I was born and raised in California and as a child, whenever people asked me my full name, it usually went like this:
“What’s your last name?”
“Oh, so do your parents own like a motel or hotel or something?”
The answer is no. Not every Indian family with the last name Patel owns a motel or hotel. This has been a long running stereotype for Indians living in the United States.
Obviously the stereotype, like all cultural and racial stereotypes, did come from somewhere. I am not blind to the fact, many Indians, specifically those of Gujarati descent own motels or hotels. Because Patel is a common, Gujarati name, the term “Patel Motel” was so easily and (not so cleverly) coined.
Am I offended by this term? No, not really. I think that owning a business takes lot of hard work and intelligence, and I think it’s great to see so many immigrant Indians living the American dream. In fact, I myself have relatives who own motels and hotels who have built successful businesses from nothing. This makes me proud, not ashamed. However, do I want to watch a show about this? No.
The television network MTV is currently casting for a new reality show they are developing based on the lives of Indian American families who own motels or hotels. According to the casting post:
“Eastern and MTV are looking to tell the story of a dynamic, multi-generational Indian-American family who run a motel/hotel. If you and your family have big personalities, exemplify the culture-clash between generations, and happen to own a motel/hotel we want to hear from you!”*
Putting my disdain for reality programming aside, I can’t help but wonder, “Has it really come to this? Is it really necessary to highlight racial stereotypes in television media? Isn’t it bad enough that these stereotypes exist, without us reinforcing or creating them on television?”
Working in the entertainment industry, I can see how an idea for a show like this came to be. First, reality television is much cheaper to produce than original programming. Second, it’s easy and makes the network a lot of money. Okay, I get it. But where does this end? MTV is no stranger to the stereotypical reality show, with their infamous, Jersey Shore still on air, portraying stereotypical young Italian Americans living in New Jersey.
With so many reality programs portraying bad images of cultural groups, what makes someone want to be a part of programs like these? Unfortunately, we live in a world where people are willing to sacrifice their dignity for fame, fortune, and popularity. I can understand the desire and allure of money and fame, but personally, if I had the platform to share my culture and background with the world through a television screen, I would want to make my fellow Indian Americans proud. Instead of petty fights, DUIs, and partying, I would want to show the business savvy and intelligent Indian Americans who have came to this country with ten dollars in their pockets and built their own American dreams.
This, however, would not produce the types of ratings networks today are looking for. If I were in the shoes of a television executive, I could understand how this would work. I can understand how on a business standpoint, a show like this would be a “home run.” So the truth is, I can’t really be shocked that this show is being made. I just have to hope that the ones who chose to star in it reflect on whom they are and what they want to represent.
Update: The casting post on MTV’s website has since been changed to:
“50% of American motels are run by families with Indian origins. That amazing statistic testifies to the ambition of the countless men and women who have come to the U.S. from India in the past few decades and the mark they have made in the hospitality industry. It’s not an easy business, but it is an especially rewarding one for many reasons — especially because the whole family can contribute to its success.
“Are you a proud member of one of these driven families? If so, we hope to hear from you.
“Eastern and MTV are looking to tell the story of a dynamic, multi-generational Indian-American motelier family for a major network.
“We are looking for a lively, large and fun family to open a window to America on what it takes to run a successful family business. If you and your family own a motel/hotel and have a taste for adventure, contact us today!”
While the new post has a significantly different tone than the original post, I am still skeptical about the premise of this show. The original post seemed to welcome more drama, while this one is emphasizing “successful family business.”