The Curious Case of Bobby Jindal


Two weeks ago, “60 Minutes” ran a really interesting profile on Governor Bobby Jindal, an Indian-American Republican born and raised in Louisiana. In case you missed it, Jindal gave a very underwhelming speech after B’s Address to Congress just days before the profile aired. This was a disappointment to Jindal supporters because this speech was supposed to be his coming out party, so to speak – his big introduction to a large, national audience.

As I watched the man touted as the new voice (and face) of the Republican Party stink up the stage with one hand in his pocket and the other gesturing towards the camera, I felt embarrassed for him.

“Poor guy,” I thought. “He looks so uncomfortable.”

Initially I chalked it up to nerves. Big speech. Lots of people watching. Anyone would be anxious.

But after viewing and re-viewing Jindal’s “60 Minutes” profile, I’m beginning to think that his lack of comfort has little to do with being nervous and perhaps a lot to do with a curious detachment he has to his own heritage.

The public narrative that Jindal himself has recounted to the public – the Ivy-League son of immigrants married to a strong, brainy woman – is familiar. But instead of bringing his unique background to the political table with him, Jindal has taken pains to abandon it.

He is adamant that even as the lone Indian family on the block, he never never never felt any racial tensions growing up in Baton Rouge. He changed his name from Piyush to Bobby after the youngest son on “The Brady Bunch.” He converted to Catholicism as a teenager despite his parents and the rest of his family being Hindu. And he rejected their political party outright.

When reporters from a local newspaper traveled to India to learn more about his family’s origins, Jindal was uneasy with their poking around. And both Jindal and his wife acknowledge that there are almost no Indian traditions that they observe in their home. (To me, this seems very odd.*)

Jindal has distanced himself from his Indian heritage to a degree that is dubiously careful. This has made it impossible for me to relate to him, which is important for a politician.

Jindal seems to have left behind everything that would make him distinct, and as a result, he comes across as a little blank and yes, uncomfortable. By trying to convince me that he’s just like everybody else, he’s made me doubt him, which in turn makes it harder for me to connect with him at all.

So much for All-American.

*I’m a first generation Bermudian, and there are still very Bermudian things that my family does, despite having moved here thirty-five years ago. (i.e. kite flying on Good Friday; cassava pie at Christmas; potato salad with English peas; a block of camphor safety-pinned to your chest for a cold; the list goes on…)


About RtG

Rakia the Great, or RtG, is a publishing geek and sometimes literary snob. She's stumbling her way towards personal fulfillment and world domination by, oh, I dunno, writing this blog. Most days she's living her dream as a fancy schmancy editor. But not, like, today.
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5 Responses to The Curious Case of Bobby Jindal

  1. Megan says:

    I totally agree with you, Rakia. Something seems a little…hollow… about him.

    I am also really interested in your family’s traditions, if you care to share more about them in a future post – on Good Friday, we (Irish/German American Catholics) always had to sit quietly and think about the great sacrifice and pain of Jesus, so flying a kite sounds like an awesomely different take on the day. I’ll look it up online, but would love to hear more about your experience of it!

  2. RtG says:

    Megan, that’s a good suggestion for a future post. Thanks!

    Good Friday was always a fun day in our family. We got out of school early (or didn’t go at all), and went to the city park for a big picnic. My aunt would plant a big ole’ Bermudian flag in the grass, and I swear every Bermudian within 100 miles came through. We played volleyball, soccer, cricket and most importantly, flew kites.

    Good Friday is like a holiday in Bermuda. I’m sure Jindal grew up with some similar traditions. I hope he hasn’t abandoned EVERYTHING.

  3. T.Y. says:

    I agree…your Bermudian traditions would make a great blog topic. My curiosity is piqued and I’d definitely like to learn more.

    My background is pretty nontraditional. Born to parents that were practicing Islam at the time of my birth, I was raised as a Muslim child until I was five, then my mom decided to raise my sister and me in the Jewish faith. So, suffice to say, my mom, sis and Iare the only black jewish women I know. Each Fri. evening to Sat. evening we celebrated the Sabbath, making sure to cook enough for two days because cooking and all manner of work is forbidden on the Sabbath. I often cooked our Sabbath meals, making yeast bread, cakes and pies and a variety of other dishes…ALL FROM SCRATCH. No lie…my mom is ole school to the bone. She doesn’t believe in microwaves, fast food and avoids cell phone use as much as possible. My upbringing can be most closely compared to that of a strict Amish or Mormon household. My sis and I were even home schooled, but don’t let the home school stereotypes fool you…we are very intelligent and went on to complete college educations. Growing up, we were so unlike everyone else that I’m sure our neighbors thought we were from the Twilight Zone.
    But you’re right, though. Our unique lifestory is what gives us a distinct charm. When folks try to blend in and wash away every unique identifier that makes them who they are, they do the world a disservice. In adulthood, there is this pressure to live up to some vapid image of what a typical American is supposed to be like. Ironically, each of us is representative of what a typical American is, just the way we are.

  4. I like your blog. But I gotta say: seeming detachment is often a front. It doesn’t mean the person is actually detached. Just that they simply might not wish to be honest with a herd they assume will judge them. Which is often what happens in the political and media world. So, I truly doubt that he’s detached…I tend to think he’s being a politician. Different politicians have various reasons for hiding certain aspects of themselves. And I imagine a wounded politician who might possibly be rejected by his family might simply not want to air their dirty laundry. Especially if they’re Indian. Americans don’t understand some cultures but from what I’ve seen from my Goan neighbors, the tendency toward “saving face” is almost as powerful in that culture as it is in Asian cultures. If we are to be multicultural, we have to allow the fact that other cultures may not behave as we African-Americans or Oprah-soaked Americans might want them to.

    Re: homeschool stereotypes? Statistics show that many homeschooled children are often more intelligent than chilren who aren’t. And they often complete college educations.

  5. Emmett says:

    Jindal is a funny dude. As a congressman he’d take to the airwaves and basically take credit for things he didn’t do; things he’d in fact opposed. As governor, one of the first things he did was to go back on a campaign promise to not allow state congress to vote themselves a raise. As recall initiatives floated around the state he decided that wasn’t a good idea after all. Limited political shelf life. For the republicans to push him into the national spotlight it sort of looks disingenuous. See we’ve got some diversity too, sort of thing, when truly they don’t.

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