Can we be helped, please?

     This is an open appeal to kind-hearted, sensible American citizens. It is a request to recognize and make others understand the present, precarious plight of many of us in this country, who have a different shade of skin color, an atypical accent, diverse social habits or food preference than the majority of ‘Americans’. We are first generation immigrants and our progeny who were born and brought up here. We are all legal residents or natural citizens.
     But we live in troubled times.
     The statement may be cliché, sporadically raised by apprehensive humans from different quarters, substantiated by diverse rationale, creating indifferent impacts, and never any solutions. But our concern is real and out of fear. It is recent, acute, and authentic. And we are at the mercy of the ‘real Americans’ who we hope can understand and empathize with our anxiety and apprehension.
     The unique status of America as the greatest nation on earth owes it to the original settlers from Europe, the white Anglo-Saxons, and the slaves they brought in who toiled over for centuries in building this republic. Its brilliant forefathers succeeded in establishing its effective governance through the solid foundations of its constitution, its staunch adherence to democracy, its federalism, its pride in labor and a total dedication and patriotism to the state. They built the essentials of a solid nation, created the infrastructure, cultivated the land, and manufactured the comforting needs with their brain, brawn, and tireless labor.
     But in the last several decades, the influx of the bright, elite intellectuals from the East with professional training played a substantial role in helping with education, healthcare, computer technology, engineering, and the like. Such skilled contributions are undeniably relevant and crucially inimitable in the progress of any country, and the immigrants from Asia have to be acknowledged for their role and admired without reservation.
     As a doctor who is retired after practicing in Houston for about forty years, I have my story. Physicians have had a reasonable life in this country; for many, much more than reasonable. Those of us foreign medical graduates who came in the sixties and seventies, managed to find often mediocre places for internship and residencies, underwent arduous training, got through the specialty boards and fellowships, earned state licenses, and settled in various available opportunities. We raised families, built homes, took vacations and our life in general was cozy and rewarding. We created several religious, philanthropic, cultural, and political organizations, our arts, music and culinary treats appealing to the mainstream. We brought in our unique, ethnic customs and traditions to this ‘melting pot’, and we contributed to enrich and enhance the already vivid and kaleidoscopic culture of America.
     But suddenly, the situation seems to be changing for the worse, and hence such an appeal. With the current commotions about immigration, attacks on people who look ‘different’ with shades of brown skin, with turbans on head or dots on their forehead, strange accents, food habits and social customs, we are forced to reevaluate our status and situation here, in the land we adopted to domicile. It is imperative action for our future generations as well. Even though it is from a miniscule minority, some ‘opinionated Americans’ see ‘our kind’ as unwanted, inferior, and worthless to live here. The recent incidents of hate crimes, airplane skirmish, harassment at schools and work places, random accusations and insults, shooting and killing innocent people may all be consequent to the xenophobic rhetoric of some irresponsible authorities. The United Air episode (Chronicle April 13, 14, 2017) of Dr. David Dao, a 69 year old Vietnamese physician being dragged out from his seat, is hard to be accepted as random, unruly act of a lawless passenger, considering the context of the ongoing bias and racial turmoil. Nor is the killing of Kuchibotla in Kansas City as he was peacefully having a drink with his friend.
     The plight of the two Indian neurologists Drs. Satija and Ummat in Houston, (Chronicle April 7, 2017) should alert and prepare many of us who may face the same predicament. Whether they were targets of the perverse pride of the immigration department or were overstepping the legal boundaries by illegally occupying the space is not the issue. It is obvious that some of the fear-mongering authorities seem to be on a rampage to evict our kind of people with the shades of skin and accent they consider undeserving to be included. And if the trend continues, several such incidents may ensue against worthy, productive and reputable professionals who have already proved their mettle, or are waiting to be regularized. It is quite understandable if inflow of immigrants is limited to suit our needs here, 126 but discrimination against the already working professionals is injustice, bias, prejudice. It is totally wrong.
     The hate perpetrators seem to have no clue about our contributions or commitment in this country. The level of their education or prejudicial upbringing limits their ability to realize that many of us are assets keeping America great. They do not care to know that most of us are much more productive than average citizens here, that we are law abiding, family oriented, tax paying, peaceful, loyal members who have put in more than we have taken out. And we did not sneak in to grab the place unlawfully; we were accepted as qualified professionals.
     There is another salient reality about many of the foreign professionals who opt to come to America. As a medical student in 1956, in one of the few government medical colleges in India, my annual tuition fee in today‘s dollars was less than $4. As difficult even that amount was to many families including mine, it was substantially subsidized by the government. Even though I served the state and the army for few years paying my obligation and arrears, I left India and spent the rest of my professional career in the USA, contributing to the care of patients in this country. As much as I was remunerated well, the major input to such healthcare offered to the patients of the United States was done as a compliment from the educational system of India, from the resources of that country, at the expense of the patients there who should have received that care, and against the intent with which such educational institutions were set up there. United States and its patients are immensely indebted to India and several such countries for the generosity that is seldom recognized and appreciated. And most of us who benefited from such free training and chose to migrate for better comforts in life remain oblivious, and often ungrateful to our mother countries.
     Very similar are the contributions from the countless number of scientists, engineers, computer professionals, teachers, and several other specialists that this country has lured to migrate. Being a land of immigrants, America has benefited and prospered from such help from foreigners and the brain drain from their motherland. It is noteworthy that neither did we leave India from its oppressive regimes, nor due to its political atrocities. We just looked out for greener and prosperous pastures to graze, against the interest of the country that trained us. Refining the ignorant and humanizing the racists should be a fundamental and essential step. And for that, sincere understanding, sympathy, and commitment from caring, sensible citizens of this country must come through. ‘The real Americans’ could and should educate the uninformed, the misguided and the prejudiced ones about the reality about migrants like us. They should realize the fact that when their drunken son crashes his car and is taken into the ER, the doctor who saves his life on the operating table may have brown skin under the mask; the college professor who lectures to their daughter in the chemistry class may have an 127 accent but is well qualified; many of the experts who designed their phone or laptop are very likely to have strange last names but are experts in their fields. The several professionals who came from outside are tirelessly involved in research in laboratories, hospitals, universities, corporations, computer industry, aeronautics, financial institutions and such, intent to improve the comforts in life or inventing cures to prolong precious lives. Several such people may look or act different, but they donate ‘in big ways’, to help ‘keep America great’.
     Only the sane and sensible people can offer that help and make a difference. Would you?

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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