Joel Stein says he was going for humor in his opinion piece, "My Own Private India," which ran in Monday's TIME Magazine. But the Indian-American community — members of which serve as the butt of many of Stein's jokes — aren't laughing.
Stein's piece focuses on the cultural changes immigration has brought to his hometown of Edison, N.J. since he grew up there in the 1970's and 80's:
"I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J. The mostly white suburban town I left when I graduated from high school in 1989 — the town that was called Menlo Park when Thomas Alva Edison set up shop there and was later renamed in his honor — has become home to one of the biggest Indian communities in the U.S., as familiar to people in India as how to instruct stupid Americans to reboot their Internet routers....
For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor.
Stein's cracks are not exclusively directed at Indian immigrants — he pokes fun at himself and his (presumably white) childhood friends:
"The A&P I shoplifted from is now an Indian grocery. The multiplex where we snuck into R-rated movies now shows only Bollywood films and serves samosas," wrote Mr. Stein. "The Italian restaurant that my friends stole cash from as waiters is now Moghul, one of the most famous Indian restaurants in the country. There is an entire generation of white children in Edison who have nowhere to learn crime."
Several organizations have responded with outrage, criticizing TIME's decision to publish the article. For example, the advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) issued a statement and online petition in response to Stein's piece.
"Most offensive is his remarkably blasé tone about the discrimination and hate crimes that targeted the New Jersey South Asian Community during the 1980s," the SAALT statement reads.
Both Stein and TIME have issued online apologies, saying they never intended to offend readers.
We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by Joel Stein's recent humor column "My Own Private India." It was in no way intended to cause offense.
I truly feel stomach-sick that I hurt so many people. I was trying to explain how, as someone who believes that immigration has enriched American life and my hometown in particular, I was shocked that I could feel a tiny bit uncomfortable with my changing town when I went to visit it. If we could understand that reaction, we'd be better equipped to debate people on the other side of the immigration issue.