One of my strongest memories when we arrived as immigrants from Nigeria to Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn was a very strong urge to return home – immediately. It surprised me because all my life I had not only looked forward to coming to America, but it excited me to no end. (I blame Eddie Murphy and the people of Zamunda to a small extent.) So it was a bit of a shock when I arrived and all of a sudden my instinct was to run back across the ocean, I would have done it literally.
America is overwhelming at first glimpse, everyone is talking faster, the houses and cars are suddenly bigger, and the sky seems more imposing somehow, the concept and physicality is just so vast. In “My Dear American,” filmmaker Arpita Kumar dramatizes this beautifully using the intimate relationship between an Indian-American husband and wife who just moved to the suburbs and are about to celebrate the Fourth of July. While Tejpreet does not seem particularly excited about celebrating the Fourth, her husband Baldev is the very picture of enthusiasm, complete with his American flag T-shirt.
A wonderful expression of how overwhelming “Americana” can be comes when husband and wife go to Costco shopping for their Fourth of July barbecue. You can see the almost draining effect the trip has on Tejpreet, but she soldiers on. Even simple things like what song are we going to play on the radio – Punjabi music, versus American “lite FM” – cause a moment of slight friction, but Baldev’s positive energy continues to conquer all. He is only momentarily dissuaded when the couple come home to witness Islamophobia directed at them. It’s depressing, but Kumar is so good at lifting us back up. One of the most amazing things in this short is how few words are used. When Tejpreet consoles her husband she uses her actions, and maybe that’s what being a real American is all about – pushing forward even when you feel overwhelmed, finding a solution even when the very atmosphere that surrounds you seeks to destroy your spirit.
In the end we’re not sure Tejpreet has really embraced her American self, but it is clear that she and her husband are home. Take some time to check out this moving piece and vote for it in the PBS Online Film Festival, one of many shorts supported by thee National Minority Consortia (a collaboration of the Center for Asian American Media, Latino Public Broadcasting, National Black Programming Consortium, Pacific Islanders in Communications, and Vision Maker Media.)
The PBS Online Film Festival will be streaming until July 31st, 2014.