2017: Since the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, a rise in attacks on individuals from India and Pakistan is taking place in this country.
On February 22, 2017, Srinivas Kuchibhotla was murdered, and Alok Madasani was injured by Adam Purinton, a gunman who later said he thought the two men were Iranian. (It is not clear how this observation by Mr. Purinton is relevant.)
Interestingly, the name, “Purinton,” is said by geneology sites on the Internet to be from Staffordshire, England, and may be a version of, “Pear Town.” This could be where the gunman’s ancestors were from before someone in his family made the journey to the United States, who-knows-when.
So, in fact, a man who gunned down two immigrants was from an immigrant background himself.
Of course, most people living in the United States, outside of native Americans and many African-Americans, have familiarity with what it means to be a immigrant.
The big American holiday, the one holiday neither religious nor patriotic in this country, is Thanksgiving, which at its essence is a reminder of people coming here and being welcomed.
The point is, like it or not, immigration has always been a part of America’s national awareness. For certain there has been resentment: Germans arriving here in in the mid-nineteenth century were not permitted to be office holders, and the white folks already in positions of authority did not immediately allow them into their churches, schools, or communities.
Along came other groups: Chinese to build the railroads. Irish to be overseers and build. Italians, Irish, Eastern Europeans. Restrictions were placed at borders and within the U.S., and, for example, the law that restricted immigrants from Asia from 1924 until 1965 was both a harbinger of things happening today as well as a painful reminder of just how much white people covet power.
“America First,” the slogan epitomizing the new administration was first coined in the 1930’s by those who did not want political refugees from Nazi Europe into the United States. That these refugees were chiefly Jews was no coincidence.
So nowadays with hate speech and violent acts rising, it is important to keep in mind that this is nothing new.
The U.S. has always swayed, back and forth, between acceptance of immigrants and despising them. Have a look at cartoons on the Internet depicting Irish, Jews, and Italians a little over one hundred years ago. Hawkish, nasty, and maudlin to the extreme, these caricatures make the immigrants less than human. And more than that: They show immigrants as dangerous, dirty, and predatory. The message is that they do not share the core values of this country, and that they are anti-American.
Today, normal media does not make use of these images and the accompanying rhetoric to demonize immigrants, but to be sure there are plenty of abnormal sites on the web that do. Once a group is deemed dangeous, their vulnerability increases.
In addition to imagery, anger, and hatred, the adminstration has initiated decrees which target nations where people are not only Islamic, but who are not white.
As a result of the abnormal media and the decrees, a level of awareness about immigration has been raised.
On a negative note, this is leading to acts of violence, like the one in Kansas, and an increase in hatred in communities, schools, and work settings.
But let’s look at this from a positive perspective, shall we? And we must.
With increased awareness of what immigration is, and who is an immigrant, and what immigrants bring to this country, there are bountiful opportunities.
Leaders in communities, white or otherwise, can bring forward examples of people, living and dead, who came to this country and added to its identity as a nation that often in its young history has been on the side of freedom.
It may very well be that immigrants helped to create policies, both foreign and domestic, that had freedom of speech and civil rights at their core. It might be said that without immigrants, the U.S. would have remained a nation that valued liberty far less.
That tradition continues.
Today there are famous examples, recognizable in industry and medicine and law and academic life, but there are also ordinary individuals who cherish and advance freedom: Shopkeepers, cab drivers, hospital aides, and cooks.
People arriving here, now and long ago, including Mr. Purinton’s ancestors, did and do so in pursuit of freedom and to escape injustice, whether economic, racial, gender, or social. It is highly unlikely, that the old family in England of this gunman in Kansas had a shot at owning land at home or advancing in class. Otherwise, they would most likely have stayed put, unless it was to inherit or manage foreign holdings in an English colony. (Perhaps, in retrospect, we would all have been better off had they remained home.)
But as we consider the fear that those who don’t want us here try to inspire in us, add understanding to that trepidation.
They are the ones who actually live in fear: In fear of us. We are the ones with more than enough love for those crippled by hate. Because we are the immigrants and the children of immigrants.
A clinical psychologist by training, Scott Haas is the author of “Those Immigrants!,” a book in which he interviews 30 highly successful and diverse Indian-Americans in an endeavor to learn more about their shared values. Published in May, 2016 by Fingerprint! Publishing and Prakash Books India, “Those Immigrants!” is available on Amazon.