By Basab Dasgupta
I read about the achievement of an Indian American in some area almost every time I open a newspaper. It could be a promotion to the position of an important executive in a major company, nomination to a powerful political post, some academic achievement, an invention on the medical front, and so on. While such news makes us extremely proud, I used to worry that such dominance by Indians would result in some type of backlash from Americans one day.
However, I rationalized that it was an unlikely scenario because Indians seem to be keen on getting assimilated into American society, they are humble people with pleasant personalities, and they are well-educated professionals contributing to the welfare of the country. Americans have reasons to admire them and not hate them. My fear gradually subsided.
Three recent incidents have caused renewed paranoia on my part about the development of a possible anti-Indian hatred in this country. First, there was an incident of confrontation between a group of Indian women in the parking lot of a restaurant in Plano, near Dallas by a Mexican American woman, Esmeralda Upton. Esmeralda charged at the woman pretending that she had a gun in her purse and said things like “you guys are f**** everywhere. You should go back to your own country, etc.” Esmeralda was later arrested on terrorism and assault charges.
The second incident was a horrific criminal act. A Hispanic guy, named Jesus Manuel Salgado abducted a young Sikh couple, their eight-month-old daughter, and the husband’s brother at gunpoint in Merced, California, and killed them all. Although the assailant was arrested, it is an ongoing investigation and not much is known about the details of the incident or his motives at this time, except for the fact that the killer used to work for the family’s business.
The third incident was also a murder in the dorm room on the campus of the prestigious Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. A student of Indian origin, Varun Manish Chheda, was brutally stabbed to death by his Korean roommate Ji Min Sha.
In all three cases, the attacker was a non-white person. Is it possible that Indians will have to fear other non-white minorities and not whites because of their success in the US?
There are predominantly three non-white minorities in this country, other than Indians: Blacks, Eastern Asians, and Hispanics. Blacks and Indians have been in peaceful coexistence throughout my life in the US. The main reason is that they do not overlap/interact to a great extent in their professional and social lives.
The Blacks excel in sports, music, and comedy and typically work in areas like social services, administrative jobs, various service sectors, construction work, government jobs, etc. which do not attract many Indians. Even on the social scene, one would not find them living in the same neighborhood and interracial marriages between Indians and Blacks are relatively few, compared to the number of other interracial marriages.
Among the Eastern Asians, the Chinese have been the dominating group ever since I came here. Although Chinese and Indians do compete in various academic and professional arenas, the Chinese have no reason to envy the Indians. Overall, the Chinese have been more successful and seem to have more financial affluence. The Japanese never considered them to be Americans. Other Asian groups – Koreans, Thai, Cambodians, Laotians, and Filipinos, are too small to have any kind of agenda.
The history of Hispanics, especially Mexicans is different. A large chunk of the US consisting of California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming once belonged to Mexico. It is understandable if many Mexicans consider it to be their right to enjoy some of the prosperity of this country.
Indians and Mexicans have a lot in common: they have brown skin and dark hair, eat very similar hot and spicy food and have similar family-oriented lifestyles and faith in divinity. It is reasonable to speculate that Hispanics view Indians as “new kids on the block” without any past historical connection with North America, who are “eating their lunch” so to speak, as far as taking advantage of all opportunities. As a result, they might develop a degree of envy and animosity.
I lived and worked in Mexico for almost a year and a half and got to know about Mexicans. I discovered that there are two groups of Mexicans: the ones who are descendants of Europeans who came with the Spanish invasion and the others are the indigenous people originating from various Indian tribes. The first group has fairer skin complexion, and many can pass as whites. It is this group that controls the key functions in running the country while the second group serves them as laborers, farmers, and factory workers. They enjoy a comfortable life in Mexico and are not too anxious to immigrate to the US as a minority.
The people belonging to the second group are inherently timid and insecure. I can understand their desire to cross into the US illegally out of desperation from poverty, unemployment, violence, etc. and even imagine those committing crimes, but I do not believe that they would target Indians because of jealousy arising from some commonality.
I wonder if people envy us when they see us in positions of control. It is one thing to achieve professional success, but it is at another level when Indians can dictate how others should live their lives. That might breed jealousy and racial animosity. On the other hand, neither Bobby Jindal nor Nikki Haley faced any racially motivated backlash while they were governors of Louisiana and South Carolina, respectively and the same can be said of CEOs of major corporations of Indian origin.
It is unwise to predict any trend regarding hate crimes against Indians just based on the three incidents described here. They are likely to have simple explanations which have nothing to do with Indians. Esmeralda might have been simply drunk and/or distraught because of the recent death of her husband. The Indian women should have perhaps walked away. The killing of the family in Merced likely had a financial motive. The campus killing at Purdue may be the result of an argument between roommates turning violent, perhaps under the influence of drugs.
Statistically speaking, such incidents may just reflect a general atmosphere of lawlessness in this country and an increasingly larger influx of Indian American population. I am alarmed nonetheless because I do not want to be stereotyped into a certain ethnic group.
I am a proud and happy Indian American who would like to live his life without any fear or anxiety.
Basab Dasgupta has a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin and worked with Sony as Vice President of an operating division. Retired, he now lives in San Clemente, CA.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times