I recently read that the United States Immigration Reform Act of 1965 was created to amend the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, which allowed for preference to skilled laborers and relatives of US citizens. This government action had started to bring about a cultural social change, that we can well relate to today. In the 1960’s, United States had only a few thousand Asian-Indians. Quickly by the mid 1980s, over 300,000 Asian Indians had already emigrated from India, and to this day the numbers have amplified exponentially.
I am part of “those” Indians, also affectionately called “new immigrants,” to distinguish us from the “old immigrants” of European descent. In contrast, Asian foreigners immigrated to the land of opportunities as highly educated, skilled professionals, and came primarily from the urban middle class. Today, including my husband, I have nearly 50 extended family relatives spread across the North Americas.
Last night, I couldn’t help but wonder what motivated us to leave our country? And more importantly, when is a good time to talk about our return to the homeland?
Many Asian Indians immigrated for financial factors and educational reasons. The high rate of conversion between the Indian Rupee and the $USD$ together with the desire to support family members back in India is/was highly lucrative. I will be frank so far to admit that my illustrious cousins who first made their way here, who left to the Americas for professional and social opportunities, were also driven by the mentality that emigration is prestigious – ‘Foreign education is better than indigenous training’. For a while, the British colonization had left an indelible mark in the mindset of the Indians that the fair skinned, English-speaking foreigners were truly superior and worthy of emulation. English began its way up in the political, social, educational and administrative realms of the new India. Every middle class family strived to become educated, literate and slowly English was morphed into a medium of instruction in schools. We love our English, however Indianized it sounds. As new India was struggling with its overwhelmingly large democracy, bureaucratic rules, bribes, corruption and unreasonable social caste systems led to unfavorable working conditions. A social change was inevitable and steadily, Asian-Indians had begun to place a great deal of emphasis on foreign education to seek career advancement and better professional stature.
So that’s how and that’s why (among other many, many reasons) we have immigrated here. But what lies in front of us? What is it that I truly want in my life experience? Sometimes, I miss the jasmine flowers. Often, I miss the camaraderie we shared with my vegetable vendor. Sometimes, I dearly miss the crowd. I miss my aging parents and uncles/aunts. I miss watching them age gracefully. I constantly worry when I do see them age gracefully. The emptiness in our newly furnished apartment exudes a subtle mockery of my comforts while my parents still chug along their mundane, lonely lives. Without their children by their side. Am I selfish?
I met my husband here and we are happily married. But these are some of my most recent changes in my life. Did I really stop and make every decision along my way? Or did I just follow along as life ebbs away. Am I among the herd of aspiring students who hastily applied to International Universities to grab that coveted scholarship to earn the doctoral degree? Did I really immigrate only for educational reason? If not, what are the other reasons? When can I talk about how long am I going to be here, before I return home? What is home? What if my husband does not want to return to our home country? Or what if we put off the decision until the situation has gone beyond our control?
Do we always get to exercise our choice in life decisions?
So many questions.