, learning nothing of substance of how other countries run their governments.

On a woeful day I will probably see in my lifetime, European-Americans will become the minority in the United States. And on that day, like a bell going off, we will suddenly lose the desire to have a democratic government like the Iroquois Confederacy, strive to learn higher math like the Mayans and Hindus, or excel in science like the Arabs or medicine like the Chinese. We will also lose all impetus to participate in our country’s greatest cultural outputs, like jazz, rock and roll, and hip-hop. Because all of these traits can only be genetically transmitted from one European to another.

We were so backwards minded in 1924. Back then, your typical pundit (a fun English word derived from Hindi!) representing the dominant society was concerned that the “wrong” type of European — the swarthy Mediterranean type — would overwhelm and obliterate the culture derived from the “right” type of European — the fair, Nordic type.

Well, we learned OUR lesson. Now we know that ANY type of white is better than these weird chimeras who will overrun our country in the future, these “hybrid individuals, biracial or triracial people” with names like “Enrique Cohen-Chan.” God, that makes my SKIN crawl, to think of a sp*c, a k*ke, and a ch*nk FUCKING!

Gone will be the days when white people ran the roost — honest whites, who, when asked about their ethnic background, would chuckle and say, “I’m a mutt,” and then say they’re descended from people from 12 different European countries and a Cherokee princess.

I’m going to miss the days when I could assume someone who did not have white skin would talk with a hilarious accent. “We could soon see people with completely unaccented English joining Chinese-American Federations and Honduran-American Support Networks.” How ridiculous, that these people born in America and speaking English would feel any sort of affinity for their ancestral homeland! Why should they speed up the balkanization of our country, when they could join proper groups for unaccented Americans, like the Sons of Italy, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Ku Klux Klan?

What kind of social pecking order will accompany this future racial imbroglio? Maybe an interracial, better-educated upper class will have a larger share of quality jobs and housing. But one thing that will never happen is that an upper class of rich assholes would deny an vast majority of working-class Americans a decent education, satisfying employment, and quality health care. That’s because our glorious nation derived solely from (Christian) European culture was never, ever run that way.

- Wheelz


Jun 29

Heart Sellers

RV:
First of all
I wanna thank Hart-Celler
The most important reason
I’m an American dweller
Indian bringing more heat
Than Bob Feller
Cuz we’re still fighting Gunga Din,
Outsourced and Peter Sellers
I will slay all you bloodsuckers
I’m Sarah Michelle Gellar
And your girl be like: “I’ll be there for you
Call me Monica Geller”
Rajbhog fly like an illusion
We be the new Penn and Teller
More soul than Stevie Wonder
More heart than Helen Keller

WHEELZ:
Thank you Alliance for Progress, you raised the quotas
Our first Bell Telephone, our first Motorola
Crayola box people, but only one crayon’s Flesh
Afraid we gwon blow up, David Koresh,
Waco, we come in peace-o, aliens land ships
Sorry, few migrantes parecen a Miles Standish
Dish it up, look Ma, Paula Deen’s servin’ me!
Todos dicen sorry, but we’re still scarred by history,
Majesty, mira este princess de Lon Gisland
Light-skinned, good hair, spent his life wildin’
Wilder than Wonka for a sugar rush hour,
My insulin rhymes turn sweetness into power!

RV:
Wheelz you pack more punch
Than some Blue Magic heroin
Rajbhog all up on your shores
Bumpin’ the Beach Boys theremin
New Wave, I’m Debbie Hari
And I’m sensitive and feminine
But that just means I feel it more
When I’m mobbin’ with my heroines
Rajbhog got history in our veins
Revolutionary Estrellas
Then we shot DOMA in the head
Like something out of Goodfellas
Shouts to Wise Latina
And shouts to Betty La Fea
America made us devious
But New York made us playas

WHEELZ:
Major League, RV drives it home, what a run
Wheelz turns out another, now it’s 2-none
We clean house, fluff pillows, turn down sheets
We got it maid service sector economic deets
Great teats of Mammon I’m privileged to suckle
I rhyme on commuter trains, oye mi hustle
Catch my wife and me tired, sippin’ zinfandel
We can’t retire until we rot in hell
Naw, wifey got religion, I’m the infidel
Workin’ 12 hours, chasin’ down that sulfur smell
Kiss and tell the help, transference, sex, power
Can real therapy charge you by the hour?
That’s a prostitute. The pursuit of sappiness
Finds me in strip malls, buying bridal gifts
Handing over bread and cheese to taste a myth
Royal feasting for a day, cop a sniff-and-whiff
Food spoils, riches drain, people turn to dust
RV keeps me on track, amigo maximus
We look back at our abuelos and they teach us
They were doctors for the poor — how’s that for Yeezus?


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