Friday 28 January 2022
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The United States Of The World

The United States, stereotyped as the land of plenty and plentiful guns, is still a destination of choice for people from across the world

We are “a nation of immigrants”, every American politician proclaims, at the stump or at Congressional hearings, though some less volubly than others. Usually, that politician will tell his or her listeners and viewers that his or her great grandfather or grandmother or, as it happens with some younger politicians, his or her father and mother came to this country in search of the good life, a good education, or to flee from some oppressor or some oppressive religion. But those who loudly claim that the United States is a nation of immigrants forget the fact that there is still a small number of native Americans who have been here for a long, long time, and would balk at being called immigrants! Be that as it may, the idea that we are a nation of immigrants kind of holds true because the country that attracts the largest number of migrants from around the world, legal or illegal, is still this United States of America.

So, it did not come as a surprise when Mexico recently deported some 300 young Indians who tried to cross the border from Mexico into the US. The young men, and one woman, all claimed that they were being persecuted or religiously discriminated in India, and a report last year claimed that Indians were arriving in droves into Mexico and paying smugglers up to $ 25,000 for the opportunity to enter the land of guns, drugs, and gas station attendant opportunities or to increase the Khalistan support groups spread across California and parts of Canada. I remember, back in the 1990s, one of my Indian students at a university in Missouri where I taught, telling me that he had applied for asylum because, as a Catholic from Goa, he was being persecuted by the Indian government and oppressed at home! Well, maybe that is one reason why we have more Indian Christians in the US than any other religious group: while only about 2.5% of the Indian population is Christian, they constitute about 18-20% of the Indian immigrant population here. America indeed is a Christian nation, for those who think or believe otherwise…

Illegal immigration and population migration seem to have become a much larger problem in the present than it was at any time before, except may be after the two World Wars, or may be after some ravages of the plague or famine in the past. A report in the BBC a few years ago claimed that there was more movement of people now than in the past whereas there were some who said it was no more now than in the 1970s.

I came to the United States in 1985, more of an “accidental” immigrant than a planned/purposeful one. We Indians are thrice or four times as many now than we were in 1985, and even in the town of about 200,000 people where I live now, there are nearly a hundred Indian doctors, and every other gas station or motel seems to be owned by our very own. Of course, more diversity does not necessarily lead to more acceptance as both commonsense and new research shows — here and here. In a small town in Missouri, just one among a handful of Indians, my wife and I were welcomed, and we were a curiosity. In larger towns and cities, we might very well incur the wrath of neighbours or demonised by strangers.

They say that with the election of Donald Trump, immigrants have become targets, as anyone who is not white is suspect in MAGA country. But then, as with almost all human indices, there is a regression to the mean, and despite the worries of the Southern Poverty Law Centre, we see a decline in the number of news reports on hate crimes. When some of my Indian friends talk about an increase in hate crimes, I ask them to think back about the situation in India, and especially in their hometowns, and whether the phenomenon of even internal migration leads to conflict: think Mumbai, think Bengaluru, think Kolkata… or wherever there is a significant number of “outsiders” and observe the dynamic between the “locals” and the “outsiders”. In the Rajajinagar neighbourhood in Bengaluru, where my family continues to live, we see more pani-poori vendors than the aambode vendors of yore. And yes, none in my circle of family and friends like that. Americans are no different.

Ramesh Rao
Professor of communication studies at Columbus State University, Columbus, GA; opinions expressed here are personal

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