By Scott Haas. Fingerprint! 344 pages. Copyright 2016
The picture on the cover caught my attention, even before I read the title of the book. Lady Liberty was draped in a crisp crimson sari. The symbolism was a clue to the contents of the book I was about to read. Those Immigrants! Indians in America by Scott Haas explores the inner workings of the psyche that has brought the Indian diaspora unprecedented success in America.
Haas asserts, “No other immigrant population has the achievement comparable to that of Indians.” Other immigrant groups such as the Jewish and Chinese have achieved tremendous success too, but Indians have experienced success within a minimal amount of time and the accomplishments are in a vast range of fields, he feels. Curious about the common thread that runs across the Indian population, Haas interviewed thirty accomplished men and women of Indian origin in an attempt to discover what in their culture drives Indians to strive for excellence. With a background in psychology, Haas finds common themes across the stories and says, “I am deeply charmed and fascinated by the particulars of ordinary people who, through their deeds, become extraordinary.”
I was intrigued with the history of the Indian migration through the life stories that Haas has captured. Prior to 1965, fewer than 10,000 Indians lived in America. It was the civil rights movement coupled with the Immigrant Act of 1965, which overturned the limited quotas set aside for Asian immigrants that led to an influx of large numbers of Indian immigrants. Before this, the immigration department had largely allowed white Christians from Northern Europe. After this initial wave, some Indian immigrants arrived to escape the political turmoil in India in the 1980s. In the next decade, Indians landed in the United States with entrepreneurial ideas. Each wave of immigrants laid down the foundation for the next generation to build upon. Haas believes that with a combination of family ties, luck, confidence, brilliance and perseverance, the whole population has added richness to the fabric of this country.
I found this book particularly fascinating because I am a second generation Indian immigrant and this history is part of my heritage. My father, a mechanical engineer, made the United States our new home in 1970 when I was a toddler.
Haas notes that early Indian immigrants saw America as a place of opportunities that did not exist in India at the time. This was definitely the case with my family—with my father’s high educational achievements, strong work ethic, a bit of luck, and a nudge from my grandfather, my father accepted an employment offer in the Bay Area.
In the book’s interview narratives, Haas has let the interviewee lead the conversation which brings up the most significant values and thoughts to him or her. Most conversations have covered important family values, circumstances that allowed opportunity, the emotional and monetary struggles, and the hopes and dreams of America. Haas has spoken to successful people from all walks of life —from comedian to film maker, from doctor to astrophysicist, and from economist to CEO. The author invites the readers to discover for themselves the common thread that runs through the lives of his interviewees and that are responsible for the successes of the Indian immigrant in America.
As I read the interviews in Haas’s book, I identified with the struggles and hurdles of the early immigrants. The success stories of Vijai Nathan and Dr. Nirav Shah particularly resonated with me. They spoke of facing adversity as they grew up in a predominately white population. Among other things, Vijai was the only Indian at school. Nirav’s parents socialized primarily with other Indians. These experiences mirrored my childhood as well as that in most early Indian immigrant households.
With so many success stories within the Indian immigrant population, I wonder how Haas chose to profile these thirty. Then, I realized that he has chosen to present immigrants from different time periods in the last few decades.
However after reading Hass’s interesting and inspiring book, I find the title Those Immigrants! misleading. It gives an accusatory flavor which is far from the intent of the author. Omitting these two emphasized words, the rest of the title which is printed in a smaller font, reads Indians in America: A Psychological Exploration of Achievement. Just this title would have been perfect.
As I read each profile, from the simple beginnings to dreams realized, I felt pride and inspiration. Haas’s book introduced me to the thought processes of Indians that have contributed and assimilated to the rich and diverse tapestry that is America.
Viji K. Chary writes for adults and children. She has published several articles and a picture book for children. Her book, “Porcupine’s Seeds” published in 2012 won the Mom’s Choice Honor award. She likes to discuss books with her book club. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband and children.