Are Indians Asians?

Well, are Indians Asians?

You’re thinking what kind of idiot poses this silly question. You look at a map or globe and point out India smack in the middle of a humongous landmass marked Asia. Indians are Asians and that is all there is to it. Or is there more?

You’re mileage may vary, Dear Reader, but I’ve come across at least three different notions of what constitutes an  “Asian”. The first and most obvious is the geographic argument that anyone hailing from the largest continent on the planet is an Asian. The second  is the close approximation of those who are politically-aligned to the major  cultural powers within geographical Asia. Finally, there are those who are considered to be ethnically Asian. These notions are neither clear, discrete, or completely overlapping.

Let us look at who is an Asian in greater detail. Is someone from Russia an Asian? Most of Russia is in Asia, but politically Russians can be considered aligned to the the rest of Europe. If a white Russian is born in Moscow the geographical argument would dictate that she should be considered a European, but this is also in line with popular political and racial notions. Now, what if this Russian is been born in Vladivostok, which is geographically in East Asia and thousands of miles closer to Tokyo than it is to Moscow? Or take the case of white Israelis born within geographic Asia. Do they fit the common political and ethnic notions of “Asians”?

The question of whether Indians are Asians is an interesting one. I’ve been told by many highly-educated individuals in the United States that I am  “an Indian and not an Asian.” When asked to elaborate, I’ve been informed that Asians have physical characteristics that resemble individuals belonging to the predominant ethnicities of South-East Asia and East Asia. On a related note, I have also heard Pakistanis referred to as “Middle-Eastern, not Asian”, and  that one clearly makes no  sense at all, even to me. Indian Americans are a subset of Asian Americans according to the US government, but the person on the street often does agree with this nuanced hierarchy.

Curiously, all I need to become an Asian is to take a flight across the Atlantic. In the United Kingdom, British Asians include desis from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who form the predominant “Asian” community. East Asians are called “Chinese”. Also the word “oriental” does not have the racially charged connotations it does in most of North America. In short, if you believe popular definitions,  East Asians are either Asians or Chinese; and South Asians are either Indian or Asians depending on which side of the pond you ask the question.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

63 thoughts on “Are Indians Asians?

  1. The definition on this issue is set by the stronger majority – Whites. Since they are in charge of economically stronger nations, we tend to give more weightage to them. For minorities in America to change the way they are referred, more of them would have to make the majority aware what the preferred connotation is.

    I already think of Indians in America as Americans, just Americans. I am sure 20 yrs from now most Indians will move towards something similar. Why does it matter what Indians think? Well it matters what a superpower (hopefully in 20 yrs!) thinks as it goes some distance in setting definitions or debating over them.

    Although you have not explicitly mentioned what YOU prefer, reading between the lines I think you would rather prefer to be called an Indian than Asian as it is..err…more niche. What you prefer would matter a lot in the post as you are a highly-educated individual too.

    • Thanks for your well thought out comments, Pavithran.

      The “majority minority group” also play a role in setting the definition. A desi might be told that he or she look like a Mexican in Arizona, an Indian in New York, and a Pakistani in London.

      And why only race as a tag? I’m a “North Indian” in South India, an “Bengali” in Delhi, and a “non-Bangldeshi Bengali” in the Northeast. In each case the dominant group has “tagged” me.

      • I want to answer! :D

        Yes, Indians ARE asians. People these days say “asians” and they think about Chinese and all those eastern asians.
        Have they even thought of western asia or south?
        Asia represent, Japan to Saudi Arabia and Mongolia to Sri lanka.
        Half the population of “ASIA” is made up of us brown people, Indians. If you really think about it, there would be more Indians than chinese in Asia, that’s if you add the number of Indians, pakistani, and bangladeshis and all the “ex indians” countries.
        So, Suming it up, Indians ARE asians, too.

    • Here’s some history..We all came from blacks so no need to be racist,nd to those who aint racist just show equallity to those who you are not closely related to than the other or not closely related to you.
      Native americans came from asia from a land bridge…But everyone came from black people they are saying they came from asians because they are closely related…There are some spanish people who look black and asian…And there are some dark skinned asians who look spanish and black also,im not talking about the chinese people because they are pale and look too chinky.
      Some people think spanish people came from Indians from India because they look spanish,but they don’t have the blood.
      The asian and mexican/native american people came from the san african people,they have mongoloid features
      San african people are full blooded african with mongoloid features is where asian people such as thai,laos,malay,myanmar,indonesia and cambodian and also hispanic people such as guatemalans,mexicans ect came from.—– Also chinese,japanese or korean but they hardly produce offsprings people that highly look mixed with mexicans or black since they have pale skin and their features are just too much of a chink they don’t look mix.
      Such as the cambodians,loas,burmese,malay produce mexican look or even black mixed people but they are actually full blooded.What im actually saying is that the race looks mixed but they aint,they are full blooded.
      Cambodians are dark skinned asian. Vietnamese are not dark skinned. Vietnamess skin tone is similar to those of the Chinese, Korean, Japanese.
      Back in the day there were no equal rights for people of colored skin-That would mean if an indian person from india came to america he wouldn’t recieve equal rights.
      If the cambodians/thai/laos were to came to america-They wouldn’t have equal rights because of the color of their skin.

      Also in the same group as Cambodia and Phlippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos.
      Phillipines are mixed group they are mixed with mexican blood and asian-some looks spanish nd some look asian
      Cambodians/Thai-they are not a mixed group of people they are full blooded-Some look spanish and can be mistaken of black sometimes but rarely.

  2. The definition of “Asian” clearly varies according to the culture that is classifying us. It may also have a lot to do with the “major” minority and the resultant stereotypes.

    I’d go with Geographical classification because that has zero degrees of freedom. At most it’s South Asian vs Asian. Russia is a weird example because in ideology they have always thought of themselves as Europeans but the fact that they used to be classified as “Second World” implies that the feeling wasn’t reciprocated :)

  3. All this is just semantics, isn’t it?

    Even, consider the boundaries of the continent of Asia – IMO it is somewhat arbitrary. Unlike say, Africa or the Americas, Asia doesn’t really have any clear geographical cutoffs (the Urals on the West somewhat play that role).

    That said, I’ve always been baffled by the American habit of calling only East Asians Asians and creating a separate category for Indians. But this is a country that refuses to embrace metric systems. So what can you do?

    (PS – yeah my comment doesn’t really have a point :P)

    • I was reading this rant from this lady about how (and I quote) “Indians are poor replacements for Asians” and decided to write this post. It doesn’t really matter, but I’m trying to see if I can manufacture indignation here.

  4. Oh such a favorite topic of mine. How many times have I cringed to see a certain group of Americans refer to Asian girls as hot and Indian girls as exotic !! It is painful sometimes to see how ignorant the Western world is to the reality.I have now given up and have accepted the fact that I shall have to actually respond to questions like – “You are from India. So do you speak Hindu ?” You touch a lovely chord. Enjoyed it.

    • Thanks for reading, dear friend.

      The answer to the question you hear in the US, “Are you a Hindi who speaks Hindu?” is “no” unless you are Varun Gandhi.

      Best wishes :)

  5. On a similar note, a friend from near Madrid complained about how people here in USA have little idea about Spanish food. Most people confuse that with Mexican food. And his approach to the ‘problem’ is, “to hell with what these morons think ….”

    one new post every couple of days! :P

    • Thanks for reading. I’m sure your friend from Spain must be happy with the way Spain are playing in soccer.

      On another note, I’m keeping the posts much shorter. Also dreading the end of the World Cup. :(

  6. i thought for the whites Indians and the rest are all Asians.uff! to hell with all that.
    Listen to this…my neice who is a cute grade 6th for whom i am babysitting at the moment asked me if Germans were ALSO black(not one bit disappointed and still cheering for Germany).
    pls guide me how best to explain her without sounding racist myself because i know we as Indians have this thing for the fair skin too.
    Yeah don’t know myself how not to miss World Cup after it’s over.

    • And the World Cup is now over.

      Thanks for commenting. You’ve stumped me with that question. It is very hard to discuss race without getting into stereotypes.

  7. “You’re mileage may vary, Dear Reader”

    And yeah, I thought I had an idea of what this post would be, I’ve seen in plenty of movies and stuff how Americans tend to classify Asians on the basis of how much they look like South East Asian countrymen (or women). However, yeah, the Russia debate has been on my mind for quite some time. It’s actually quite interesting to think about.

  8. Stumbled on your site through twitter. Enjoyed reading most posts.
    I hear you on this sentiment of “Are Indians Asians?”.
    But while I always cringe at how brown people are always considered Indian irrespective of whether they are from India, Pakistan, Nepal or Sri Lanka, I also am guilty of considering all East Asians to be ‘chinky’, when they could be from China/Japan/Thailand/Korea/Vietnam/Cambodia/Singapore etc.

  9. Indians are Asian, what else would they be. People say they aren’t
    because of the physical characterisitics the rest of Asia, but
    logically they are Asian.

  10. Us Indians are Asians. We’re from the Asian continent, it’s that simple. Whether the middle east is called the middle east it’s still in the Asian continent, geographically. I don’t understand the debate. Do all Asians have to look the same? Does everyone in the North American or Europeon continent look the same? Why can’t the some Asians look like East Asians(like the Chinese/Japenese/Vietnamese/Cambodian/Thialand/Malaysian/Singapore/etc.) and others look like South Asians(Indians, Sri Lankans, & Pakistan are ALL different) and still be able to be called Asian? I don’t think it’s too fair to boot us from Asia like that. I also don’t think the term ‘chink’ is fair as it’s been related to racist connotations. Also I tended to notice Chinese boys a lot, they’re cute.

  11. You are INDIAN not asian. Sorry but I will die before Indians are classified with real Asian people like Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, etc.. Indian not Asian.

      • Shin,

        Let me respond to you in the following ways:

        1. Thank you for admitting Indians are Asians. However, I expect any person with reasonable level of intelligence and basic comprehension skill to be able to reach this conclusion. So I’m afraid I can’t give you too many kudos.

        2. I don’t know what you mean by “COMPLETELY”. But let’s explore it. Indians and East/South-East Asians have similar heights. We all generally have 2 legs, 2 arms, etc. So there are certain similarities there. However, that’s a stupid way to look at it. The differences, of course, far outweigh the similarities. Indians (actually, South Asians in general) have darker skin than East/South-East Asians. We have different accents and we generally hard-pronounce our “r”s and “t”s and “d”s. East/South-East Asians generally eat up their words when they speak English. And the major difference is that they are not racially discriminated against, unlike South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, and to a smaller extent, Sri Lankans), which brings me to the next point…

        3. Your tone appears to want to make it very clear that you want not to associate with Indians. Perhaps it’s some sort of superiority complex you have. If this is the case, I pity you, for you are ignorant and probably a kid. Then again, time served on the earth doesn’t mean you grow in mind. You could be a 25-year old completely immature twat.

    • Do you really know how Indians feel about being like you? Thank goodness you don’t want to know. Go sit in your ethnic bubble. Indians are a proud people when it comes to culture. You guys should know. From the east, you sent your missionaires like Huing and fuengs to India to learn and claimed everything as chinese, undermining other similar ethnicities such as yours. Then in the west, the persians and arabs took India’s free intellectual contributions to the west. We are a secure lot, not caring to preserve and protect, but thrive freely without restrictions and false pride. Sorry to burst your bubble, geographically we are and will always be Asian, but in all other ways, we do not want to be anyone other than a wonderful Indian. Heaven forbid if we are classified otherwise. Yes there are some Indians who talk about the “chinkys” in a derogatory fashion, some who are so scared they advise their kids never to marry a chink, but they are the uneducated and blinkered folks. Deep down, everyone may have degrees of such opinions, but over all, it is not in our culture to denigrate openly any other ethnicity even if we think we are better off than anyone else.

  12. I am South Indian, My friends ask me whether we are asians or not? Please answer Yes or no ?I no need full explanation in detail.

  13. Well I’m Chinese and Indians to us are as alien as the Vikings, so no, Indians are NOT Asians. Also, Vietnamese/Thai/Philippines etc. are South East Asians, something COMPLETELY different from Chinese/Japanese/Koreans.

    • Asia is the biggest continent in the world. Even Russia (a major part of it) lies in Asia. How is this difficult for you to comprehend? You may not want to associate with Indians or Viatnamese/Thai/Filipinos (that’s how it’s spelt, by the way; you are proving your ignorance), but that doesn’t prevent India in its entirety from lying in the Asian continent, and consequently resulting in all Indians being Asian. Also, please refer to my reply to your reply on my previous comment.

      And finally, remember that the Chinese internet is censored, the schools are full of propaganda and that you’re fed with the information that your “government” wants you to believe. You should question everything you’ve learnt.

      • Well English is not my first language so I really couldn’t careless. Also I grew up in both China and Japan.

        The Asia you are referring to is a geographical identity, the Asia I’m referring to is a CULTURAL identity. I have huge respect for the Indian culture but I don’t understand WHY, just WHY you guys keep comparing yourself with the Chinese? Whether you have much more in common with the Arab, Turkish or European culture I have no idea but you’re obviously completely different from North East Asia i.e. China/Taiwan/Japan/Korea, the only exception in the region maybe Singapore, but they were a British colony and probably fairly westernised.

  14. Asian is NOT A RACE I’ll Draw the line there the Continent is occupied with MULTI-LINGUAL AND MULTI-RACIAL people no way anyone with a literate mind can call asian a ‘race UNLESS they are in some sort of severe denial like most of those rationalist Americans and so called self-titled ‘Asians’ AKA Mongoloid race

    Even ‘Indian’ cannot be a RACE because North Indians South Indians and east Indians are basically three different unnamed Races

    I’m a South Indian BTW and i’m pretty agitated to realize this atrocity

  15. I have heard this from people who enjoyed offending me. I had a colleague and one friend who used to show me crap videos from YouTube about India. Like an Indian singing or dancing which has demeaning sub titles. These two people showed me the same videos on different occasions even though they do not know each other. Not a good word or good video was spoken or shown. And one of them told me I am an Indian and not Asian. And both were whites from Netherlands(below 24 years).

    I think the intent of the person speaking it matters a lot. If someone with a good intention does not want to call me an Asian and states a reason, I would respect that and give him or her the freedom to do so. But so far that has not happened. And from the time ‘racism’ has been renamed to ‘freedom of speech’ many people are taking such steps to vend their frustration.

    Here is my opinion. Country wise we are Asians. Racially there does not exist a race called Asians. Mongloids or Caucasians are the ones found in Asia. And there are both races in India. Mongloids are found in Japan,China, Singapore etc. Caucasian is the same race as Europeans and Arabs.

  16. I think the whole Asian thing has been hijacked by the Far East and morphed from a mere geographical point to a cultural one. Let me clear this whole misguided ethnocentrism. First off, the Far East should understand, India is in Asia. That is only why the tag Asian goes for Indians. For indians, it is not a prize or a wannabe to have a Pacific look. Thank you very much. We love being desis, we want to be one in our next lives too. Indians are a heterogeneous mix of several races. I think that is fantastic, and it would be MOST boring to look like everyone else. So, if an far easterner Asian is taking the Asian tag to mean a culture or a look, sorry to burst your little bubble. Asia for us, is only a geographical location on a continent. Until that changes, Indians will always be Asian by continent, but always Indian by country.

  17. I have a point to make. I have read many different points by all. I wondered about the term Asian and thought it was a generalization of people. The reason why I said this is because when a person is refereed to by the continent of which they belong to, it does not represent the culture or language that person identifies with, hence the term Asian actually excludes cultural and ethnic identity. It is also like labeling people with races such as white or black, accept in this case you can’t even identify what land the person is coming from or what culture he or she may belong to. Also in many cases being from an Asian continent doesn’t necessarily mean that a culture or society will identify you as being Asian. For instance Jordanians may call their self Asian but in the USA if they put on an application that they are Jordanian the USA will automatically assign them to the white category. Also a misconception that I saw mentioned is that European and Caucasian is the same…this is not true. Many societies have different ways of labeling groups of people coming from different areas of the world. In most cases there is a reason why some groups are labeled as certain races and it has nothing to do with the genetics or ethnic identity of the individual. In other words the term “Asian” may be more political than realistic. After all their are people who may have originated or at least had long ties to the continent of Africa, however in the USA their is no classification called Africa….and some groups belonging to that region are labeled black…So this topic is very complex their is no definite answers.

  18. Really, can you guys stop being so ignorant? Some of you deserve to have a geography book thrown square in your face. Indians ARE Asians because India
    is located on the continent of Asia. Forget culture. Even other Asians have cultures that differ from country to country. Looks doesn’t matter either. Btw a few Indians somewhat resemble other Asians. Look closely at their eyes, body… Indians are South Asians. They may look different, have a different culture, but they’re still Asians.

  19. Most people are not aware of the history, but historically only Indians and Arabs were referred to as Asians. People from countries like China, Korea and Japan were referred to as Orientals. However these people resented being called Orientals and hence the word Asian started being used to refer to them in America and now has transition to the rest of the world.So in fact the REAL asian are those from what we refer to as South Asia and Central Asia.

    • That depends on how far in history you are referring to…Like Asia, Africa America and etc. were not the names used on ancient maps…people were not unified by names of continents or referred by such names, in fact it is foreigners who have the tendency to want to categorize groups of people into small groups.

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  21. India is not even in Asia.India has its own tectonic plate which incidentally includes india,nepal ,pakistan bangladesh.that is why we are called as living in indian subocntinent.So we are not Asians

    • Mei Liu, The continent Asia, exists since before you exist, (like some millions of years).
      I’d like to clear something, Asia is not equal to Mongoloids.

      This term or meaning of “the only asians are chinese japanese or koreans” is formed by the western world due to more migrations from your countries to their. In return (gift) you adopted the meaning of term “Asian” which you are called there.

      Mongoloid people have been part of Asia so are others. So please get your facts right. read a lot. learn a lot. throw away the stereotypical views. Get some education, and pass it on.
      And you know? It actually helps! :)

      In the present world map, there is a continent called Asia which comprises of many countries with genetically diverse people.
      They have been trading, sharing events, cultural bonds, knowledge, etc. since thousands of years.

      Let’s not divide. Man is to unite to prevail. :)

  22. Dear all,
    It’s a great debate of who is Asian and who is not. All the countries that reside in the Continent Asia are geographically Asian.
    I’d like to mention that I’m not a scientist of the Human evolution or Geography. But I like to read and study a lot.

    Scientifically, The way they look, facial and body features differ due to different racial origins.
    For example, The east-Asian people has Mongoloid features, they belong to Mongoloid race.

    Since the people migrated over thousands of years, they developed and adopted the environment they lived longer.
    It has been found in the genetic studies that the people who reside in the Indian subcontinent have Caucasian and Australoid genes.
    The more you go towards north in the South Asia, the more prominent Caucasian features you will see. The more south you go, the more Australoid features you would notice. North east part of south-Asia has more prominent Mongoloid features.

    The people from the Northern part of the Asia (dominantly Russia) has Caucasian genes more (citation needed).

    Looks like the continent Asia comprises of Caucasian, Mongoloid and Australoid genes which makes the people distinctly look different.

    However we share many cultural and historical bonds. Instead of socially out-casting each other, why not cherish that bond with a bigger word “Asia”

    Finally all the humans residing in the Continent Asia ARE Asian. The continent Asia belong to all the peoples living on this continent since thousands of years.

    And if you really want some distinct identification (to satisfy the child in you), here is it:

    – Next time the question “Are you asian? is asked to a Chinese, Korean or Japanese guy/girl, s/he should say:
    Yes I am East Asian and have Mongolian genes.

    – Next time the question “Are you asian? is asked to a Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or ShriLankan or any south Asian guy/girl, s/he should say:
    Yes I am South Asian and have Caucasian/Mongoloid/Australoid genes.

    – Next time the question “Are you asian? is asked to a Russian guy/girl, s/he should say:
    Yes I am North/North-West/North-East Asian and have Caucasian/Mongoloid genes.

    Congratulations you have divided the greatest and amazingly rich continent in every aspect! Kudos!

  23. (I’m from Mongolia, male 24 years old and once traveled to China, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia, USA)

    Most people in my country (i dare say most orientals also) look at Indians with xenophobic look…and if some Indian come to say like…. “I’m your fellow Asian!”, well that’s real hard to digest. It’s the same or worse if the person is from Iran, Iraq or Arab.

    Think about America which is a continent. When someone says his friend is from America, people usually think he is from USA. Besides, i doubt if people from south America, like to say “I’m American”.

    The point is: India is/will NOT universally accepted as Asian because of racism and this racism thing doesn’t only apply to human but also animal, plant, planet and even god. However we already have a (ineffective) term that “One Humanity” but which can still be considered racist compared to “One Living Beings” or just “Everything is One”.

    So if India wants to be universally called “Asian”, then defeat or negotiate with leaders of those who oppose it. (but either way that’s unlikely)

  24. i saw here said filipinos are mix with mexican blood. It wrong. Filipinos are malayan, 3 percent only have spanish or mexican or american mix. We are nothing with those taco eaters. Most of them arent even living in the philippines. Also philippines is not diverse racially, but only ethnically. Ethnic groups. Stop saying filipinos are mix. And even some insecure filipinos. Its ignorance.

  25. Stop comparing us with mexicans. We filipinos eat white rice not tacos. We are not related except in some culture but the spanish element in our culture faded since.

    • I am Indian and black and my grandma is Indian and you really can’t tell the difference between her and the bullshit stereotype of an Asian, in South Africa you might notice a majority of whites ,but you don’t classify it as Europe just because it is a tiny bit different from the other, they are still considered African, white african… Same with Indians just because they don’t fit the bullshit stereotype of an Asian, with pale skin and sharp eyes, doesn’t mean that they are separate from the country they are still Asians.

  26. i would like to tackle this question on an intellectual note which i have otherwise gathered that these ching chong who are disputing whether or not indians are asians probably never attended school or i question the level of education in their country. i agree with the person who commented that in history the europeans and the rest of the world referred to india and the middle east asia and to china, japan etc as the orient. very true. i also want to make note that as an indian living in the caribbean i see indian culture a whole lot in chinese and south east asian culture and i know it belongs to india , in terms of their dress, religion budhism , food especially south east asia , ancient medical practices, yoga, karate , all of these belong to india and the indian people. so to say that its a disgrace for you to be associated with indians is an even bigger disgrace for indians to have to put up with the likes of you. you are a disgusting low grade of the human race, you are built like a shrimp, your eyes are mere slits , your lips are like chunks of ugly uncooked pork your stature is repulsive. how dare you even compare yourself with indians to even consider yourself a superior race is a joke. many even believe at least in this part of the world where i live that you are alien beings left here by ancient aliens . there is no explanation for your eyes, so it must be true. just like there is no explanation for black people kinky hair. for the person who commented earliar that we are all black because the human race came from africa, i don’t believe you are indian, if you are , you need to read, the ramayan, upanishad, vedas to recognize who you are and where the different tribes and races came from. i would not impound on that topic now , but all i can say is that you are under a very wrong misconception . you would see in the ramayan there were sub human races. it depends on if you consider yourself to be subhuman.

    • Wow. This is you answering the question on an “intellectual note”? I’d hate to see you answer on a “blatantly racist note.” Calling people sub-humans doesn’t help anything.

      I’m a Vietnamese American. I had never encountered an Indian person who referred to themselves as Asian until I was in college, so it’s still a very strange concept for me. I think I’ve always seen my family’s ethnicity as Asian and our nationality as Vietnamese. I’ve thought of Indian as both a nationality and an ethnicity. I think that is where the conflict arises.

      All race and nationality is a fairly arbitrary social contract. Lines are drawn up to make countries and continents and then people create names for themselves and for others. Most non-Asians in the U.S. Would say that East Asians are all Asians due to similar features and the perception of shared culture; ie Buddhism, cuisine, chopsticks, social structure and behavior, etc. Indians are seen as totally removed from Asian culture because Indian culture is very distinct. Very different facial features, different food, different social structure, different behavior patterns, different religion, etc. We even receive our own, very distinct, forms of racism. As an Asian, I’m supposed to open a nail salon and a restaurant, be great at math, and know how to play the violin from birth… We all are. But Indian people are expected to eat nothing but curry, work in IT, and have Bollywood dances at every party.

      India is in Asian. That’s a fact. But it is worlds away from the cultural experience of what I, and much of the rest of the world, has come to understand as Asian. Chinese, Hmong, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean; we’ve all been lumped together for some time. We see our individual cultures as distinct, but under the umbrella of being Asian. Indian culture is just so, so different that I don’t think East Asians and Southeast Asians are willing to spread the umbrella out to include India as well.

      Also, though I’m proud to be Asian, I wish that I had the opportunity to be Vietnamese. Indians get to be known as Indians. I get asked all the time, “Are you Chinese or Japanese?” Forget Cambodian, Laotian, Mongolian, Korean, Taiwanese, etc. I am always amazed and pleased when someone can recognize me as Vietnamese. To me, Indians wanting to identify as Asian is bizarre because it seems like they want to loose their distinct indentity and become grouped in with an amalgamation of cultures which is in sharp contrast to their own.

      • Sally, please ignore Lisa – she’s a bigot who obviously does not represent the vast majority of Indians.

        I found your explanation of cultural identity quite interesting, and I’d like to share my own thoughts on this as well. Indians do not see themselves as East Asian, and I’ve never met an Indian who did think of themselves in that manner. But Indians do definitely consider themselves to be Asian, albeit South Asian. It is important to note here that we do not seek to assume the Western identity of “Asian”, which is largely a creation of White Americans, but we define ourselves as Asians on our own terms – being from the continent of Asia. Just like you, I also grew up self-identifying as an Asian, but of Indian nationality. Just like you, I never thought of people from other parts of Asia, like East Asia, Russia and the Middle East, as being “Asian” in the same sense that I was – in fact, I only became aware of the use of the word “Asian” to refer exclusively to East Asians when I moved to New Zealand for University. So how can either of us claim the other to be wrong? In sharing my view, I should stress that it will inevitably be very different from that of other Indians who have had different experiences than me, and I can only speak for myself and those in my close social group.

        I should first point out that “Indian” is not an ethnicity. India is home to a massive number of ethnic groups, belonging to very different genetic “races” – people from the North are primarily Caucasian, people from the North-East are primarily Mongoloid, people from Central India are mostly Austronesian, and people from the South (like myself) are a mix of Caucasian, Austronesian and a little Mongoloid. Indians in different parts of the country look very different – in fact, most people from the 8 North-Eastern states could easily physically pass as Southern Chinese or South-East Asian (this region comprises a population of about 50 million people!). Indians speak over 400 distinct languages – some of these languages (like Meitei, Bodo, the Naga languages, the Tani languages, Ladakhi, Balti and Sikkimese) are Sino-Tibetan languages distantly related to Chinese, and some (like Khasi, the Munda languages and the Nicobarese languages) are Mon-Khmer languages distantly related to Khmer and Vietnamese. Indians follow a range of different religions – most follow closely-related Dharmic religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the second of which spread to East and South East Asia and became an important part of your cultures as well. In the end, it is undeniable that the Dharma is one of the most important sources of both South Asian and East Asian philosophy and culture, and a major thing that we have in common. In fact, Hinduism was the dominant religion of many nations in South-East Asia until it was displaced by Buddhism and Islam.

        I also want to point out that there are some pretty big connections between India and South-East Asia (with the notable exception of your own country, Vietnam). Historically, the Kingdoms of Southern India maintained close cultural and economic ties with the Kingdoms of South-East Asia (like the Srivijaya, Champa, Khmer, Funan and Sukhothai Kingdoms). In fact, the Tamil Chola Empire of South India even conquered and held major parts of Indonesia and Malaysia for hundreds of years. These countries, and others like Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, are littered with the ruins of hundreds of ancient Hindu temples built in a distinctly Indian style (the most famous of course being the Angkor Thom and Preah Vihear temple complexes in Cambodia, Mỹ Sơn in Vietnam, and Prambanan in Indonesia). The writing systems of South-East Asian languages like Thai, Burmese, Khmer and many others are called “Indic” scripts, and these languages contain thousands of loan words from Indian languages like Sanskrit and Tamil. Ancient Indian epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana are still held sacred in countries like Thailand and Indonesia. The Indonesians use the mythical Hindu bird Garuda as their national symbol, and the Thai kings still take the name “Rama” and paint their palaces with scenes from ancient Indian battles. The cuisines of South-East Asia (with the exception of Vietnam) are very closely related with those of Southern India. Indian astrology was, and still is, an important part of Thai culture. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu “Indians”, descended from immigrants who left India hundreds of years ago, still live in Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and Thailand (Indian Tamil is one of the national languages of Singapore, and an official language of education in Malaysia) and the Indonesian Balinese (and some Bornean) people still practice Hinduism. The similarities between India and South-East Asia are far more numerous than this, but I don’t want to make this comment overly long.

        Look at East Asia as well – how different would these cultures be without the Indian philosophy of Buddhism? Buddhism was an off-shoot of Hinduism, devised by a prince from Northern India, and this changed the course of Asian culture and history completely. Even certain regional variations ultimately came from India – Zen or Chan Buddhism was transmitted from India by an Indian monk named Bodhidharma in the 5th century AD. And even some distinctly East Asian ancient institutions owe much to Indians – the Shaolin Monastery, birthplace of the Eastern martial arts, was founded by a North Indian Buddhist monk named Buddhabhadra (Bátuó in Chinese) in the 5th century AD. Tibetan Buddhism reached Tibet from Northern India during the rule of Thothori Nyantsen, led by missionaries from India – this of course later spread directly to Mongolia – Tibetan Buddhism is very similar to Indian Buddhism even to this day. And of course, the Tibetan cultural region stretches into many North Indian states as well (even excluding the few disputed territories). Again, I don’t want to make this post overly long, but you can look these facts up anywhere if you don’t believe me.

        Please don’t get me wrong here! My point is not that Indians can claim ownership of any aspect of these rich and distinct foreign cultures. My only point here is that South Asia is not distinct from East and South-East Asia in the very extreme manner that most East Asians seem to believe. India has thousands of years of strong cultural, religious and economic ties to the rest of Asia – especially South-East Asia. We have no real connection at all with Europe, and only very weak (and often unfriendly) connections with Central Asia and the Middle East. Of course, there are many things about India that are vastly different from what you consider to be Asia, but once you learn more about the country’s history and culture, it becomes impossible to not consider India to be an Asian nation in spirit. And since we, as Indians, actually know all of this, we consider it natural to call ourselves Asian, even though most of us don’t “look” Asian (or like what they are “supposed” to look like at least). Indians are actually taught of their place in the history of Asia from an early age, and some of us consider the East Asian tendency of classifying Indians as Middle Eastern to be somewhat ignorant or even mildly racist. East Asians tend to know very little about India, and many thus tend to latch onto Western stereotypes about us. Besides, Indonesia is just as distant from countries like Japan, culturally, as India is, but Indonesians are still called “Asian” just by virtue of looking the part!

        So really, the answer here is simple. Indians are South Asian. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Mongolians and perhaps Vietnamese are East Asian. South-East Asia has something in common with both regions, but is otherwise distinct. India might be the far greater outlier here, but nowhere close to as far as many people think. Indians cannot claim to be “Asian” in the American sense, as that is now an issue of immigrant cultural identity. On the other hand, Indians are called “Asians” in the United Kingdom and Africa, while East Asians are not. The key thing here is to respect each other’s right to self-identify as Asian in a neutral, non-racialised and non-cultured sense, while being aware of both the similarities and the very vast differences in our cultures and our experiences of the world.

        You mentioned not wanting to be grouped with an “amalgamation” of cultures, but this is what Indians go through every day anyway. I am a Tamil, and I have little cultural connection with other Indian ethnicities like the Hindi, Bengali, Kashmiri or Naga people for example. But “Indians” are treated as a single ethnicity, even though we are more diverse internally than pretty much any other region on the planet (as I alluded to earlier). People try to say things to me in Hindi, or ask me about Bollywood, or various other aspects of the Northern culture, when these things are as foreign to me as a Tamil as Japanese culture would be to you. We don’t have anything even resembling a distinct identity as it is – India is in many ways an artificial nationality cobbled together by the British. So we are already an amalgamation of distinct cultures, ethnicities, languages and religions. Any notion of a distinct “Indian” identity is externally-imposed, and many of us don’t view ourselves as a united cultural group at all, even though we are proud to be Indian by nationality.

  27. Only the yanks refer to Asians as Chinese, Japanese, Korean or mongolians. I refer to this as Yankasian. They are taught (wrongly) that our Indian brothers are not Asian because they are not mongols. Well this is the epitome of ignorance and stupidity so let me clear this up once and for all. If you study the world map (something yanks struggle with) you will find that the sub continent of India (Hindustan, as referred to by Aryans) is actually located in a continental land mass known as Asia. India is in fact in SOUTHERN ASIA, therefore the indigenous peoples of this country ARE ASIAN. What else can they be? African?, Aborigines?, Native American??. They are SOUTHERN ASIAN to be precise, but ASIAN nonetheless. They are no less ASIAN than their mongoloid brothers in China and Japan, Philippines and Malaysia who inhabit EASTERN ASIA.

    ASIA is the largest continent on earth and Russia is part of NORTHERN ASIA, therefore Russians living in the North East are in fact also mongolians and ASIANS because they have the same features as the ‘yank asians’ if you will. Now ain’t that strange huh, but its a fact! Our Middle Eastern brothers can be referred to as being from WESTERN ASIA. In the UK or Blighty as we like to call ourselves we refer to our Indian brothers as ASIAN, as we do Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. We don’t call our Chinese, Pilipino, Malaysian or Japanese brothers ASIAN, its just not done. They are Chinese, Japs, Philipino and Malays or sometimes we refer to these people as ORIENTALS, or ORIENTS which is a British colonial term and sometimes just mongols or slopes which is a term I don’t like. So there you are, Indians are ASIAN. In fact Northern Indians are Aryans and Southern Indians are Dravidians to simplify. India like America is a melting pot of many races and tribes that has European and Asian, but not African origins and It is more a nation than a race. The Indians gave us language, mathematics, philosophy and the number ZERO. Most importantly they gave us what we English call RUBY MURRAY which is slang for CURRY and is the staple diet of any red blooded Englishman.

  28. In an evolved age, where we celebrate the World Brotherhood Day and the constitutions of so many developed nations talk about the principles of Liberty, Equality & Fraternity (First coined in the French Revolution), we are talking about branding all the human beings in accordance with their racial ancestry, ethnicity, color, physical characteristics, etc. Why is it even important to prove that we’re Asian, European, African or anything else? Will that make our lives merrier? I don’t suppose it will. We should celebrate life & take joy in celebrating each other’s cultural, geographic or lingual traditions. Let’s just join our hands, be friends, have a casual conversation & forget about our nationalities. May all sentient beings be in peace!
    Spread love, not hatred,
    For only love is sacred!

    A friend

  29. Pingback: Anecdotes on Race and Racism | popcorn wallace

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