How South Asian Americans Are Building a New American Dream

They're expanding on the success of their immigrant parents, creating a blended cultural identity—and turning the tables on old stereotypes.

At Hoboken, New Jersey’s City Hall, Ravi S. Bhalla, the new mayor, stands in front of portraits of past mayors. An Indian-American civil rights lawyer and a Sikh who wears a turban to express his faith, Bhalla was elected in November. “We are a diverse and welcoming community,” he says.

The stand-up comic Hari Kondabolu, who is Indian American, had just finished telling a joke about being brown in America when the laughter was interrupted.

“Thank you, come again!” a heckler yelled mockingly in a thick, faux Indian accent. The phrase is instantly recognizable to millions of fans of The Simpsons television show as the signature utterance of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who is portrayed unabashedly as a racial stereotype: the thrifty, borderline unscrupulous, and somewhat servile Indian convenience store owner.

To Kondabolu, those words at a show in October 2015 were even more familiar. Like many people of South Asian heritage in the United States, Kondabolu had “Thank you, come again!” aimed at him countless times while growing up. Now his irritation found expression in a smiling comeback. “I know you from high school, even though I don’t,” he said, pointing at the heckler. “You are the reason I do comedy, sir.”

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