A Perspective of an Asian Indian Immigrant
Ved P. Chaudhary, Ph.D.
I share my personal political observations and experience over the last 32 years in USA and express my concern for the welfare of Indian/South Asian Americans, and all people of color.
I started my political involvement in NJ state politics in 1987 because a hate group of youth calling themselves Dotbusters were hurling abuses at the newly arriving Indian immigrants, shouting “Go Back to Where you came From” in the main streets of Jersey City. Their name Dotbusters referred to the red “dot” Indian women wear on their forehead as a sacred mark of their tradition. These hate-mongering High School youth were beating up Indian men, women and children in broad daylight to scare them to sell their properties and leave Jersey City and to discourage new immigrants from coming to their city. A couple of innocent Indian men were beaten to death. The police did nothing. Later we found out that the Police Chief himself was instigating this youth gang to attack Indian immigrants. His son was the gang leader and the all-white police force was in cahoots. White people did not want dirty brown uncultured Indians, and women in traditional Indian sarees, to settle in their city and buy properties. Indians were an eye sore for the white establishment.
I still remember how I felt at the time. My son was in High School and I heard that the wave of youth calling themselves Dotbusters was spreading to other High Schools in New Jersey. We all know how High School kids are attracted to bad acts like cigarette smoking, drugs and gangs. I felt I cannot live and raise my family in a place where we cannot live with safety and dignity. I considered leaving my job with Bell labs and going back to India. But I thought it would be cowardly, against the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, for me to retreat in the face of injustice, to pack up and go back to India.
But, by and large, Indian people were afraid of contacting the police even when their families were being harassed. So, I started the NJ Chapter of Indian American Forum for Political Education (founded by Dr. Joy Cherian who was later appointed EEOC Commissioner by president Regan) and formed a group of like-minded people to raise political awareness in our community. We contacted NJ Assemblyman from Jersey City area, Bob Menendez – who is now the US Senator from New Jersey – for help.
Bob Menendez came forward to help our community. He was instrumental in getting the first Hate Crimes Bill passed in NJ Assembly and Senate and signed by Governor Florio. We were invited to the bill signing ceremony. It was called the Indian Bill as it was taken up at the behest of the Indian community. It was gratifying to see that the Dotbusters gang did not spread in NJ. When investigation of the role of Police department started, the police chief committed suicide. After that, I saw race relations improved, barring some exceptions, over the years under both democrats and republican administrations in NJ and in the US.
But, after 9/11, hate against Indians flared up again because ALL brown skinned people are mistaken for middle eastern men who were the culprits in the 9/11 massacre. Indian Sikh men were especially targeted for hate crimes because they wear turbans and keep long flowing beards, so the hate gangs think Sikhs belong to Osama Bin Laden’s clan. However, diligent efforts by the Home Security department helped maintain peace over the years.
Now, after 30 years of progress in race relations in US, I see a resurgence of hate all across America directed towards non-white people. The enemy this time are ALL immigrants and the chief perpetrator is not a Police Chief, but the Commander-in-Chief of USA. The hate is not limited to a city but spread all across America.
Trump took office on January 20, 2017. Emboldened by his rhetoric, a month later, on February 22, 2017, a white man in Kansas Adam Purinton yelled “Get out of my country,” before fatally shooting Srinivas Kuchibhotla, and injuring another man, on February 22, 2017. Six months later, members of Alt-right: neo-Confederates, neo-fascists, neo-Nazis, white
nationalists, and anti-Muslim/antisemitic militias descended on Charlottesville, VA on Aug 11-12, 2017 where a self-identified white supremacist James Alex Fields, Jr. deliberately rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people. Trump’s first statement was that there were “very fine people on both sides” making it clear to all hate groups that they have his unwavering support, no matter what they did!
More recently, 22 people were killed and 24 injured in El Paso, TX, in a mass shooting on August 3, 2019. Police found an anti-immigrant document written by the suspect espousing white nationalist and racist views, mimicking the views of his hero Donald Trump. A day later, another nine people were killed and 27 injured in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio.
The virus of hate spreads in the society like cancer cells metastasizing in the body, or fire spreading in California; you do not know when and where and with what ferocity it might flare up. It is like the proverbial genie out of the bottle; very hard to control and very difficult, if not impossible, to put back in the bottle, where it came from.
I feel the pain and frustration of the immigrants and citizens in El Paso as I felt the pain of Indian immigrants 32 years ago. The hate mongering white supremacists, emboldened with one of their ilk in the White House, do not discriminate whether they are recent Mexican Immigrants, Mexicans who migrated here many generations ago, or any other people of color no matter how many years or generations ago, they or their ancestors migrated to US.
By the way, Indian people look a lot like Mexicans in the eyes of these white supremacists. Brown people will never be American no matter how long they have lived in the US. But, a white man or woman – for example, First Lady, Melania, and her family, and other recent white immigrants are as American as those whose settled generations ago. They do not suffer the indignities and injustices heaped on brown people in Trumpdom.
Days after the shooting incidents in El Paso,TX, and Dayton, OH, a Hindu priest was brutally attacked in Queens, NY by a white man shouting “Go Back to Where you came From”. I was reminded of the Hindus who voted for Trump and invited him to temples to get blessings from the priests. Did they know what they were doing? That they were putting ghee in the fire of hatred that does not discriminate between Hindus and Muslims and Christians and Jews.
I looked up the crime statistics for the New York city. Since Trump took office, overall crime is DOWN 6.2% while hate crime is UP 90% in NYC. This hits home, as my daughter, nieces, nephews, and children of all my friends live in New York City. There is a lesson here for all South Asian community leaders: Read the history of Jews in Hitler’s Germany and Indians in South Africa at the time of Mahatma Gandhi’s resistance movement against the British.
Its time to unite all Asian Americans, build coalitions with other people of color and support those Congressmen, Senators and POTUS candidates who stand for sensible gun control and treating as equals all those who came here before, those who are new immigrants, and with compassion to those families and children who want to migrate here now, irrespective of their race, religion, ethnicity, skin color, or country of origin.