Celebrating Our Freedoms in America
Amidst a persistent recession and a mainstream culture that, at times, seems to be heading towards insular rather than inclusive tendencies, it may be easy to forget how fortunate we truly are as newer immigrants and a minority community in our American lives. The freedoms and equality we enjoy are on par with the majority—which is remarkable when we scan through history and geography to find comparisons.
The title of our cover story in last month’s issue, “A People in Peril,” said it all about the plight of Indians in South Africa. “The discrimination, subjugation, and harassment they faced in a past dominated by white supremacy has been replaced by discrimination in an inequitable affirmative action system that ends up benefitting the indigenous black population at the expense of other race groups,” elaborated the story. Add to it alarming levels of often-violent crime and it is not surprising that Indians (and other minorities) in South Africa are possessed with fears and anxieties.
Elsewhere around the globe, the conditions for immigrants are often mediocre at best. In the Gulf countries, for example, they officially hold second class status compared to the natives, and, among a host of restrictions, aren’t allowed to own land.
Activist and writer Harsh Mander, in a recent talk at Georgia Tech, opined that a democracy should be judged not just by how much it upholds the will of the majority, but also by how it treats its minorities. Every minority in the world, he said, has three broad kinds of anxieties: (i) Anxiety related to identity: Will I be allowed to practice my belief systems, my culture, dress the way I want to, worship the way I want to, eat the food I want to, teach my children the values that I want to? (ii) Anxiety about security: Will I be safe because of my difference from my neighbor? Will my property be protected? Will my body be protected? Will I be secure in this land that I live in? (iii) Anxiety about equity: Will I get an equal chance to access education, to get a job, to make money? Will I face discrimination?
On all three counts, our lives as a minority community in the U.S. are quite anxiety-free. Sure, a feeling of belonging can vary from one Indian-American to another, often based on our willingness to integrate and assimilate. In a recent editorial we observed that stereotypes of Indians persist. Yet, this is a personal and social dynamic, not a systematic flaw.
Broadly speaking, Indian-Americans are a blazingly successful minority group that is vastly over-represented at the top in areas such as academia, healthcare, technology, the corporate sector, and small business enterprise. Increasingly, we are making our presence felt in arts, entertainment, and even philanthropy.
But before we pat ourselves on our backs, let’s pause in humility to acknowledge that none of this would be possible if not for a country that has offered us a fairly level playing field. Legally and systematically, the country is close to perfect in allowing its minorities their unique identities, providing them security, and ensuring them equity. Socially and culturally, the country is a Mecca for multiculturalism like few others—making it close to perfect for new immigrants who would like the best of both worlds.
By the time you read this, chances are, the 4th of July festivities may be done and over with, but an awareness of our good fortune should allow celebration all year round.
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