Pretty much from the introduction onward, we know that Oscar Wao is a tale of DR diaspora, but I think this novel becomes even more interesting when we take note of the other cultures that Junot Díaz has infused into the book, notably Indian diaspora.
In the book, one of Oscar’s best childhood friends Alok, or Al, is Indian. Though there is only one mention of his ethnicity in the entire book, I’d like to think having Al be Indian was a conscious decision by Díaz as a means to represent the ethnic makeup of New Jersey, since NJ has the third highest Indian population in the US, trailing only behind California and NY. Edison (where Rutgers is located) is 17.5% Indian (the highest of any city in the nation), while Paterson has a rapidly growing Bangladeshi population (consequently Alok is a Bengali name, so it’s definitely fitting). I think including that little tidbit of information about Al’s ethnicity is a nod to the heavy presence and influence of Indians in NJ, and a way to remind readers that while Oscar Wao centers primarily around Dominicans, there is definitely a presence of other ethnicities and that New Jersey is much more heterogeneous than just the Latino, or more specifically, Dominican, population described in the book.
Additionally, Díaz makes a Hinduism-based sexual innuendo, describing Jack Pujolses’s penis as a “Shiva-sized lingam, a destroyer of worlds” (99). Though I think it’s a bit sacrilegious to be using a god’s name in this context, Díaz is alluding to the somewhat phallic shape of the Shiva lingam, which is “an aniconic representation of the Hindu deity Shiva used for worship” (thanks Wikipedia); he also alludes here to the god Shiva being known as the Destroyer.
Oscar also describes Ana Obregón, the girl from his SAT classes, as a “peculiar combination of badmash and little girl” (34) – here, badmash is a reference to the Hindi word for ‘hooligan.’ I didn’t even notice this one until I read about it online. Additionally, Yunior describes several Indian girls (i.e. Suriyan – I think this is supposed to refer to the Hindu Sun god, Surya/Suryan), that he has dated.
Díaz has also slipped in references to Indian culture not just in Oscar Wao, but in interviews as well. In one interview (http://www.postnoills.com/main/?p=102), he states, “[Yunior] started talking and suddenly I had not only the narrator but this complicated relationship between the teller of the tale and the subject of the tale. The image I had was of Vyasa and Ganesha: one dictating the story, the other one writing. A great image because the book’s ‘god’ is the one doing the scribbling and the lowly monk is the one dictating, and that’s not what you normally see in literature.” Here, Vyasa and Ganesha are figures in Hindu mythology, where the sage Vyasa asked Ganesha to transcribe the entire Mahabharata (an Indian epic) as Vyasa dictated it to him - this then becomes paralleled with Yunior serving as a scribe for Oscar’s story.
Seeing these Indian references in a book that was supposed to be about Dominicans in the US I think is really a testimony to the way this real-life mixing of diaspora affects not only political and economic landscape, but seeps into the realm of art as well. These references are generally subtle, just a word or name here and there that don’t necessarily come off as explicitly Indian, unless you’re already familiar with the terms. I think this subtle weaving of other cultures (there’s also the Chinese character Juan Then in Belí’s story) really shows how this variety of cultures present in any one community each influence the way we experience our own culture. And I think it’s even cooler that while Díaz doesn’t explicitly mention Vyasa/Ganesha anywhere in the story, the actual process of creation itself for this novel was influenced by Indian culture to the point that the basic structure of the novel is based off Hindu mythology, again showing how the presence of other cultures really might influence how we might interpret our own. So while Oscar Wao is definitely largely Latino-centric, I really like that Díaz found a way to incorporate other cultures into both the creation of the novel and the final product itself.