Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ethnic diversity in rural Georgia

The largest ethnic minority in rural northern Georgia are, of course, Hispanics. African-Americans are quite rare in this part of the South. But South Asians are present as well. For instance, the Hyderabadi guys who staff the gas station down the street from my parish. Or the Nepali family that runs this really decent desi diner in Marietta (and the only Indian restaurant I've seen listed on the blue "Food at next exit" signs on the Interstate). (Ok, Marietta isn't really rural ... at one time it was!) One of the staff there, earlier tonight, said quite proudly that he'd picked up enough Spanish to talk to the Mexican dishwashers who work in the kitchen. "They don't speak anything else you know," he added in heavily accented Hindi.

The absolute kicker was stopping off at this little gas station at a bare cross-roads in the far west of Gilmer County, not too far from Resaca, on my way back from the visit to the Orthodox Monastery earlier in the week. Middle of nowhere. There was a country store attached, and as I entered, I saw two clearly South Asian guys behind the counter. The older one was jabbering in Gujarati on the phone. The younger one was behind the counter. As I checked out, I asked him, in Gujarati, if they were from Gujarat. He looked a bit taken aback, shook his head, and said, in English, "No, he is."

"So where are you from?"

"Pakistan." From Lahore, to be precise. Moved here a few years back. He's taking night classes to get a management degree down in Atlanta. We'd switched to Urdu by this time. He asked what I did ... "Ah ... I was wondering. I saw the cross around your neck. So are you Christian?" He wanted to know how I became Christian. I can't say I've ever talked about this in Urdu before, but I gave him a really brief version. His co-worker had gotten off the phone and was listening in. "Well, I'm Muslim." I expected as much. We chatted a bit more, and I wished him khuda hafiz and left with my diet Coke and candy bar.

Somehow, it was quite heartening to see a Gujarati Hindu and a Pakistani Muslim working together at a store. In Gujarat itself, this kind of interaction is dying out, with the rise of a violent Hindu nationalism, and the increasing marginalization of the Muslim minority. I've no idea how the Hindu minority is treated in Pakistan -- if it's anything like the treatment Christians get, it can't be pretty.

While some ethnic tensions might seem a bit more surmountable in the diaspora, others might not be: I recalled a bit of the conversation with Fr. J at the monastery. Occasionally they go up to Chattanooga to the Arab grocery store. "Well, we're wearing our robes, of course. And this one time, a group of Bosnian Muslims were passing by, and started shouting the vilest things at us!" The Bosnians assumed they were Serbian Orthodox, and I guess the memories of the war are quite fresh still.

Bosnians, Pakistanis, Indians, Nepalis ... and of course Mexicans, Colombians and Guatemalans.

What a fascinating place the rural South is! :)


Sherry W said...

Great story, Gashwin. How different the little town I grew up in Mississippi was! Yankee chilluns like me represented eye-popping diversity.

Justin said...

Hi Gashwin,

Sorry to pose this question here, but I couldn't find your email address. My brother was asking me a question about a Catholic marrying a Hindu and he wanted to know which parts of the Hindu ceremony the Catholic could participate in. I recalled reading a post of your on this matter some time back, but alas, I could not find it. Could you direct me to that link where you address this matter? Thanks. Justin (a seminarian in Toronto)

Gashwin said...

Justin: I have dealt in passing with the question of participation in Hindu ceremonies. These are personal perspectives. I don't think there are any official statements. And this doesn't deal with marriage ceremonies at all.

Here and here (the latter is only cursory).

The thing is also complicated by the fact that there isn't one ceremony called "The Hindu Marriage Ceremony." It all depends on which caste, which region from India, and what the family wishes to do. It's all very fluid.

I'd be happy to write a little more in detail via email ... again, these are just personal observations.


God Bless!