The struggle an individual endures in leaving a troubled Third World country is something I’ll never know. They fight through trenches to finally reach the land of opportunity, only to be labeled and victimized upon arrival.
Often, the labeling and victimization comes from fellow South Asians. The term “FOB” is often thrown around as an insult. I’m not going to say I haven’t used it. But lately I have a feeling that I’ve been very ignorant.
“FOB” is an acronym used to label someone who is “fresh of the boat” – someone who emigrated from a nation that is unfamiliar to Western culture. It is usually someone with an unfamiliar accent. The way they dress is different from what we’re accustomed to, and what they see as entertainment is different from what we’re used to. In my view, the term FOB can be distilled into three aspects.
The first is the questioning of oneself. I am a Tamil individual who was born and raised in Canada. Yet I’ve caught myself questioning how much of a FOB I really am. I identify as someone who can be considered an “undercover FOB”. As someone who grew up in the West, I am familiar with Western norms. I have the ability to mask my ethnic identity and blend in with mainstream society.
Yet I use the phrase “undercover FOB” because I am actually very close to my roots. I watch the newest Tamil movies once they are released. I find myself constantly listening to Tamil songs. And I’ve spent much of my spare time trying to learn new things about my culture. I would even dish out some Tamil in public if I wouldn’t be stared at.
See, that’s why I have to be covert about it. Although I have an attachment to my cultural roots, I am unable to display it to the world because I don’t want to be categorized as a FOB – someone my peers would be ashamed to be around. In reality, I shouldn’t be afraid to express my love for my culture. And it’s a shame that it took me this long to realize this. I know for a fact that there are others like myself – people who are afraid to show love for their culture on the basis of being judged.
This is where the second aspect comes into play. Have you ever stopped to consider your parents as FOBs? Most our parents were not born and raised in the Western world. They left their native land in the hopes of a better future for their families. We wouldn’t look at our own parents and call them FOBs. So why is it that we use it as an insult towards others who are similar in beliefs and cultural orientation?
The third aspect is the one we should consider most. “What goes around comes around” is the phrase best used to reflect this aspect. When someone unfamiliar with Western culture is placed in a Westernized setting, they are the outcast. But what if the tables are turned?
I have been to Sri Lanka twice. Both times, I felt like the odd one out. I speak with a Canadian accent, and my Tamil is nowhere near the clarity of those who reside there. Nor did I know where to go or what to do for entertainment. Basically, had I been thrown into their world, I wouldn’t know how to survive.
Yet there was a huge difference in treatment. Being in a setting I was unfamiliar with and not fitting the norms of their society, I was expecting some hostility. Yet I faced no hostility whatsoever. In fact, almost every person I conversed with was extremely kind. At the time, I had never appreciated that warmth and kindness. And when you compare it to how we treat our immigrants from a country like Sri Lanka, you start realizing the shameful characteristics we’ve adopted in Western society.
Living in Canada, I hear constant praise of how we’re a multicultural nation. We boast about it to the rest of the world and take great pride in this. But in reality, when we stoop so low, we have to contemplate whether we are even eligible to brag. How multicultural can we truly be if we so quickly label someone as a FOB just because they don’t fit Western norms?
And to those of you who fall under the “undercover FOB” criteria, it’s time to break the barriers and express pride in your culture. There is no need to hold back. I hope many of you begin to see the light as I have recently.
The next time you refer to someone as a FOB, think twice. Think of the things you can learn from them. Culture is a method of illumination that has gone unnoticed for far too long. So instead of finding new means of categorizing individuals, we should look beyond our borders. Those of us who grew up in Western society need to learn that there is a world outside our own.
For a similar perspective, check out: “How Tamil are You?”