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Posted by on Jul 4, 2010 in Ex-Patriots, In The News, India, TG Roundup

Joel Stein Dosen’t Like Desis

Here we go (via Huffington Post) …

Joel Stein says he was going for humor in his opinion piece, “My Own Private India,” which ran in Monday’s TIME Magazine. But the Indian-American community — members of which serve as the butt of many of Stein’s jokes — aren’t laughing.

Stein’s piece focuses on the cultural changes immigration has brought to his hometown of Edison, N.J. since he grew up there in the 1970’s and 80’s:

“I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J. The mostly white suburban town I left when I graduated from high school in 1989 — the town that was called Menlo Park when Thomas Alva Edison set up shop there and was later renamed in his honor — has become home to one of the biggest Indian communities in the U.S., as familiar to people in India as how to instruct stupid Americans to reboot their Internet routers….

For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor.

Stein’s cracks are not exclusively directed at Indian immigrants — he pokes fun at himself and his (presumably white) childhood friends:

“The A&P I shoplifted from is now an Indian grocery. The multiplex where we snuck into R-rated movies now shows only Bollywood films and serves samosas,” wrote Mr. Stein. “The Italian restaurant that my friends stole cash from as waiters is now Moghul, one of the most famous Indian restaurants in the country. There is an entire generation of white children in Edison who have nowhere to learn crime.”

Several organizations have responded with outrage, criticizing TIME‘s decision to publish the article. For example, the advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) issued a statement and online petition in response to Stein’s piece.

“Most offensive is his remarkably blasé tone about the discrimination and hate crimes that targeted the New Jersey South Asian Community during the 1980s,” the SAALT statement reads.

Both Stein and TIME have issued online apologies, saying they never intended to offend readers.

Time reacts to criticism…

We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by Joel Stein’s recent humor column “My Own Private India.” It was in no way intended to cause offense.

Stein repents..

I truly feel stomach-sick that I hurt so many people. 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.


What do you think? If you are a Desi, are you offended?

Or, is this big ado about nothing?


  1. ignore him.. true.. but what about struggling desi community in NJ who has to now suffer from negative sterotypes and lagging business in Edison ? We went to Mogul the other day.. (the best Indian restaurant in the U.S. according to Joel Stein.. and we were the ONLY person there on a Friday).

    Joel’s article will at least reduce the traffic to Edison, and that’s sad.

  2. I don’t see anything reason to spend time to read this waste and get upset with these ‘Jerks’ (Joel Stein + Time)

  3. He is a street Dog, let us forget that

  4. Personally, I was not offended by Joel’s article when i first read it on the web before i received my Time magazine. This might be because i have been reading Joel’s columns and his satires and that’s how i viewed this article. I was actually surprised when i saw the amount of criticism that was received on this article.

    I always felt that the last column in Time magazine has been for humorous/sarcastic purposes and i never took them seriously. Hence, i might not have been offended by this article.

    If we look at the article in detail, there are some good things implied with respect to Indians. “There is an entire generation of white children in Edison who have nowhere to learn crime” – Can’t this be viewed as good thing ? Similarly, “Choi said that part of what I don’t like about the new Edison is the reduction of wealth, which probably would have been worse without the arrival of so many Indians” – can’t this be treated as a good point for indians ?
    There are some points in this article which might be offending if someone takes this article seriously. If someone reads it in a lighter vein, it should not hurt or offend as much..

    Kris garu, regarding your point that “desis” that tend to buy or rent houses in the same neighborhood, i do not think it applies to “Indians” only. If we look around in most suburbs of big cities or within neighborhoods of a big city, we see that some areas are populated by russians, polish, mexicans, indians, etc..It has gotten to extent that they are called a Polish town/ Russian suburb / Mexican area and so on. It might just be that people are more comfortable knowing that they are others from the same area/region residing in the neighboring homes. You also mentioned that if one is planning to settle in a new country, they have to take effort in getting to know the culture and assimilate into the culture. Then shouldn’t everyone person in USA be termed as American Indian and shouldn’t every person in this country be living and following American Indian customs ?

  5. My knowledge in English language is not great. I felt this article is very much offensive and did not find any humor in it. I do not know much about the author, but am really surprised with Time magazine’s standards.

    • Totally agree.
      Those who think the article is just funny should learn to read English. There is a fine line between being writing funny/sarcastic articles and writing bitter opinions.
      Mr.Joel Stein’s article tends to belong to that second type. Being bitter about the progress of Indian American community. Being bitter about the “Non Doctor” or “Non Engineer” cousin’s of the successful Indians making money. Being bitter about how Indians built “Little India” in the middle of “Middlesex County”. He is simply bitter about the Indians.

      I lived in the area for five years. Know every street there. Yes , its changed a lot.
      Each time I go to Edison I can be bitter about how on earth “regular people ” (to quote Sarah Palin :)) are living wealthy lives where as some of the “Educated Geniuses” are making less money then this. Or I can be happy about these “Regular People” smart enough to make it in Amrica.

      Someone at the top of Time magazine is bitter about it too.

  6. Agree with Joel. Not to say he is right or wrong. I think, like any other community, desi has it’s own positives and negatives. Pointing one or two does not represent vast community. Joel you have all the right to express ur observations.

  7. we get offended for every thing. I don’t see any thing wrong sice we don’t have better things todo.

    • I am with you – I don’t see anything wrong in what Joel said. In fact, we have to thank him for openly expressing many Americans are thinking about us.

      • Mohan garu,
        I guess you missed few lines , may be a paragraph.

        “But 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.”

        Why bring Arizona , which is a hot topic these days. Is he implying that the “Non Genius” Indians are equal to “illegal Mexicans ?”

        And what on earth bothered him ?

        “To figure out why it bothered me so much, I talked to a friend of mine from high school, Jun Choi, who just finished a term as mayor of Edison. Choi said that part of what I don’t like about the new Edison is the reduction of wealth, which probably would have been worse without the arrival of so many Indians, many of whom, fittingly for a town called Edison, are inventors and engineers. And no place is immune to change. In the 11 years I lived in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, that area transformed from a place with gangs and hookers to a place with gays and transvestite hookers to a place with artists and no hookers to a place with rich families and, I’m guessing, mistresses who live a lot like hookers. As Choi pointed out, I was a participant in at least one of those changes. We left it at that.”

        • True – I did read it in haste and missed a couple line you just mentioned. I didn’t find it humorous at all. However, I am not at all offended by that article. There are a lot of people who don’t think highly of Indians. I cannot be bothered by those jerks. 🙂

  8. I read the TIME article before seeing your post. It was amusing and wee bit funny! Of course I did feel an undertone of being critical of desi behaviors. But what’s wrong if some one criticizes? Can’t we, as a group, can’t take anther’s perspective or critic? Are we to always expect Meraa Bharat mahan responses from desis and Great Indians eulogy from others? Anything less is blasphemy! Come on…. We have a little growing up to do.

    • I concur with Sree. We need to grow up.

  9. It is sad. However, there is a noteworthy point in his criticism. I have seen several instances where desis seem to either buy houses or rent apartments where there are other desis to such an extent that anyone you see around you is a desi. It gives an impression that even though we are living in US, we are not mingling with other cultures.

    It is funny when people think that every immigrant from India is genius. At least I am not. 😉

    • Kris garu,
      Have you heard about Chinatown ? or little Italy ? or Jewish ghetto. They were all inside the United of States, yet very different to the mainstream United of States, surprisingly they were assumed to be all mingling with Amrican (yes Amrican) people.

      • Bhanu garu – Please don’t look at things with magnifying glasses. If one wants to settle in a country other than their own then one has to take that extra effort of getting to know the culture and trying to assimilate into the culture. If one cannot then it is sign of disrespect. People in general are very accommodating here and we have to appreciate that and not take advantage of that. Of course, you will hear outcries like Joel now and then but that is part of what we immigrants have to live with. I feel that their frustration is justified.

        Can you imagine formation of these so called chinatowns or little italy etc. in india? how would be the reaction from the common man there?

        • Kris garu,

          I totally agree with you on “one has to take extra effort in getting to know the culture”, which holds the same for Joel too. He could have taken extra effort to understand the desi culture :). Poor guy has to apologize for his loose talk.

          Well all in all, I am not offended after the clarification, but there are certain sentences that irked me ( I did not like his choice of words).

          More than anything, the fact that Time let such a loose talk article to go out to the public bothered me. No wonder CNN and the Time are having a slow death in this digital media world.

          Writing satire is “Katti meeda Samu”. As long as the writer sticks to satire and not turn bitter , all is well in the end.

          • Bhanu garu,

            Your analysis and interpretation is excellent.Unless we protest they will
            take the things for granted.