My Life is Desi

I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time online on this site, which is quite similar to . It’s a site for anyone who identifies as desi (pronounced day-see) i.e. from the Indian sub-continent, and is presumably brought up in the United States though this isn’t always the case. It’s filled with stories from desis who share funny experiences, usually involving their parents, that feed into the cliché of being south asian– their parents skimping on essentials, insisting that they get married, their strong accents, etc.

It’s particularly interesting because it’s a link in a long chain of self-deprecating humour that straddles the line between being funny and ignorant. The immediate parallel to this site is and the corresponding hashtag: #FML. By basing the premise of on, #MLID(my life is desi) immediately becomes almost a lament, much like #FML, associated with an embarassing event that is normalized through humour.

Homi Bhabha, in his essay Of Mimicry and Man, argues for a more subversive reading of mimicry itself (excerpts here). He describes mimcry as “a discourse at the crossroads of what is known and permissible and that which though known must be kept concealed; a discourse uttered between

the lines and as such both against the rules and within them” (Bhabha, 130). Such an understanding of mimicry ascribes an intentionally subversive frame for itself that I’m not quite sure I agree with – it seems rather optimistic. Based on this understanding of mimicry, the site can function as an act of subversion – an ironic argument against the cliché of south asian personnage by endlessly mimicking it.

Here’s an example from the site:

“My dad isn’t letting me have my car this year so I asked him what he expected me to do for transportation, in response he bought me a new pair of nike’s MLID”

First, it’s interesting that the author believes that this instance is directly linked to the fact that they’re of south asian origin. Second, its fascinating that they’d describe themselves as ‘desi’ because the primary narrative about south asian cultures is their abject poverty and Nike is definitely not a symbol of poverty. The contrast between popular media understandings of south asian societies and this specific website’s repeated references to their relatively privileged lives as desi marks a place where the term ‘desi’ is taking on new meaning – one that’s less about draconian social conditions, and striking poverty and more about specific norms like stinginess. definitely mimics other websites that use similar humour, and it parodies the idea of ‘desi’ but it does so from within that identity which definitely allows for a subversive reading of the stories on the site. My uneasiness with this site and similar ones such as stems from the fact that they often seem to slip into a place of pure mockery, and don’t always hint at an ironic recognition of one’s identity. Bhabha argues that mimicry can be extremely disrupting of normalized discourses and that is where I primarily disagree with his idea. The stories also seem to function as an act of distancing oneself from one’s roots – specifically parents or family, to be able to see their faults because one is removed from them i.e. normalizing oneself by painting their parents as the Other.

I do think that, despite these problems, the site is an interesting indicator of the way, at least online, the idea of ‘desi’ has changed to include the lived experiences of diaspora and to account for migration and globalization.

Lakshmi is a former graduate student in the M.A. Communication, Culture and Technology program at Georgetown University. Her academic interests include critical theory and cultural studies as applicable to two specific areas – the institutions of education and their functioning as a site of knowledge, power and ideology and the effects of new technologies and popular culture on the process of identity formation, especially within marginalized groups and sub-cultures. This year, she will also be working as a Teaching Assistant for the Introductory class of the CCT program and working on her thesis which will examine the ways in which terrorism shapes national identities in Indian visual media.