Friday, January 10, 2014

Can Immigrants Criticize A Country?

It is my penchant to tell my fellow Indian-Americans, who curse or excessively criticize US, that they are at liberty to leave from the nearest airport with a one-way ticket. Sometimes I'd offer to sponsor the ticket too. Invariably the reaction would be, understandably, disgust and righteous indignation. The reactions would include questions like "isn't criticizing an American thing to do?", "you are a nascent convert to American citizenship hence you act more loyal than the native born","even Americans criticize their country mercilessly so why shouldn't we?"

Great questions all. Barely 3 months after 9/11 I was at a New Year Party in December 2001 when a Sikh businessman, multi millionaire, nonchalantly said "the US is worst terrorist country in the world. 9/11 is payback". I was beyond stumped to hear a Sikh say that. Thousands of Sikhs were murdered in a genocidal manner in the streets of Delhi in 1984 and the then Prime Minister, equally nonchalantly, said "when a huge tree falls the earth is bound to shake". By 2001 it was nearly 20 years since that genocide and not a single perpetrator had gone to jail. And here is a Sikh guy who has enjoyed all the opportunities of a liberal law abiding society to say that the country was a terrorist.

We immigrants choose to leave India. We leave behind everything we knew in our life until then. We leave, primarily, for economic reasons. Amongst the many countries that Indians emigrate it is only in the West that we tend to settle down, raise a family, see our children go to school and college, then live to see our grand children. We enjoy the benefits of a plural secular society. Though Indians emigrate to the Middle East too, in large numbers, very few settle down as compared to the West, particularly the US.

Having come to US we then choose to become permanent residents and then, again, choose to become citizens. After all these volitional choices if we choose to bad mouth, not criticize, it begs the question "why bother". Why would that in turn bother me? Because, in a way, it negates the pain of emigration and the continued pain, I'd not call it sacrifice, we immigrants pay for uprooting. This is especially accentuated by the thought of aging parents back home. When somebody curses US, or any host country, they in a way tell their fellow immigrants that they underwent pain for nothing. In a way it insults the millions who are trying to make it to the US.

Though this blog could broadly apply to many countries there are few things that put the US on a, dare I say, pedestal. US is probably one of very few countries that gives citizenship by virtue of birth and this is a benefit that many Indians have reaped.

Normal life puts us in many situations were we tend to compromise or turn a blind eye to contradictions. However, somewhere we need some basic honesty. After enjoying the fruits of an open and accepting society, the fruits of an economic system that we eagerly sought if we were to turn back and say "there is no difference between US and India" nothing is more disgustingly hypocritical than that.

I've nothing but contempt for those who think that the prosperity of US has nothing to do with its culture, that amorphous catch-all word. I've greater contempt for immigrants who, at the first whiff of conflict with the motherland they left, seek to see US through the prism of 'foreign country'. If somebody wants to only look at US as foreign country they are welcome to do so but they should not forget that country does not treat them as a foreigner. As Indian passport holders everyone enjoys the protection of law, access to a justice system, an equitable society and every economic opportunity. We owe the country at least a thanks.

Patriotism, Johnson is supposed to have said, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I do not subscribe to Patrick Henry's 'my country, right or wrong'. That said by choosing to become residents and by the fact that we choose to raise our families here we attest to the fact that it is a country where we think not only we, but our future generations, would flourish.

Today in many pockets Indian immigrants completely dominate the demography and enjoy the benefits that come with such domination. Schools in Edison have started to declare Diwali a holiday. Many multi-million dollar temples have been erected. Michelle Obama does a Bollywood jig on Diwali. It is not uncommon in IT sector to see 100% Indian teams.

A popular Tamil blogger, while working for a wall street bank, wrote a highly critical blog on Wall Street and giving full throated support to 'Occupy Wall Street' protest movement. In his blog he disarmingly said "well I work for a bank but thats the everyday compromise we make in life". I told him "its sheer hypocrisy. You chose to work in Wall Street because you love the pay. If you think this is an industry of crooks and thugs you must quit the industry and seek employment elsewhere". He protested  "my skill set in programming matches only this industry". I persisted "nonsense. You can still tweak your skill or learn a different programming language. When you think your colleagues are crooks you owe it to them and yourself to quit".

We do not choose the country of birth. I was lucky to have been an engineering grad and come to US at a time when Green Cards still came in a decent time. I've used the word 'choose' umpteen times in this blog to underscore the fact that nobody compels an immigrant to come or stay or settle. And that fact puts us in a different category.

As an immigrant Ayn Rand declared America to be intellectually bankrupt. Criticism is an American sport. So welcome to play that. Ayn Rand was clear about her criticisms. Just like me she thought this was the greatest country and wanted it to get even better. Her criticisms were from that stand point. At a meeting she was asked by an American "are you not an immigrant". Rand replied "I chose to be American. You were born here what else have you done". Criticize all you want. During the recent Iraq war I heard many Indians talk disparagingly of US and with half baked knowledge. Thats ok too. But when it degenerates into crass denigrations of calling US names, I puke. We all lived as Indians without cursing or calling India names for its foreign policy. How many Indians call India names for what it does in Kashmir let alone in neighboring countries? How many Tamils even remember the simple fact that India actively encouraged, funded and armed a civil war in Sri Lanka? When Indian immigrants criticize US, irrespective of visa status or citizenship, many tend to immediately become the outsider looking at US as 'foreign country'. That gets my goat unfailingly.

I completely disagree celebrating August 15th in USA. Its a sham too. I believe in one nation one flag. And having left a country by choice I'd even say we don't deserve to hold up the Indian flag. It smacks of hypocrisy. What is worse the India Independence day parades have degenerated into grotesque factionalism and Bollywood glamor. Most have no idea of India's glorious struggle. If pressed to name a freedom fighter beyond Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Bose most would stutter to remember Lajpat Rai or G.B.Pant or Tej Bahadur Sapru or Naoroji.

Criticize US all you want but do so as an American or as one who enjoys this great country else the airports are open. There are thousands standing in queues in front of the US consulates all over the globes to take the place of every one who wants to leave. Your call.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant. Is it no true that America gives you that freedom to hate it as much one loves it. This is the country of freedom. If the indian immigrants can learn and practice at least 10% of the "Volunteerism" from the fellow Americans, they many not have time to criticize....

Ra said...

I like what u write. Good luck.
I am a US citizen now, but was born and brought up in India.
But,wherever I am and wherever I come from, I am human, and that is my sole identity.

VarahaMihira Gopu said...

There are several million citizens of democracies like India who voluntarily live in despotic countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, with very limited personal freedom and no religious or political or artistic freedom at all. Most people go to the US for the same reason - economic opportunites, not political freedom.

Ravikanth said...

Please stop your blabber. Your experience with couple of guys does not reflect the sentiment of the other 99.9%. I am fellow immigrant and I greatly respect and love this country. In my 15 years I haven't come across one who has criticized this nation.

Dr. Anirban Sarkar said...

I am not sure if I can agree with you in regard to the general context of your blog. As you have rightfully pointed out that this country deserves thanks for its liberal attitude and system to the immigrants, I do endorse that we, as human beings, possess the rational bent of mind to criticize the warts of an existing societal set-up. And that outlook must not be constricted by the fact if one is an immigrant or not, but should fathom with positive criticism. Consider this: can't we voice our criticism against the insane US gun laws? Or, do you think, a bullet from a gun savvy thug would dodge an immigrant? How about the finer prints in an insurance agreement/form? Being an immigrant and subsequently becoming a PR/citizen of this country do not disqualify you from criticizing the lesions..nor does it prevent it from eulogizing the real just need to acquire your fortitude to speak the right frame of mind and spirit.We are born with this right..economic opportunities, "freedom" or the hassle free door step Amazon delivery must not eclipse this privilege..

Anamika said...

Very happy to have stumbled upon this blog. Totally echo the thoughts and sentiments and the way you articulated.
Its a basic lack of comprehension that in debates as these people argue back by pointing out the wrongs in the U.S and totally missing the core issue. Case in point, someone brought up 'insane gun control laws' in a comment above. How is that relevant and when did two wrongs make one right? Guns are an issue and a current political hot topic and the denizens of the nation are divided and mighty vocal about it. An existing law cannot be amended overnight.
Another said people come here for economic opportunities, just like they go to the Middle East. Hello! didn't you read in the blog mentioned, how many choose to settle in the Middle East? Bring up their kids there? Some do, but as a percentage?

Surprised no one decided to talk about Obamacare just for the heck of it.

Keep up the good work. I am naturalized citizen, just like you and very proud of being one and thankful for everything this country continues to give me.

andrefromvandre said...

I strongly disagree with the idea that anyone who wants to criticize the system should leave the country. Criticism is a precursor to change and serves to shape social opinions. Besides, the value of free speech and respect for individuality are held high in this country.

In my mind, the argument "So why don't you leave?" only comes up when one can't address the substance of the criticism.

Arnab said...

Your content very often is self-contradictory. Firstly, you said, "they should not forget that country does not treat them as a foreigner". However you always alienated Indian-Americans as immigrants. Hence you being an American (or should I say immigrant) are discriminating on the basis of birth place which goes against the so called liberal American mindset. This discrimination also shows up while you are talking about India and mentioned "sikh" and "tamil" separately. Secondly you somehow tried to compare Indian foreign policy with the American one. May I suggest you take a course on history of world politics. Are you suggesting Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, drones in Pakistan compare to Indian policy towards Srilanka? O and before I forget, I should also remind you about two little things known as "little boy" and "fat man"; incidents which are a disgrace in the history of human civilization. Criticizing these does not make one disloyal. If US is offering green cards to an individual, its not only that the person needs to stay in US badly. Its also vice-verse. Celebrating 15 August or diwali through bollywood twist in a foreign nation does no harm anybody; however unmanned drones and no gun control claim innocent lives. If you kiss the later and curse the former, then your sanity comes under scanner. Without blabbing anymore through your intellectual masturbation why don't you pore over this article for a change: "".

bennedose said...

You are so right. Uncle Tom would never criticize the country that gave him all he had. Indians must not be critical of the US and must suck up as advised. And of course - the airports are open.

Winnowed said...

I agree with you.

Ran into your blog recently. Good stuff in here. Will visit again.

Winnowed said...

I agree with you.

I ran into your blog recently.Good stuff. Will visit again.

kailash said...

When something goes wrong in your environment you should criticize it and if possible try to take some action , just because a country provides you opportunities you cant keep quiet . If that's the case whats the difference between you and the wall street blogger you have quoted . You have enabled comments and you are talking differently this seems to me like an oxymoron . If all the bills were passed w/o comments and criticism no law would have achieved its objective . Moreover immigrants pay tax and social security , don't they have rights to criticize the country when it goes wrong .

Anonymous said...

I live in US and am a US citizen and adore it for so many freedoms it gives me. However, I am human first and dislike this "greatest country in the world" nonsense. Having such tags are crazy. This is for politicians and such. You can criticize anything you like, yes, you do need to do your research before. However, telling that Indians do not criticize India much and criticize US more is not true and is a gross generalization. It is similar to telling that Iranians do not like US. Do people here know that after 9/11 a lot of Iranians had candlelight vigils for Americans?