India in America

July 02, 2010

This is my response to an article in TIME Magazine on July 02, 2010 by Joel Stein titled, ’My Own Private India’ in which he talks about how his hometown in Edison, New Jersey, was transformed when Indian Immigrants moved in.  While the article was meant to be satire, but it irked a lot of Indian immigrants who considered it racial.  TIME and the author immediately reverted with an apology of sorts.

I am one of those Indian Americans who lived in Edison, New Jersey.

As I am sure you realized by now, immigrants no matter where they come from, or where they settle, tend to drive change.  They choose to leave the comfort of their homeland, stick their neck out, work relentlessly and tirelessly to succeed in an alien setting; and more often than not, do.

That is why this nation of immigrants became so successful. That is why, people like St. Thomas and St. Francis Xavier who settled in India as immigrants, became so successful that Christianity is now one of the world’s largest religions. Today, Tom (Thomas) and Javier (Xavier) are two of the most common names in a country that was discovered in an attempt to find India and that began its war for independence by throwing Indian tea into the sea in a protest against the same imperial forces that ruled India. (At that time 90% of America’s imports were from India and Americans resented having to pay duties on products from another British colony) I don’t know how many of my fellow citizens in my adopted country know this!

Indians showed the world, the advantages of absorbing immigrants, encouraging pluralism and growing by inclusion rather than exclusion. Only in India, could you have a religion that says there is only one God, yet permits everyone to see and worship God in whatever, shape or form and with whatever name they may choose. Today, people kiss a piece of paper or shower praises on a theatre screen when they see in it, someone they love; why not a stone?….or yes, a cow for that matter – particularly if the cow is the primary source of income and the centre of your existence as in the agrarian world of cowherds in ancient India.

While we should be proud of everything USA has achieved in its short existence on the world stage, we must not forget, USA may still have a lot to learn from a region that dominated the world economically and culturally for most of history.  The Italians would not have their Pepperoni if one of the forefathers of the Indian merchants who moved to Edison had not traveled across India to buy pepper and from South India and sell it in Arabian markets to traders who would take it to Europe! These merchants worked side by side with a small number of immigrant Jewish traders and money lenders who lived in Southern India and enjoyed the same rights and privileges that all residents – local and foreign enjoyed in that state.  They Jewish community lived in India almost 600 years before Christ and some continue to live there even today.  A local king once issued brass tablet granting permission to Jewish people to live freely , build synagogues and own property without conditions attached and as long as the world and moon exist.  History is testimony to the fact that this community of Jewish traders remained one of the only communities that has never faced any form of anti-Semitism till date.

Perhaps America’s place in the modern world would have been very different if the Nuclear Bomb was not invented by another immigrant, Albert Einstein whose work became known to the larger world because a young Indian scientist took the trouble to learn German and translate Einstein’s paper into English for the first time.

Next time we eat a Pizza we should perhaps thank the people who provided the spices that preserved the meat the forefathers of many modern Americans ate! Next time we think of America’s technological dominance in the world we should remind ourselves that some immigrant Indians paved their way through pioneering work in Sub-atomic Physics, Genetics, Semi-conductors, Space Sciences, Information Technology, Business Policy and Corporate Management. Next time we think of America as an economic super power, let us remind ourselves that India was one of the few places in the world where wave after wave of Jewish immigrants, forefathers of some of some of America’s most successful businessmen, sought refuge from prosecution in their homeland and in Europe.

I am proud I am an American. I am prouder still, that I am an Indian American!


1 Response to India in America

  1. Dr. Sunil says:

    Congratulations on a point well said. You echo the sentiments of a lot of Indians both in India and I am sure USA, too. I must say that culturally USA is still a new born baby, with its culture just 500 odd years old, as compared to the cultures of India, China and Egypt. And even then this culture has a good dose of the cultures brought in by the immigrants.

    Let USA not forget that it is also trying to export its own fast food culture to India and expecting India and its people to give full support to this invasion. The nutritional value of fast foods like McDonald’s is already exposed and its harmful effects spoken and understood by the educated and intelligent. We don’t like this fast food too, but we keep our discussions at that level and don’t denigrate USA as a whole.

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