“Those People” May Be Just Like You
Since anti-immigrant fervor has risen at various times in America’s past, I can’t say that the current groundswell is any worse or different than before.
Yet, in the wake of the Islamic radical attacks that have claimed dozens of lives in places like Orlando, Boston and San Bernardino, California, it’s easy to understand.
The only problem with highly-charged emotions is how easily some people can let them govern their actions.
Case in point: the February shootings (one fatal) of two Indians by a man in Kansas who mistook them for Iranians.
The victim’s nationality caught my attention because of a conversation I had with a man seated next to me last year on a flight to Los Angeles.
Although we both had been reading or scanning laptops during the flight, about an hour before we landed the question I asked about some bright lights below sparked a conversation.
It turns out he was from India. A software engineer, he was working for a company in LA, but as a contractor through a company based in India. In order to get a work visa to be in the United States, he had to be affiliated with the firm back home.
He was on his way back west from New York, where he had been visiting his wife. She was also a software engineer and working as a contractor for a company on Long Island.
Looking for Work
“Whoever gets a permanent job first, the other person will fly to where they are and look for work there,” he told me.
I was intrigued by the vast difference between his circumstances and those I had heard of or read about, such as the U.S. companies who hired people in India to handle customer service, computer troubleshooting, or other duties.
I had had my own experiences with outsourced customer service reps who—no matter how hard they tried—couldn’t mask the Indian accent in their voice.
I also have an old high school friend whose high-tech business had so many employees in India that his son finally moved there to manage that operation (and met and married an Indian woman).
“Where would you rather be?” I asked the man.
“India,” he said. “That’s where all my family is, and my wife’s. But we’re doing what we have to do to survive.”
Ironically, on my return flight I met another foreign-born man who worked for a major corporation in Detroit. Not necessarily because he wanted to be in America, but because that’s where the opportunity opened up in his field.
While I realize this is a somewhat limited perspective on a complex national debate, my experience also shows the folly of blindly adopting a stereotypical narrative about immigrants and visitors from other nations.
I’m sure you’ve heard it. It’s the one that goes those people are taking our jobs or coming into our country to do us harm.
Granted, we can’t fling open the borders and turn a blind eye to those who indeed seek to do us harm.
But instead of getting caught up in political hysteria, we need to take some time away from our precious cell phones and carefully self-constructed worlds to greet those who don’t look like us, talk like us, or think like us.
We might discover we have a lot in common. Like many of us, they may just be trying to survive.