Column: Indian Americans need to join forces with other minority ethnic and religious groups to fight xenophobia.
“No matter what gunmen or the President say, this is our country, we are here to stay, and we will keep demanding our rightful and equal place in this quintessential nation of immigrants,” declared Suman Raghunathan at a Capitol Hill event on Thursday.
The defiant statement by the Executive Director of the South Asian Americans Leading Together, better known as SAALT, reflected the siege mentality that has surrounded a number of minority groups in this country, including Muslims, Hispanics and Indian and South Asian Americans.
In the past few months, Raghunathan and her organization — one of the most reputed South Asian American civil rights groups — have been on the forefront of combating hate crimes against minorities, which have been steadily increasing since Donald Trump launched his candidacy for President of the United States more than a year and a half ago.
A report SAALT released in January revealed that the spike in hate violence and rhetoric South Asian Americans experienced during the 2016 presidential election was comparable to levels seen the year following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The report, titled “Power, Pain, Potential,” documented 207 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern and Arab communities occurred between November 15, 2015 and November 16, 2016.
There is no question that the highly divisive Trump campaign and the election of the New York billionaire as the President of the United States have empowered the nativistic elements in American society.
Trump did not create these groups. A small section of society has always been anti-immigrant, but it had remained in the fringe. What Candidate Trump did was “mainstreaming” that fringe and amplifying its voice.
After the real estate mogul became President, these fringe groups felt even more empowered. The president has installed many some of the so-called “alt-right”– a loose an ill-defined group of people with far right ideologies and an emphasis on white nationalism – in the top echelons of the administration, which means they now have a seat at the table.
In the aftermath of Trump’s inauguration, at least one Indian American has lost his life to a hate crime. In Olathe, Kansas, Indian American software engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla was gunned down by a US Navy veteran on February 22. The killer mistook Kuchibhotla, 32, and compatriot Alok Madasani, 32, for Arabs, and he shouted at them to go back to “your country” before shooting them.
Kuchibhotla’s killing, which was deemed as hate violence by federal authorities, was not the only time Indian Americans were targeted since the November election. There were attacks on members of the community in states as far apart as Washington and New York.
These attacks have shaken the Indian American community as a whole and moved it out of its comfort zone. They have prompted many to wonder why Indian Americans are being targeted.
Indian Americans as a group have worked diligently to achieve and realize the American dream and to become model citizens and role models. Their average household income is more than $100,000. They have striven to integrate into and contribute to the success and harmony of the communities in which they reside.
In spite of this, if the past few months are any indication, Indian Americans are being deemed as unwelcome and victimized by some Americans.
This is making it clearer and clearer to many Indian Americans that the members of their community are being targeted not because they are of Indian origin but simply because they are perceived as “outsiders” and “undersirables” who look different than white America. It is also leading to a growing recognition within the Indian American community that it needs to be more sensitive to and collaborative with those from other immigrant and minority groups.
Indian Americans need to join forces with those groups and other people of good will in a common cause. That cause must be to confront and defeat extremist ignorance, bigotry and violence in order to make America whole again.
Last month, during the Super Bowl half-time show, Lady Gaga memorably sang Woody Guthrie’s iconic This Land is Your Land. At one of his performances of the song, Bruce Springsteen, The Boss, declared “It gets right to the heart of the promise of what our country is supposed to be about.”
With the same defiance that Raghunathan used to declare that “this is our country” from the steps of Capitol Hill, and in the unifying spirit of Lady Gaga and The Boss, let us as Indian Americans sing Guthrie’s lines joyously to remind everyone, including ourselves and those that are targeting us, the promise of our country, in these troubled times:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
All together now. Say it loud and say it proud. Regardless of race, color or creed. This land is our land. That is our immigrant anthem.
(Frank Islam is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and civic and thought leader based in the Washington, DC, area. His website is www.frankislam.com)
Indian American engineer shot dead in Olathe, Kansas, in apparent hate crime (February 23, 2017)