Monday, November 28, 2016

I do what I can ... in this post-truth world

In my private world, which includes this blogging space, I can let my emotions about the political happenings show.  But, in the public, I am calm and sober and rational.  I leave my personal takes in my office before I head to my classes and do not even reveal my political preferences.  Engaging in the classroom is no different from engaging in a democracy.  Despite the horrible human beings who have been elected to powerful offices, I still believe in the Michelle Obama mantra that we go high even as they go low.

Despite all my worries about my personal safety, and my emotional safety, I decided that I have a responsibility to continue to do what I can do--write op-eds.  Later in life, as I lay dying, even in this I want to tell myself that I did what I can do.

So, I have sent the editor my op-ed essay, which builds on this post.  In my email to the editor, I wrote:
I hope this essay will work for the RG and--more importantly--will not draw too many hateful responses. While the hate messages in the past were not a big deal to me, the contemporary political air does make me pause ... such is life, I suppose.
And now for the op-ed essay ...

I went to Washington, DC, for a meeting with fellow elected officials of the American Association of Geographers, in order to discuss, and act on, items related to our beloved academic organization. It was a mere ten days after the election and, hence, there was that much for me to observe and understand.

Like how the taxi drivers--from and to the airport--were both dark-skinned immigrant men. And both had Muslim names. The doormen at the hotel were also dark-skinned immigrants. The housekeeping woman who knocked on the door as I was getting ready for the meeting apologized in her Spanish-accented voice. The dark-skinned restaurant waitress spoke with a West Indian accent. The coffee place at the airport departure gate was staffed by three women, who looked like they were Somali or Ethiopian, and their English was highly accented.

It takes quite a few immigrants to keep the capital running, it seemed like.

In the courses that I teach, immigration as a concept always gets interesting, not the least because I am an immigrant myself. Over the years, I have found that it is typical for students to include in the class discussions their own personal experiences with immigrants. When they do, students almost always talk about the farm labor being mostly immigrants, which is understandable. More than one "native" student has also commented about how in their summer jobs they simply could not keep up with the speed and ease with which the immigrant laborers were picking fruits from the bushes and trees.

Students talk about the immigrant doctors and nurses too. Here also, it is not unusual for students, even those from small towns, to have had exposure to foreign-born healthcare workers. Such interactions are possible because about a quarter of America’s physicians and surgeons are immigrants. A high percentage of them come from South Asia and the Philippines. I, too, have firsthand experience on this front—after my “native” born primary care physician retired, my files were transferred over to a physician from the Philippines, with whom I have been consulting for a couple of years now. The added bonus is the respect for my age that I get from him because of the carryover from the old culture, similar to how I interacted with the older and now retired physician!

About 42 million in this country are foreign-born, which includes naturalized citizens, green-card holders, those on various categories of visas, and undocumented immigrants. From the Muslim taxi drivers in DC to the pear-pickers in Oregon, from the physician in rural Tennessee to professors in universities, the foreign-born account for more than 13 percent of the population in the country. Oregon’s is slightly lower than the national rate—nearly a tenth of state’s population was born outside the US.

Contrary to popular perception, Mexico is no longer the leader when it comes to the origins of the foreign-born. In 2014, Mexico was third—yes, third—after India and China, with Canada and the Philippines rounding out the top five countries that sent the most people to the US. If the current immigration trends are to continue, projections are that within a decade from now, the percentage of the foreign-born will reach nearly 15 percent, which will be the highest ever in American history.

This change in the immigration pattern is easily observable. In reviewing a book on Indians in America, The Economist magazine notes that a century ago a government commission concluded that Indians were “the most undesirable of all Asiatics” and that “the citizens of America’s west coast were “unanimous in their desire for exclusion”. Things changed in a hurry over the last three decades. The same west coast of America is now home to some of the most successful Indian-American immigrants—from the CEO of Microsoft to motel-owning Patels. Of course, well before the stereotype of Indian immigrants in the Silicon Valley, the television show “The Simpsons” featured Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and his convenience store for a good reason—it seems like most convenience stores in the country are operated by immigrants.

This complex immigration pattern will take on yet another dimension with Nikki Haley, the current governor of South Carolina, who is the president-elect’s nominee to the United Nations. She will become the first Indian-American member of a President’s cabinet after the Senate’s confirmation.

Given that immigration was one of the driving issues in the recent elections, the new administration might be compelled to address it. But, severe restrictions on immigration will be a loss, and will have significant effects not only on the demographic composition but also on the economy and politics—even right in the nation’s capital.

1 comment:

Ramesh said...

A sober, well written Op Ed. Lets see how the comments come in.

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