The Indian-American paradox

Rajeev Srinivasan

The promotion of Parag Agrawal to the position of CEO of Twitter created a bit of a commotion online. Many celebrated the fact that several Indian-origin people now head large technology companies such as Alphabet, Microsoft, Adobe, IBM, and now Twitter.

Others bemoaned the fact that many Indians apparently had to leave the country to do well. The usual reasons were trotted out: Reservations prevent the meritorious from rising; the bureaucrats and the system mess everything up; there is no room for independent thought, and you must kowtow to the Big Men on Campus; and so on. There is a little truth in all of them.

In this narrative, the US is the place where they reward merit; there is an opportunity for all; and if you keep your nose clean and work hard and produce results, they will let you rise to the top. There is a little truth in all these claims as well. But that’s not the whole story, either.

The fact is that there is a brutal selection process. Among a billion people, surely there are some who are exceptional, and some more who are outstanding. They might truly stand out in any crowd. But that doesn’t mean the average Indian-American is doing amazingly well.

Having been one of the average Indian-Americans returning to India, I have seen the beast from the inside. We managed to get into good US universities because of good test-taking skills, GRE scores, and grades. They gave us financial aid for graduate school, got jobs, and at least in my day, got the coveted Green Card in a year or two. Then we raised families and lived middle-class lives (or better, if we managed to join the right startups). We began enjoying a kind of American Dream.

We made annual trips to India. We forced the kids to attend Indian classical music or dance classes, and the Tiger Mothers amongst us groomed them to win Spelling Bees and get perfect 4.0s and perfect 800s in the SATs, and get into Ivy League schools and onwards to med and law school.

Somewhere along the line, especially after our parents died, we realized that we had almost nothing that connected us back to the old country, especially now that we, finally, caved in and acquired our US citizenship.

This is not to blame anybody’s life choices. It is a dilemma: Should you immerse yourself in the culture of where you live, or should you hang on to an identity that you once had?

Let me note in passing that this is the life of upwardly mobile Indians, some of whom have become fabulously wealthy, and the rest are solidly middle-class or upper-middle class.

There is another whole class of bluish-collar Indians, and they tend to carry a cocoon of Indian-ness with them. They mostly socialize with the local Malayali Association, the Tamil Manram, the Bengali group, etc. They live in America, but they are not of America. That, too, is a reasonable choice, and some of them end up wintering in India as they get older.

What is the point in all this? It is to emphasize that it is futile to expect Indian-American CEOs to suddenly swing their companies in directions that help India, or Hindus. They have other compulsions, and they don’t find it advantageous to wear their Indian origin on their sleeves. They have assimilated and probably acquired native prejudices about India.

The narrative about India, assiduously cultivated by the Deep State and its organs, is that it is a benighted place, should be balkanized, is full of “beastly natives with their beastly religion”, as infamously said by war criminal Winston Churchill.

I am in a WhatsApp group of former IIT classmates, and I am astonished at their groupthink about Biden, Fauci, far-left Democratic politicians, and so on. They swallow as the truth and the whole truth anything that is pushed by their favorite media.

Let us be very clear. Indian-Americans may do well in America. Good for them! That has nothing to do with India, except that they may urge their companies to invest in India if it makes financial sense for the company. (Firstpost)

Image courtesy of (Photo: India Today)

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