Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am proud of my Indian heritage. Heritage, a word once associated with the pride in one’s creed and being, no longer has the value it once held in the melting pot that is this country. For years, Americans with Middle Eastern heritage have consistently faced persecution given the pandering to Islamophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric by our government officials. Their difficulties have lasted for years. However, in the past few weeks, Indian-Americans have faced real, violent discrimination for the first time since the days after 9/11, begging feelings of hurt, confusion, and frank disbelief– a shock given how ingrained Indians are in the fabric of American life.
Walk around Silicon Valley or even our beloved state of New Jersey. Look around and it’s hard to not notice Indian Americans. Go to Harvard, Stanford, or Rutgers and you can’t help but notice the countless students furthering their education. Today, Indian Americans are the most competitive group when it comes to college admissions because in reality, Indian Americans applying to college are the children of America’s second most educated ethnic group. Over 70% of the group have a bachelor’s degree or higher, much higher than the national average. Furthermore, more than 40% of Indians have a doctorate or other professional degree, explaining why so many of us know doctors, lawyers, or businessmen who are Indians.
The value and desire for education among Indian immigrants is further visible by the sheer number of specialized work visas (H1Bs) given to Indian Techies, hence why Indian Americans make up half of Silicon’s Valley’s hires each year. Indians believe that America is their “promised land” and many hope to work for companies like Google, Microsoft, and Adobe, which all have Indian CEOs. Indians have contributed the newest age of technological advancement to a degree unlike any other ethnic population. Unfortunately, leaders like Steve Bannon have openly said that they dislike how many Indians have contributed to this field, hoping that America’s tech sector can be become more Caucasian than it currently is.
Indians have many of the most desirable jobs in this country, which in turn leads them to being the highest earning minority group in this country. They are high earners who spend a lot and pay high taxes. Essentially, they inject money into both our economy and our government, and have been noted as an economic bloc crucial to the functioning of our nation’s economy. Given the recent targeting of immigrants in this country, rhetoric has caused many to neglect the value of Indian Americans to our economy, technology, and general way of life.
I was inspired to confront this issue following the brutal killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a successful Indian-trained engineer in Kansas. He was shot brutally by a Caucasian male who yelled “get out of my country” and “terrorist.” He reportedly mistook the engineer and his other Indian friend for Iranian terrorists. This sentiment is despicable and scary. An educated engineer is not your typical hate crime victim. This crime is scary for an Indian American like me, who not only has dark skin but also wears a turban and has a beard, which is not the most accepted look by the American public at the moment. My fears were further developed when a Sikh American man in Washington was shot outside his home after being told to “go back to your country.” He survived the attack and it took the Trump administration days to condemn the violence.
My point is that given our widespread educational gifts and contributions, the financial benefits that the government gets from hardworking Indians, and the general nature of our group, it pains me that we are living in fear and being misrepresented in ways that led to these two acts of violence. We live in a country where simply looking different can make one the recipient of violent discrimination. Our country is in a state where there seems to no longer be a stigma associated with being racist. It’s as if being racist is being tolerated and accepted rather than condemned.
In the case of the Kansas engineer from India, his fate was particularly tragic given that his story up to that point was one that we would often label as the epitome of the American dream. Unfortunately, his promising life was cut short because of our lack of understanding and value for our fellow Americans. The question has been voiced by many in the Indian community across America: Do we belong here? The answer is yes, this is our country, and we are not going anywhere because we love America, its opportunities, and its freedom. That said, the confidence with which people will give that answer will only diminish unless the government truly takes a stand against violence and hate of this kind.
(Copyright 2017 Apaar Anand)