A few days back, the grieving widow of Kuchibhotla asked Americans, ‘Do we belong here?’
That touched a raw nerve in the Indian diaspora spread over lands far and wide, from North America to New Zealand with Europe on the way and the question echoed worldwide- ‘Do we belong here?’
In reality it was not a question as the answer was hidden deep in the hearts of the people who were questioning as well as the ones to whom it was asked. This was more of a feeble attempt to get an affirmation from the Caucasian majority of their continued acceptance. More of an attempt to reassure themselves and keep their immigrant dreams alive!
The assurances came sometimes. Few powerful, some muted, most as a customary courteous call from the guardians of a civilized society. The liberals in these respective nations, as part of their political and social duty came out in support of the Indian community. At the same time the empathy was more on the surface, not even skin deep.
The POTUS after a week of silence spoke a short sentence of regret in his address to the Congress and in the same speech further added to the racist tones of the government by crying foul on deeds of immigrants and starting a government backed agency- VOICE to cater to the families suffering from crimes committed by such external dark forces. The underlining message was loud and clear if deaf ears still were not listening.
‘Do we belong here?’
As dark and depressing it may sound, unfortunately for a person who can be easily identified by his color, race or religious background as visible minority, the unspoken answer from the Caucasian majority was always a NO and would remain a resounding NO.
In the world turning more conservative day by day, incidences of hate and bigotry arise from every nook or corner of this world. Instant and constant news and the omnipresent social media with its dose of real and fake news adds fuel to the fire. Furthermore, politicians and hate mongers have upped the agenda to benefit from this climate of fear without giving a thought to the mayhem their words create.
In any part of the world and equally so in the Western world, if you let people remove the masks of civility or distance themselves from the bonds of friendship formed or ignore the cordial interaction limited to the workplace, the majority does feel that the land belongs to them and that the visible minority may be welcome only up to the point. That point is defined by to the basic needs of their society. Say for example till the immigrants do menial work that the natives do not perform. The moment the threat becomes real and clear to their own economic or social survival, the visible minority is shunned as a pariah.
This is not a new phenomenon. It is the stark truth which has existed for decades in most countries in varying proportions. Take North America as an example and the story mirrors worldwide, be it Britain, France, New Zealand and also has strong parallels in India.
Early Indian and Chinese settlers went to the American continent as laborers both for menial work and for farm support. They settled, worked and a few even built their own businesses. Yet they continued to be treated as the lower citizens of the land, perhaps just a little better than the slaves. Over the late twentieth century, the profile of these colored people changed and the eyes of nerds and the intellect- Doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, sparkled with the American dream. The great brain drain started and within decades the profile of the Brown and the Yellow men had changed dramatically.
No longer he was just the local janitor, cleaner, housemaid, driver, gas station attendant, as the White man desired but had become their doctor, computer programmer, lawyer, financial analyst, tech-support and entered each and every area which was a part of their protected territory. He even aspired to be their local political representative- councilor, minister, Governor even the Head of their great nation. And guess what? While undergoing this paradigm shift and eating into their job pie he also entered their communities, built his own places of worship and tried to add his flavor and spice to their lives.
The White man was in a dilemma. While he wanted to reap the benefits that the immigrants accrued in their economies with their hard work, labor and a down-to-earth approach, he was not willing to share the socio-political platform with him in his native land. He was used to treating them as second class citizens, as Orientals with funny accents and non-Christian names and resisted. The immigrant wanted his space and identity. Differences arose. Ghettos emerged.
Today with all the riches that Indians or Chinese have, with all the economic power that they brag in their homeland, they still remain outsiders. Even after spending a lifetime or sometimes generations over. There is a line and immigrant communities very rarely cross that line.
I know it well not just as an Indo-Canadian or an Indo-American earlier but also as a keen observer of human behavior.
Most Indo-Americans or Indo-Canadians who have immigrated live in ghettos. They call them Mini-India. It could be Edison or Queens or Long Island, Hicksville to be precise in New York region. Or it could be Brampton, Missisauga, Scarborough in the Toronto region. In these ghettos they mix up with each other, enjoy social gatherings, share similar food tastes and languages and follow distant cultures. Their Televisions broadcast Indian channels throughout the day and their daily dose of entertainment is provided by their favorite Bollywood, Tollywood or Mollywood star. Even after decades many of them may not be clearly aware of the members of the national ice hockey or rugby team but still maintain their cricket mania right down to the IPL league.
As long as they live in these ghettos, they are happy and safe. Yet the moment they move out to White neighborhoods, read posh areas, their marginalization starts. First the Whites resist their movement to these areas. Only when they offer unbeatable offers, the White man succumbs. And yet, despite living in these higher end communities for decades, they may feel isolated, not welcome in social events and not treated as a class act as perhaps they were treated with their success by their past Indo-Pak neighbors in the ghettos left behind.
You may be a respected doctor in your hospital, a desired software programmer at your workplace, a rich businessman employing tens of people including of different ethnicities, but out on the street, when you are alone, you are a Brown man. A Paki. An Osama if you are Sikh. A threat and definitely an outsider.
You may spend decades there and you may change names, even language and yet unfortunately your children and grandchildren cannot change their color. Your color is a giveaway to your identity- one which is not welcome.
Race directed hate incidences at public place, at work place even in social gatherings have continued for centuries and alas this would remain a work-in-progress for decades more if not for this century. I can recite tens and tens faced by me besides what I observed to many immigrants, rich and poor alike. Yet, we are not even facing an iota of what our forefathers have faced. What our Black brothers have faced and alas continue to face still at times. A lot has been achieved but America is still evolving.
‘Do we belong here?’ is the wrong question.
‘Do we stay here?’ is the right question.
That is a question which all immigrants answer at differing points of time. They really do. They stay back because some are bound by the riches their jobs bring, some by family ties, some by the dislike towards the standards of life back home in their own countries, some genuinely by the pleasures their work provides while some others by their own pride. Yet at some point due to racist incidences, or loneliness or the reality of being treated as a second or a third-class citizen, this question invariably comes up.
A few with immense self-pride or with strong ties back home return back.
Most stay back as the bonds are strong enough and compromises with their self-esteem is easy to reach.
A few become gypsies who move around between continents trying to get the best of both the worlds while ignoring the blemishes that they see on the way. They accept that the world is not perfect and decide to focus on enjoying what they can get and perhaps trying to set right what they can.
The decision my friend is yours to take as you know the answer loud and clear. Today Canada is a better place and America is worse off because of the government in power. Yesterday it was the other way around. Things could change again. Do not go by the political climate. It will change.
Besides your own homeland despite progress has also not become perfect. Many of the old concerns of corruption, hygiene, unruly traffic, bad roads, ……., still remain. Further a nation that existed and guided the world on ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam- Universal brotherhood’ and respect for all, which was a harbinger of diverse thoughts and faiths is now drunk on an interesting potion of religious and class intolerance. Decide with caution.
People who have stayed back have also reaped the riches and have also brought greater acceptance. Beyond doubt our grandchildren would see a better world than what we will leave behind. Stay positive.
‘Do we stay here?’ Ask that question to nobody but your inner self. Your soul will speak and guide you!
Published in Times of India on March 12th, 2017. Link here-