Bobby Jindal: Taking Us Backwards

When I think about the often traumatic health experiences we South Asian women have, I stop feeling the love for Jindal.

I am a South Asian not for Bobby Jindal.

Why is this relevant? Because I am South Asian American in a country where race and politics is an inextricably linked conversation. And of course, race matters.  Race discourse can be about a common life experience, a shared narrative of a community’s history, and an opportunity for solidarity.

Enter Bobby Jindal, our conservative, "Pro-Life," Indian American, touted as the GOP’s "rising Republican star." Attention on Jindal’s life and career as a politician peaked in recent days, following his response to Obama’s State of the Union Address.  While the speech was criticized for being (simply) a "disaster," others continue to call Jindal the Republican Party’s "great beige hope."

Being "beige" myself, all this attention on Jindal has me thinking – is this guy good for South Asians?  Is he good for immigrant women? As the daughter of Indian immigrants I feel for Jindal.  I find his badly combed hair endearing. His awkward posturing and southern accent remind me of the struggle we all go through to fit in as an American in communities that can be harsh to people perceived as different (read "strange").  And honestly, it’s nice to see someone who looks like he could be my cousin on the news for reasons unrelated to terrorism.

What else do we South Asians have in common? Well, when it comes to the story of South Asians in America there is one that prevails for most: young South Asians can’t tell their parents they are dating.  Justified by culture, and often religion, "hanging out" with the opposite sex is not something one does, especially not girls.  For girls, dating ruins your reputation, your chance for marriage to a decent boy from a decent family, and in turn, an opportunity for a good life.  (Good life, of course, is defined by another series of assumptions).

So you can imagine how South Asian parents must feel about sex. And pregnancy (before marriage). And abortion.  For the hundreds of South Asian girls I have known througout my life these things are dealt with in private.  If sex is talked about its only amongst those other girls that you know won’t judge.  Pregnancy tests are taken in public bathroom facilities or friend’s homes.  Abortions are done on borrowed money and hidden by an intricate series of lies.  South Asian women and girls that are undocumented and don’t have insurance are even worse off – often with no place to turn.

When I think about these often traumatic experiences we South Asian women have, I stop feeling the love for Jindal.  Why? Because Bobby Jindal is the man who supported the 2006 "Abortion Pain Bill" requiring physicians to tell women that their fetus will feel pain during an abortion, a medically unresolved claim.  For all women, including South Asian women, this is just one more emotionally manipulative obstacle in seeking necessary services.  He also voted for a bill that criminalizes transporting a minor across state lines to have an abortion.  (Remember that time when you strategized about how you would get an abortion if you needed one – I bet that plan involved someone who could drive).

Jindal voted against immigrants’ rights which also impacts women’s health: he voted to build the border fence between Mexico and the United States, a plan that seems to have no real purpose except to crystallize anti-immigrant hysteria. And he voted for the REAL ID Act pushing undocumented immigrants further underground.  When immigrants are pushed underground they are less able to access necessary health care services.  Fear of deportation, mistrust of the health care system, cost and shame often mean immigrant women do not access the reproductive health services they need.

For many, including South Asians, what will matter more than Jindal’s retrogressive positions will be his veneer: a well educated young Indian politician whose family achieved the American dream and more. For Republicans, a party with almost no diversity, he will be something  different – a "beige" (instead of white) face that still has the long-standing and comforting desire to prevent women from controlling their own bodies and stop immigrants from trying to live a decent and healthy life.  Like many who oppose the right of women to choose, Jindal has turned a deaf ear to the known secrets of South Asian women’s lives  – the lives of women in his own community.

What does this mean for South Asian women? Well, left up to Jindal, navigating our access to sexual and reproductive health through the morass of laws, culture, religion, tradition, and gender roles will be even harder – and if you are poor or undocumented, potentially impossible.

So all in all, Jindal’s anti-immigrant, anti-woman stance makes me think that beyond our difficult to manage hair, he and I have little shared experience at all.  And that perhaps South Asian women should save our support for someone who might have learned some real life lessons in a public bathroom stall.