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American First or Indian First?

by Sandhya Sabhnani

“Do you see yourself as American first or do you see yourself as Indian first?”, asked Rick.

Rick and I were brought together by 9/11. We were both in Florida on a business trip and a mutual friend suggested we drive back together to Dallas. He asked me this question as he could sense I was reluctant and nervous to make stops.

I still ponder this question on a regular basis, especially with the current political environment. I ask this question frequently of other Indian Americans. That day I saw myself as Indian first because I knew that is how others saw me.

That day I saw myself as Indian first because I knew that is how others saw me.

I did not feel that way on 9/11. The morning of 9/11 my heart was beating faster and my ears were ringing with shrills. I had been monitoring a call center and we happened to be calling into the World Trade Center when the attack happened. At that moment I felt we as Americans are being invaded and then 12 hours later I identified as Indian first. Within weeks I was back on the road for business travel. My Dad was nervous and insisted I wear an American flag pin to show everyone I am American and I standby by America.

Three weeks later my answer to that question was reinforced. I was flying out of San Jose and my friend wanted to park the car and escort me in. We were all on edge with flying. We were being screened by a Sardar at the entrance of the parking lot. He asked me “where are you from?” I said Dallas, TX. He kept asking me and I continued to say Texas. I was born in Dallas and lived in Dallas. In Hindi, he told me to stop this nonsense. I told him to stop. He wanted me to say I was from India, but I am not. Then he asked me why I was with a terrorist. My friend is Middle Eastern. I was being harassed by my own people.

For years I was pulled over for additional screening, randomly, sure? Was it because my name is Sandhya (Hindu) Nanak (Sikh) or Karachiwala (A person from Karachi).My sister was pulled over for additional screening as well. I know we were profiled..

Everyone sees me as Indian first and while I love my heritage, culture and traditions, I wish this country and my peers would see me as American first. This is my nationality. This is my home. This is my children’s home. I am American with Indian heritage.

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