No, this is still the land of opportunity

By SUGRUTHA RAMASWAMI

I arrived in the United States riding the wave of the Y2K fever in 1997, having been discovered by some friends for my once-upon-a-time mainframe experience.

In the tech world, jobs were available aplenty if you had even heard of COBOL or Visual Basic. Work visa and green card processing was being expedited in record time, thanks to the pressure exerted by the mighty business world. Salaries were what you asked for, and head-hunters wooed you relentlessly. All that is now passé. For those like me who came here at the height of technology explosion, yes, life has comparatively become tough, why, almost impossible!

But old-timers who have been around since the 1970s say otherwise. The economic recessions they have experienced here in the past were apparently far worse. Besides economic conditions, surely, they also encountered more ignorance about India and Indians, suspicion, and discrimination.

Now Indians are considered a model minority. There are far fewer Indian gangs compared with Chinese or Russian gangs. The wariness toward our religious practices also, I believe, has vastly reduced. I suspect that the increased defamatory papers and articles on Hinduism are in response to this growing tolerance and acceptance among the general population.

Unlike the Chinese, Indians are a boisterous and talkative lot, and this helps dispel any notions about Indians as belonging to an alien or weird or exotic culture. Very soon there will be no American who is not acquainted with at least one Indian, given that our Patels and Shahs are all over the continent, operating motels and convenience stores even in the most remote areas.

Indians, along with Chinese and Koreans, are accepted as top performers in the academic world and as industrious and hard-working people who run their 7-11s and Comfort Inns efficiently. Add to that the latest affirmation and regard for India post-9/11 as a diverse, vibrant, consistent, and proud democracy.

The current economic downturn is but a small setback for Indian-Americans. Indians are deft, adaptable, and pro-active and will soon start riding the next big wave. A British professor who taught my husband once told him, “If you see a Jew jumping through the window, even if from the 10th floor, just follow him. You will never go wrong following a Jew.” That might hold true for Indians also.

Sugrutha Ramaswami is an IT professional in Piscataway, N.J.

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Yes, the welcome is wearing thin

By RAJEEV SRINIVASAN

I used to travel in Europe, especially the United Kingdom and Germany, quite a lot, and whenever I came back to California, I would feel much better because there has always been a palpable sense of hostility towards people with brown skin in Europe. Americans, especially Californians, were much friendlier.

Now I feel that same sense of suspicion in the United States, too. Maybe I am thin-skinned or hyper-sensitive, but fellow passengers at airports watch you with a mixture of fear and anxiety. Are you going to hijack their plane or pull out a gun and start shooting? The average Joe thinks Arabs and Iranians are brown, not white. So the popular image of a terrorist includes brown, turbaned, facial hair: and hey presto, that is the Indian, especially the Sikh.

Add to this the constant propaganda about Indians stealing American jobs. No wonder Joe Sixpack now views us with suspicion. Old-timers remember the Chinese beaten to death by laid-off automobile workers who thought they were killing Japanese and thus “getting back” at Toyota! The day may not be far off when geeks in high-tech offices take potshots at Indians.

There is some truth to the idea that U.S. jobs are disappearing to India. Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound” does exist. There are supposedly 35,000 U.S.-returned engineers in Bangalore alone. They are not all laid-off H-1Bs; quite a few of them returned because multinational corporations are expanding their operations in India and cutting down in the United States.

But the real problem is that in times of stress, people seek scapegoats. I remember during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980, snide remarks about “Eye-rayn-ians” came my way from total strangers. Let’s face it: Americans, who always happily assumed that they were immune to terrorism (which, by definition, happened somewhere else), now suddenly feel vulnerable.

This is why inevitably Indians are “randomly-selected” to be searched thoroughly in airports. Especially if you happen to have a Muslim name. Or a Hindu name: they can’t tell the difference. And especially if you are daft enough to take videos out the window and then look guilty and hide the camera: happened to a bunch of Indians on a train recently. Or look out the window and chat excitedly in your language while your plane is over New York City: happened to a Malayalee filmstar. Interrogation, handcuffs, the works.

You’ll notice all these strange things happen to Indians, not to white people. Just as only Japanese-Americans were interned in World War II concentration camps, not German-Americans.

Model minority, we might be, but visible minority is more relevant: we are not quite so welcome as we thought we were.

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Bangalore.

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