It was the mid-eighties in south Texas. My parents had just moved to San Antonio after spending four years in the northeast. My dad was routinely filling gas, when an American told him to go back where you came from. Welcome to the South. Welcome to America.
Fast-forward 30 years. Here we are again? More like, I can’t believe we’re still here, that we’re still demonizing people, still demonizing Americans, over the color of their skin. Only now, Muslims are the ones being maligned by the most powerful man on earth. With a big target on their back, President Trump has taken special care to ban Muslims from six countries, with a promise to keep adding Muslim majority countries to the prohibitive list.
We are the Model Minority of America. And yet, we are brown. And therein lies the problem.
Until recently, Indian Americans have been relatively lucky. Aside from the casual racist comment we may encounter every now and again, Indian Americans have prospered, we have fortunately not fallen victim to laws and policies designed to systemically hinder our meteoric economic rise to the top. We are the Model Minority of America. And yet, we are brown. And therein lies the problem. The Make America Great Again problem. Sure, they love our food and our culture. But at the end of the day, all they see is the color of our skin, and the majority of Americans, unfortunately, cannot discern the difference between Muslim and terrorist and they most certainly cannot distinguish between Muslims from the prohibited six countries and Indians. So to them, we are all Muslim, we are all terrorists.
For too long now, Indian Americans have sat silently on the sideline, reaping the benefits of living in America but contributing nothing in return. Working in Baltimore, I have had the opportunity to witness several life-altering events: the Baltimore Protest of 2015 and the cleanup that followed the death of Freddie Gray, the Women’s March on Washington and the Muslim Ban protest of 2017. All of these events had one thing in common, the lack of Indian participation. At every historic protest I attend, I am always searching for just one group representing the Indian interest. I never seem to find it. Instead, I am always besieged by groups supporting the interests of the Chinese, Jewish, Arab, African American, Hispanic, and even groups advocating on behalf of Cat lovers and Women Star Wars Fans (you get the picture), forcing me to contend with the fact that Indians just don’t care.
Americans cannot discern the difference between Muslim, and terrorist and they most certainly cannot distinguish between Muslims from the prohibited six countries and Indians. So to them, we are all Muslim, we are all terrorists.
This is especially true of my parents’ generation, a generation of immigrants, who always ask why I waste my time participating in these futile protests, especially since we are not the ones being targeted. I am always surprised; surprised that the generation that directly benefitted from the Gandhi era protests and lived in an India free of British rule could be so apathetic and so wrongly believe that protesting does little to change the status quo. Why are Indians so unwilling to engage in the national conversation and speak out against the Ban?
So many Indians have struggled with the idea of a unified India and that attitude has persisted and pervaded throughout the Indian diaspora, especially in America. It has always been Hindu versus Muslim, us versus them. To many Indian Americans, the ban is just another problem Muslims, even Indian Muslims, must face alone.
But this notion that all non-Muslim Indians are somehow exempt from the ban, and exempt from the general persecution of Muslim Americans, is a misheld belief. Because although the current ban only targets Muslims, President Trump has made it perfectly clear that he is not just anti-Muslim, but anti-immigrant as well. It is here that all Indians have the most to lose. Throughout the campaign, President Trump promised to not replace Americans with foreign workers by reducing the number of H-1B visas awarded every year. When President Trump delivers on this promise, who will be the latest casualty in his obsession of making America White Again? All Indians, because 70 percent of H-1B visas awarded annually are awarded to Indians. President Trump also wants to limit the number of green cards issued every year. Indians have too much to lose by staying divided by something as arbitrary as religion.
As an immigrant community, [Indian Americans] have a duty to protect the rights of all future immigrants, regardless of their faith or national origin.
If Indians put forth a concerted effort, so much can be accomplished. Although we comprise only one percent of the population, Indian Americans have the highest median income of any ethnic group and has one of the highest spending powers in the country. If organized and politically active, Indians have the ability to lobby and prevent President Trump from fulfilling his agenda. Although there are Indian special interest groups engaging in political advocacy, these groups are few and far between and are nowhere near as powerful as the Jewish Lobby, as I have seen first-hand working on Capitol Hill for a member of the New York City delegation.
As an immigrant community, we have a duty to protect the rights of all future immigrants, regardless of their faith or national origin. It is time to coalesce into one community and participate in the political discourse before it is too late, because otherwise, staying silent will be the ultimate downfall of all Indian Americans.