Friday, November 4, 2016

Resentment against immigrants. Why?

I have lived my life as a part of an immigrant family in India and I am an immigrant in the USA. I have experienced build up of resentment against immigrants, but I never suffered any harm because of it. This problem is very real and I want to share my perspective on it. My family migrated from one state of India to another in search of better opportunities (from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra). In India, each state is like a different country, with its own language and culture. It is not that easy to adjust, especially if the native language is totally alien to you. One can cook their own food or eat whatever is available, but it takes quite a bit of time and some efforts to learn a new language and get to know a new culture. My parents went through this struggle and I witnessed that. The good part of this struggle was, they never forced any of their kids to learn their own native language (Bhojpuri), I and my brothers learned to speak Marathi instead of Hindi or Bhojpuri. I give total credit of this to my parents, I don't know if they did it on purpose, but this is how it happened. We used to speak three languages simultaneously in our home, Bhojpuri, Hindi, and Marathi. Until recently my parents used to speak with us (their three kids) in Hindi or Bhojpuri and we used to answer in Marathi. It happens even now, but not that much, because now they are very comfortable with Marathi. This system worked very flawlessly, it was so smooth that we didn't even realize that we were using three languages simultaneously. The point here is, they didn't stop us from learning the local culture, language or customs. They allowed us to mingle with our surroundings, form friendships, get into trouble or do whatever other kids from the neighborhood were doing, as a kid, I never felt that I came to Maharashtra from some other state, Maharashtra is my home state and Marathi is my mother tongue. So we grew up and became a proud Maharashtrian in a family migrated from UP. This does not mean that we were totally disconnected with our native place, Uttar Pradesh. We can speak Bhojpuri quite well, love food and visit there whenever possible. I feel lucky that I belong to two states in India. Maharashtra now has a sizable population coming from northern states like UP and Bihar. And as normally happens, some resentment got built against these people among native Maharashtrians, some parties tried to encash these feelings. But, we never felt that this anger was directed towards us as we or at least I never had any doubt about me being a Marathi. But, I also got curious why there is such a strong resentment against immigrants? This feeling is so strong that some political parties and leaders owe their existence to it. Who support such political parties and why? Why this feeling of resentment, which almost like a hatred becomes such a powerful political weapon? It is so powerful weapon that even in a developed country like the USA, this issue is one of the major issues of presidential election and it is one of the major reasons for Mr. Trump's popularity.

Why immigrants go through this phase in any society? Why doesn't it happen when they start immigrating, but only when they become a sizable minority group, and their presence can be seen and felt by the majority? I tried to get answers to these questions based on my own experience. Maharashtra or the USA are very cultured and civilized societies, these places are not alien to the presence of immigrants. Why a country like the US, which is known to be very freindly towatds immigrants is facing this problem?

There is no doubt that the cultural clash is one of the reasons for this problem. When immigrants become a sizable minority, they start registering their presence on various platforms and this disturbs some native people. At the same time, native people start feeling that their culture is under attack or threat, as immigrants start asserting their own culture and traditions. Native population starts feeling that one day their own traditions will disappear. Now, no one cares or bothers to think whether these concerns are real or not, they don't bother to check their validity, but these fears start creating some feeling of resentment in some part of the native population. This fear slowly builds up. Bad economy or poor employment rate fuels more insecurity among people and these feelings start showing their ugly effect by some stray incidents, where some immigrant gets attacked for no reason. Some political leader takes advantage of this fear and makes it a political issue. This is what happened in Maharashtra and this is what happening in the USA, and unfortunately I am a witness to both of these phenomena.

Who is right and who is wrong? Who should be blamed for this situation? Are immigrants responsible for not adapting to their new place and appreciating the new culture and values which has given them so much? Are native people responsible for not being flexible enough and accommodative to include new values and cultural norms in their existing culture? I think the problem is from the both sides, remember, it takes two to tango. If you wanted to create another UP in Maharashtra then why did you migrate from UP? If you wanted to create another India in the USA, why not to live in India itself, after all, the original is always better than the duplicate, right? What's the point in creating another Mexico in the USA? On the other hand, why not to welcome and adapt some great values from all these cultures into the US culture and make it more diverse? Why can't we respect each other without threatening the existence of each other?

All people who think that this resentment against immigrants is unreal or is totally misplaced feeling, are themselves living in a denial mode. A presidential candidate like Mr. Trump or leader like Mr. Thackerey doesn't get support for no reason. People may feel that these leaders are not qualified to hold any public office, but they should not make a mistake to ignore the issues which their supporters raise. They all are not deplorable people, labeling such a big part of population stupid doesn't help. If any mainstream politician doesn't address their concerns, they will choose someone who they think is best to handle their issues, and then we really can't complain, it will be too late. I don't think Mr. Trump is their solution for their problems, but he is their answer to political class for ignoring their concerns, for ridiculing their fear. Now they have someone who can speak for them, he is far from perfect, but at least he is recognizing their problems, and this is enough for most of them. The current political class is trapped in too much political correctness, they prefer ignoring difficult issues. They prefer to wait and watch rather than tackling the problems head-on. The point is, someone should listen to these concerns and try to find solutions, ignoring or ridiculing is not going to help.

I am not here to judge whether this feeling of resentment is justified or not, one can debate about it. Maybe they really feel threatened about their culture or jobs. Maybe they are really concerned they will become a minority and their kids will face problems. Maybe all this fear is totally misplaced, but someone needs to discuss these things, these people should feel that their concerns are also being considered as a mainstream problems. The country is not only facing problems related to guns, abortion, terrorism, and unemployment; but illegal immigration is a serious problem and should be discussed. If not, then someone will take advantage of this anger, today it's Mr. Trump, tomorrow it may be someone else, and please don't make a mistake of thinking that elections can't be won or lost on such issues. I have seen it happening in India and it can very much happen in the US. Discussing such sensitive issues openly is good for both sides, after all, I believe that everyone living here wants this country to be a great country. It is already a great country and let's make sure that it remains one.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

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