“Go back to where you came from! ”
Well, some of us actually want to. But on our own terms.
There’s something about Indian immigrants, especially those that have most recently arrived here (even before the Trump presidency), that’s not often mentioned,
And that is:
A permanent or even long-term settling in the US is not necessarily in the future plans.
As far as I can recollect, the USA was a dream destination filled with prestige and a nearly instant badge of success for most Indian immigrants. When a female relative in India was considering marital prospects, she received family pushback when asserting she was not interested in US-settled men.
Beyond the standard “having a better life” motivation, the United States provided an independent, merit-based society, and ideally, an ability to define one’s own destiny.
But in many cases, Indian immigrants are not necessarily fleeing a controlling communistic regime, or active war zones. A negative situation they may be “escaping” is more likely personal, rather than societal or structural.
For new immigrants, the America represents not a transformation, rather a transaction. A temporary lifestyle disruption in exchange for money and a (mostly) merit-driven environment.
Many enter with the projected eventuality of settling back in India after “a few years work.” Desires and trajectories change, I’m a prime example, as my parents went through a “we may go back” phase during my childhood. After settling into a certain lifestyle for 15+ years, building a community, and job security, shifting becomes more difficult. But nearly every family in my extended familial circle faced this decision.
The horrible shooting in Olathe, Kansas followed by other similar tragedies in South Carolina and Washington have already jolted the existing Indian-American community along with prospective newcomers to the US. In her emotional speech, Sunayana Dumala, wife of the murdered Srinivas Kuchibotla, asked the question, “Is this the same country we dreamed of, do we belong here?” As she spoke, I thought to myself, how much of her question is literal as well as figurative?. These events, contextualized in the Trump ascendancy, has given real pause to consider what the new “America” is now.
The question is further complicated by the actions, and reaction to Ian Grillot, a good samaritan who literally “took a bullet” defending the two targeted Indian men in the Kansas bar, stating, “It’s not about his ethnicity… we’re all human.” His actions were without a doubt heroic, selfless, and for one person, life-saving. Many have described his actions as the true American. But are we wise to ignore each of the shooters were acting as if they were the true Americans?
The Trump presidency causes first and second generation immigrants to take moment when deciding. While not everyone might engage in fatal violence, how many agree with him in principle? How many share his worldview, his definition of “America” and now, by Trump’s election feel empowered to unapologetically express those views, violently or not? In a sense, which America is going to win out?
The short term effects are undeniable. India’s most meaningful social barometer, marriage bureaus, have already seen drops in “requests” for grooms settled in the US. One thing is clear, fresh immigrants are finding themselves drawn into a larger national debate and struggle much quicker than they expected.
Whether immigrants are here for two generations or two weeks, thinking about the larger question of acceptance and “Americanness” by the dominant society is something that can no longer be ignored. We can participate in the answer as best we can, however, a part of us is waiting for the question to be answered. Only time will tell.