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Facing the Music
Vinita Nelson looks at how immigrants handle unflattering news about the places they came from.

By Vinita Nelson

Recently, four men convicted of raping a woman on a moving bus in India were sentenced to death. Being from India, I feel a special kind of pain and identification with the victim.

It seems as if the coverage about Indians swings from one extreme to another. In Silicon valley, Indians have a reputation for being techies, venture capitalists or doctors. We are perceived as hardworking, non-controversial and apolitical. On the opposite end of the spectrum, international coverage about India is often about horrendous crimes against women, poverty, terrorist acts, corruption, mismanaged projects or communal riots.

When I hear the negative coverage, I am filled with a kind of shame, as if being of Indian origin means that I am somehow partly responsible for what's happening in India. The temptation is to blame the media for only covering what's bad about India. When the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" came out, many of my friends and relatives became obsessed with the portrayal of the slums of Mumbai and lost sight of the story and the deeper message. Having seen the Mumbai slum first hand, I would like to say the portrayal of the Daravi slum is accurate.

Being a minority, we feel pressured to present only what's "good" and sweep what's not-so-good under the rug. We feel proud of the Indian spelling bee winners and the Miss America contest winner and would rather the New York Times section, India Ink, just go away as the negative coverage of corruption and rape in our motherland is destructive to our image.

But sweeping what's not pleasant or positive under the rug means that we do not face up to problems. The cultural defensiveness that afflicts each community, no matter what its type, means that when we hear negative news about our culture we close our minds to the root causes of the very real problems that exist and shy away from thinking about solutions. In our increasingly flat and interconnected world, wouldn't it be more productive if we could pull our collective heads out of the sand and like the alcoholic who needs to admit to having the problem before dealing with it, also admit that we have problems we need to deal with?

With a Perspective, I'm Vinita Nelson.

Vinita Nelson is an engineer. She lives and works in San Jose.

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