How I Became Asian?

Warrior Queen of Jhansi

I was born in India and given a name which originated at the time of Alexander the Great, who when reaching the Sindhu River with his armies, could not pronounce the word Sindhu because his language had no sound for the letter “s.” And so, Sindhu became Hindu. The name morphed to India during the British era when a classical education was highly prized. Yet where the classical Greek has the Iliad and the Odyssey, Vedic India has the longer epic poems Mahabharata and Ramayana, texts which explain my first name. The origin of the word Aryan enters modern use after the linguistic linkage by William Jones in his 1794 translation of the Indian Laws of Manu.


While growing up we always thought of ourselves as Indians shaking our heads at Columbus’ error.

Click the image on the right to learn more about the derivation of the word Hindu from the Hindu Website

By accident of my birth as a Brahman I studied Sanskrit in school just as young boys in the west studied Greek and Latin. Classical Sanskrit categorized Brahmins as Aryans dating as far back as 1500 BCE, well before the recent usurping of the word in the 18th century that culminated in the horrors of the 20th century.

US immigration struggled with classifying and distinguishing Asian Indians from “Hindus” in the twentieth century census rolls from 1920-40 as was similarly the case with the designation “white” in the years between 1950 and 1970 and Asian or Pacific Islander in more recent census data from 1980 and 1990.

The confusion made its way to the Supreme Court in “United States v. Bhagat Singh 1923, the case of a SiA North Indian who emigrated to the US in 1913, served in WWI and was granted citizenship in 1918 only to have it rescinded after four days. The court rejected his lawyer’s argument and said…

 “Contradicting the logic behind its ruling in Ozawa v. U.S., the Supreme Court found that Bhagat Singh Thind was also ineligible for citizenship though as an Asian Indian, he would have been categorized as Aryan or Caucasian, according to the prevailing racial science of the time Thind  was racially white, the Supreme Court found that he would not be considered “white” in the eyes of the “common man,” despite scientific race categories, and was therefore also ineligible for citizenship.  The Thind decision led to the denaturalization of about fifty Asian Indian Americans who had earlier successfully applied for and received U.S. citizenship.”*

The assertion that the term Aryan is related to linguistic characteristics and has nothing at all to do with physicality was a commonly accepted conclusion that did not cross the Atlantic, and sadly is lost on the white supremist mobs. The labeling again made the news in late 2022 after Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister of Britain when various groups claimed him to be a “Poster Boy.” By their logic he is the first” Indian-origin Prime Minister, “the first Hindu or the first Asian Prime Minister of Britain. This led a Malaysian comic to suggest Indians should choose a lane. In Britain there is a clear distinction between people originating from the Indian Subcontinent compared with East Asians.

As a physician interested in the field of Genetics, I discovered through testing on 23 and Me that I do not have the Denisovan gene commonly found in Asian populations.

Click image for video about Denisovans

It was only when my son, whose mother is from Wisconsin, was applying to university that we discovered that he was an “Overrepresented Minority” and thus was less likely to be admitted to Ivy League Colleges. A case referencing this situation is now in front of the Supreme Court in their review of Affirmative Action.

I am amused and shocked to hear that I am a member of a “Model Minority” but I am hopeful that our history will be taught in schools along with the “Chinese Exclusion Act’ and the WWII Japanese Internment Policy. And let’s not forget a chapter on Thind v/s US.

As for me, I will not sashay down a catwalk as a “model” in the foreseeable future … not with my skinny legs … that is all I have to say!

Bharat Pathakjee MD, is a retired cardiologist who earned his initial degree in his native India and took additional training in Michigan and at the University of Louisville.  Dr. Pathakjee enjoys reading, running, and learning history, science, and philosophy.

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12 Replies to “How I Became Asian?”

  1. Thoughtful article, Bharat. I’ve always thought of you as a special person, a learned one, but not a “model”!
    How ridiculous these categories of humans. Since moving to the Tampa area, I’ve learned there are three distinctive demographic categories here, about equal in number: White, White Hispanic, and Black. On my father’s side, my grandparents were Costa Rican and French.; on my mother’s side, Scottish and Sicilian — all melted together. They came to America in that great influx of immigrants between the two world wars. For a time, when the federal census first offered the checkbox “Hispanic,” I jumped at showing my pride of Spanish heritage. But the category White Hispanic makes me angry. Black Hispanics now, on paper, are separated from their cultural identity by skin color. We know what all this accounting of black v. white is about.
    Isn’t it time for the census to count something other than pigmentation? I could list many categories of Americans who need numerical tracking for health, welfare and safety reasons, categories that are in desperate need of federal policy changes and financial stimulus.

    1. Bharat, I checked that “Honorary White” Wikipedia site. Bravo.! You’ve opened up such an interesting way to discuss race we can all get our teeth into. Can’t wait for your Science and Race Olli class in the Winter Session. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia that spoke to me:
      “The new designation of “Honorary Whites” granted in the 1960s to the Japanese seemed grossly unfair to South Africa’s small Chinese community (roughly 7,000 at that time), who, it seemed, would enjoy none of the new benefits given to the Japanese. As Time quoted one of Cape Town’s leading Chinese businessmen, “If anything, we are whiter in appearance than our fellow Japanese friends.” Another indignantly demanded: “Does this mean that the Japanese, now that they are “considered” white, cannot associate with us without running afoul of the Immorality Act?”

  2. Having lived in New Delhi in the mid-60’s, I read this piece with great interest. “Overrepresented minoritiy,” eh?–you can’t win.

  3. Thank you for this informative and provocative essay….much food for thought here, and so compellingly written!

  4. I now refuse to fill in race on all forms. We are all beige. Paper is white. Thanks for your great article. Cheers

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