The Arrogance of The Elite

Back in 2016, prior to the US elections, I listened to a US radio show where a truck driver had called in to share his confidence that Trump would win based on how many more Trump yard signs he saw across America compared to Clinton. I remember laughing at his ‘insights’ and conclusions – being pretty smug myself on all the probabilistic election forecasting & commentary that I was following on Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com. At that time, I considered myself ‘well-informed’ and took pride in having some knowledge about the many issues being faced by Americans – mostly by reading the newspapers and watching cable news. Suffice to say, I had to re-examine my own standing in short order. 

Four years on, what we have seen is an unprecedented and shocking amount of negative reporting, criticism and hate – a lot of it justified, some not – on Trump the person, on the people in his administration, and maybe some on their policies. But, during the same time, what we have seen very little of commentary or reporting on, are the perspectives of everyday people from different backgrounds – emphasis on ‘different backgrounds’. 

The media’s dedication has always been to Trump (positive or negative) – never the people who voted him in. The only times they do cover the people who voted Trump in are while associating him with far-right extremists – usually of the white supremacists kind. 

Actually, we have to go one step further, so let’s try this again. 

The media’s dedication is to Trump – never the people who voted (or not). Period. 

The people who control the news and make editorial decisions are increasingly far removed from the everyday, regular people in the country – especially those they do not personally see or interact with regularly. These media elites are typically based in big cities, have an office in the downtown area, and work/hang out with other media elites. They discuss the issues in the country with other media elites and develop an opinion about it  – without ever actually having personally interacted with the people impacted. They decide that their own perspectives are the ones that the people of the country need to hear and proceed to publish or broadcast those news stories or opinion pieces. Other media elites read it and the cycle continues.

And somehow, amidst all this, no one seems to ask if the opinions of these elites are actually representative of the people on the ground. The answer to that is ‘very rarely’. But never underestimate the everyday person, because they DO see their problems not reflected – or worse, actively dismissed – in what the media elites have to say. And these people do vote – especially to a candidate who is giving voice to their problems, however rhetorical it may seem.

This ever-increasing gulf between what regular, everyday people ask for, and what is actually covered in the media is one of the reasons why Trump got elected in the first place. The media did do a brief introspection on that aspect – but never really acted on them. On the contrary, they doubled down and went on a rampage against one man – while completely ignoring the realities and issues of the people on the ground.

And that is why the media’s obsession with Trump is toxic. It is because what matters is not just what they choose to focus on – but also who they ignore, and who they (incorrectly) claim to speak for. The former is what we all SEE, the latter are only seen when their ABSENCE is highlighted. 

There are a thousand different reasons why Trump doesn’t deserve to be President, and almost none of them have to do with the media’s hit jobs on him. Joe Biden may well make an infinitely better President than Trump. But then, the elites in the media would still only be talking about Trump and Biden – and no one would be discussing the issues of the everyday American.

The arrogance of the elite and their categorical conviction of knowing what is right for the masses may well be what dooms America to 4 more years of someone clearly unfit to hold the office of the President of the US. This makes me almost – almost – WANT to see Trump being re-elected, just so I can witness the media elites implode and self-destruct once and for all. 

On Mark Levin’s ‘Unfreedom of the Press’

So I picked up Mark Levin’s “Unfreedom of the Press” from the Toronto Public Library with all the obvious qualifications about who the author was. (The image below should set the stage fairly well).

After finishing it, I now categorize this is a mostly bad book with very few bright spots (equivalent to a 2 star review). The book begins in a very promising manner with a very concise summary of the general nature of the today’s press. In it, he briefly discusses the ideas of uniformity of thought, social activism, narrative building, the opacity of the newsrooms, predictable (over)reactions to criticism, etc. So I was actually looking forward to a more detailed discussion of these topics in the coming chapters. But deep into the first chapter, I knew this was going to be a disappointment.

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First of all, this book reads like a massive literature review separated into different chapters based on themes. At least half the book is quotes from other books, articles, opinions, editorials, etc. that are included here to build the desired narrative and to make the necessary points. Sometimes it works, but mostly it just drags on and makes it hard to understand what point the author is trying to make.

Secondly, this book reads a lot like a documentation of all the anti-Trump media coverage over the past 3 years. The media’s anti-Trump bias obviously exists and I don’t need any convincing about it. I may personally have nothing good to ever say about that man, but that is independent of the liberal media’s relentless negative coverage of him. This book spends more than half its space ‘defending’ Trump while also documenting all the -ve coverage he has received.  The author obviously makes sure to include the most blatant episodes of hypocrisy that the media exhibited the past 3 years in this aspect.

The bright spots come in bits and pieces but never last long enough. For instance, the chapter on media as a tool of propaganda starts off by articulating well the idea of propaganda and how the media can allow itself to be manipulated or choose to do so willfully. He gives the example of how Ben Rhodes helped sell the Iran nuclear deal to the American public during Obama’s tenure. That was actually a good insightful story. But right after that, he spends the next 10 pages castigating the media for being a propaganda machine for climate change and not providing a platform for the ‘skeptics’! The only other bright spots are the few articles that I was able to glean off of the references and the passages he quotes. I was very impressed with some of them that I bookmarked them all for future reference. Another definite highlight is the rather elaborate summary of the New York Times’s general anti-Semitic coverage from the time of the Holocaust to current day Israel.

What I was hoping for was a discussion on the reasons, consequences, principles & techniques for and of media bias – supported by examples. That these examples would be largely in the ‘liberal bias’ category was something to be expected given who the author was. But in the end, I found very little of any of that, and just a lot of Trump defense and a documentation of media’s hate towards him.

The Perils of a Trump Impeachment

Everybody seems to be talking about it, all the media outlets are covering it, social media has it trending 24/7, and everyone has their own opinion on the legitimacy of all of it. And I honestly have no interest or stake in what happens to the man at the top of it all – President Trump. But what I do have an interest in is in the maintenance of civility and unity in any society – especially one that is already as divided as the United States.

Most Presidential elections in the US are truly just an exercise in the demonstration of the division within that country. It is Us vs Them, Left vs Right, Democrat vs Republican, Liberal vs Conservative – name your labels. But nobody seems to point it out for what the division really stands for today – Americans vs fellow Americans. Now how about that label, eh?

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I am not an expert historian to tell you when exactly this division started to take its present shape. Was America truly ready for a Black President in 2008? How did Obamacare’s passing impact the legislative process? What about MitcConnell’s obstruction of Obama’s judiciary appointees? How much did Obama’s executive orders piss off Republicans? How angry did the ‘Liberals’ in America get when Mitch McConnell refused to confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court – only to later confirm Gorsuch and Kavanaugh? How confused were people when Donald Trump became the President? What about that Republican bill giving tax breaks that was passed behind closed doors? What did the relentless criticism of Trump tell those who voted for him?

And how do you think society reacts when every one of the above events were amplified by a biased and loud mainstream media – print and cable – along with a significant dose of extreme opinions accompanying it from all the different parts of the internet?

I am not even going to repeat the talking points that are propagated in the media for and against this process. To me, they are rhetorical at best, and political at worst. Nowhere do I see the actual interest of the people being represented in any capacity. But I will quote a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from back in March this year (emphasis mine):

Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.

The media, of course, just focused on the last line of “he’s just not worth it” because it was a great soundbite – nothing else. That statement about how an impeachment process can divide the country unless it is based on something compelling and has bipartisan support is the absolute truth. Which is why it is rather unfortunate that Pelosi herself is the one championing the impeachment process now.

For the sake of discussion, let us say the President has just been impeached along party lines in the House. What do you think will happen? You think the nation will rejoice? Is this some sort of a victory? If so, can you tell me who won? What constructive things do you see happening after this? Oh you don’t say it will help elect a Democrat President in 2020? Because clearly that is NOT what this impeachment is about right? Oh I hear you say he just deserved to get impeached? Well, in the immortal words of Snoop Pearson from The Wire, I think what you really meant was:

Deserve got nothing to do with it. It’s his time, that’s all.

I will tell you what WILL happen. CNN, MSNBC, ABC, WaPo, NYT, and the likes will rejoice – openly, and with an in-your-face attitude. Half the nation will rejoice too. Operative word being ‘half’ – because the other half will be pissed off. All Dem politicians will claim victory and try to sell that to their base – you know the half that rejoiced. Fox News, Breitbart, Drudge Report, WSJ, and the likes will continue questioning the legitimacy of the process. All the Republicans will cry unfair, play victim and sell that fear of ‘Dem takeover’ to THEIR base – you know the other half that did not rejoice. There will be some superficial pressure created on Mitch McConnell and he will hold a hearing and eventually Trump will not be convicted. The media will get all the coverage and pageviews and get rich with all the divisive and biased rhetoric.

And the poor American people will come out of it more divided and entrenched than ever before. There will be even lesser room for civil debates and discussions. It will be harder to change people’s minds on any damn thing. The ideas of subtlety and nuance will cease to exist in any conversation even remotely political. Friends are chosen based on their political leanings. Extreme positions will become even more common. More politicians will begin to endorse extreme positions. As the Left goes more woke, the Right will double down on rejecting any change at all. Supreme court justices will be confirmed depending only on which party holds the Senate. No significant legislation will ever get passed in the House and Senate. And yes, impeachment of a sitting President will become more common. Everyone will have an opinion, but the American people will ultimately bear the brunt of it all.

Fact is divisive events have a cumulative effect on society over time. And division breeds further division, thereby cementing a dangerous spiraling loop. In the USA, I strongly believe that these events have led the society close to the point of no return. There is a tipping point approaching and this impeachment will make the American people see what lies beyond. Just remember, there is no way back from that.

What I would like to see is a new leader emerge who works not to ‘energize their own base’, but instead seeks to unite the country – and wins the next elections. There are very few in the Democratic primary field who can be fit into that category. I will not take names but just know this – the more to the left the Dems go, the more to the right the Republicans go. So by that metric, figure out for yourself who is likely to unite and who is likely to further divide. But really all that is a redundant exercise because Trump is going to win in 2020 regardless – the impeachment would make sure of that.

So, yeah, have fun.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 5: A Matter of Dignity & Integrity

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

This has been a long series of posts but please bear with me while I offer some final thoughts.

In the history of mankind, human beings have acted on something only after things got sufficiently bad. The inertia is so big that taking proactive measures is just not wired into our brains – or into all our institutions. It is certainly very true in my case and of those in similar situations. Though it might look proactive to some, we made the decision to move to Canada only after we went through sufficient hardships.

It would also be incorrect to simply point the blame at the Trump administration for making people like myself leave. What this administration has done is to simply take an already bad situation just beyond the tipping point. They took that narrow path of survival and made it more and more narrow – to a point where people like myself were forced to re-evaluate our lives and make the decision to leave out of our own choice.  And make no mistake, there are thousands of people like us in the US who are in the process of moving to Canada – unable to bear the burden of the long green card wait time. Every Indian I speak to who is in the same position I was, has either stated their intent to migrate to Canada or is already in the process of doing so. Some of our friends even made the move with us. Immigration status seems to be the default topic of discussion in any conversation between Indians living in the US.

Everyone is concerned for various reasons and yet there are many, many people who are seemingly content with where they are. There are even more who are not even in the US yet, but are looking forward to making a life there in the future without any knowledge of how things work there. With no sarcasm, I wish them all the very best and hope they find what they want.

As for Devanshi and I, we have landed on our feet after our move. After an initial struggle to find a job, she is now working and we are both finally living the lifestyle and routine we have been wanting to since our wedding. As much as that is satisfying, it would be incorrect to reduce our entire new lives in Canada to finding jobs and living together.

Fact is, this is the first time in almost a decade that we are not living on a temporary visa in a foreign country. In fact, it took several months for that to sink in. And truth be told, there is a certain sense of dignity and integrity that comes with being a permanent resident (and especially in not being classified as an ‘Alien’). This is something that can be truly appreciated only by those who have lived an extended period on a temporary visa in a foreign country. People who move to a new country and get their PR status within a short period of time (or beforehand) can easily take the associated privileges for granted – seeming like it was always meant to be. But it is only people like us – who have been made to struggle to find a sense of belonging, a place that lets us be who we want to be, and a place we can proudly call our new home – that can fully acknowledge and appreciate this paradigm shift in our circumstances.

Yes we could have tried to make it in the USA in some capacity if we really wanted to and if we had tried real hard. But ultimately, that just boiled down to us surviving. And we wanted to do a lot more than just surviving – we wanted to LIVE, and we wanted to live with dignity and to our fullest abilities with no shackles and no fear. And that is why we are very happy with our move to Canada and starting a new chapter in our lives.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 4: The Power of Complacency

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

In the previous post, we discussed the issues of living with fear and a lack of freedom in the US. Here, let us see what it is that keeps us here.

So, to repeat the question: If things are so bad living in a Green card backlog, how come there are still so many people willing to live under these circumstances?

The answer to that lies in the fact that, in spite of all the issues I have highlighted, there still remains a path to be in the US legally, work, grow professionally, and lead a good lifestyle WHILE waiting decades for your green card. Make no mistake, the path is definitely a narrow one, is getting more narrow every passing week, and it can terminate at any point – but it exists nonetheless. And therein lies the true answer to why so many of us still continue to live here in spite of all these constraints. In one word, the answer is COMPLACENCY.

We Indians are a truly complacent bunch. If things are going fine now, we are more than happy to simply bury our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is going to be just fine and dandy in the future as well. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we look the other way and sometimes truly believe that nothing is going to happen to us.

It might happen to others because others may have broken the rules somehow, but it would never happen to us because we have done everything by the book.

Not only are we complacent, we are also timid and naïve. Most of us live our lives truly believing ‘someone else’ is going to ‘do something about it’. It is actually mind-blowing to see most Indians blindly seek and follow the advice of the very people who have all the incentives to exploit them for their own selfish benefit (think lawyers, employers). Couple this naivete with the complacency, and you have a deadly recipe for exploiting an obliging workforce.

(I am happy to admit that, in the past several weeks, there is a noticeable uptick in the Indian involvement in demanding change and justice against this discrimination. But it is still a very small fraction of the total populace.)

Fact is I was no different until 2-3 years ago when I finally came out of the bubble after the 2016 election. The anti-immigrant rhetoric finally made me pause and ask myself some hard questions about where I was, what I wanted, what I could get and what I could lose in the future. By that time, I was also married and had to think of the wife’s freedoms as well. I came out of my complacency, but I was still in the same situation.

(That was when I joined Immigration Voice, a grassroots advocacy group, and started making my voice heard with the lawmakers. I learnt a lot about how the system works, how to bring about change, and the root cause of all the issues. Over the course of the next 2 years, I did my fair share of advocacy to get this issue fixed. To this day, that has been the best learning experience I have ever had. But that deserves a separate post in itself)

It started with my own concerns on if I would face any issues with my visa renewals. The administration was issuing new rules to process visa applications introducing new constraints on the renewals. I began to hear many cases of visa extensions being rejected for what were previously sure shot cases. I asked myself what I wanted to do 5-10 years down the line. Would I be happy with the roles I would be permitted in my career within the constraints of my green card petition? Or did I want something more? Do I want to live in one single place for the rest of my life or did I want to live in other cities in the future? How much was I willing to risk my career on the unpredictability of my visa extensions every 2-3 years? The answers were obvious.

I wanted more freedom and a life of far lesser fear and uncertainty – not the one I was going to be given if I stayed in the US. When it came to my wife, it was fairly direct. The administration stated explicitly that they intended to revoke the Spouse work permit in the coming year or two. We went from a wait and watch approach initially, to getting frustrated on just waiting for something – anything – to happen, to living with extreme amounts of uncertainty, and to finally realize that we actually didn’t need to and didn’t want to live like this in the first place.

We began to explore options for our move out of the US. We considered Canada, New Zealand and Australia. After deeply researching the immigration processes for each country and our own prospects there, we decided to make the plunge into Canada.  Even after that initial decision, there was still some hesitation on our part though. Perhaps things would get better here – after all we both still had our work permits and were working. The pull of complacency was real and, in hindsight, I feel it almost made us abandon our plans to move. But on that cold December day in southwest Kansas, after a bout of argument, we realized that we both really just wanted to live together. And as long as we were in the US, that was never actually guaranteed.

And THAT was when we made the final decision to not only move to Canada, but to also start acting on it. Act we did, and towards the end of August 2018, we received our permanent residency documents from Canada. I then told my company that I was moving to Canada, following which they offered me a position in their Toronto office. We crossed the border on the 9th of November and moved into our apartment the following week.

In my next and final post, I discuss my situation and the decision-making process with the power of hindsight. I also briefly talk about settling in Canada and what it means to finally be a ‘Permanent Resident’.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 3: (Abundance of) Fear and (Lack of) Freedom

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

In the previous post, I wrote about the specifics of how the legal, employment-based green card system works to discriminate against people from India. Here, I will highlight some of the issues we Indians face in decades long green card back logs.

Personally for Devanshi and I, at the crux of the whole situation, lay two basic ideas – fear and freedom. In our lives, we all want little to none of the former and an abundance of the latter. But the reality for people like us is quite the opposite. We live in the US with an abundance of fear while the freedoms we enjoy are significantly constrained by our immigration status. Let me start with fear.

The fear comes with knowing that if you are let go from your job (for whatever reasons), you literally have a few weeks to find a new employer who will hire you AND incur all the costs associated with the work visa. The fear comes with knowing that your kid who was born in India, and who moved and has lived with you in the US for over a decade, will have to leave the country once they turn 21. The fear comes with the knowledge that every time you apply to extend your visa, you can be denied without reason, forcing you to just simply up and leave this country for good – with all your family. The fear comes with the knowledge that you could be approved for an extension in the US but can still be denied a visa at the consulate in India – again without reason. The fear comes with knowing that you have to put up with your current work environment – however bad it may be – because you are unable to find another employer who will do all the paperwork and pay the fees to sponsor your visa. The fear comes with knowing that your spouse (predominantly women) live every day not knowing if they will lose their work permit – forcing them to stay home and feel worthless. The fear comes with the knowledge that even if you join a new employer who is willing to do the paperwork, your new green card petition from that new employer might still get denied, forcing you to simply up and leave the country for good – with all your family. The fear comes with the knowledge that every other year, your fate rests in the hands of immigration attorneys and their competency (or lack thereof) in filing the right paperwork by the right time. The fear comes with knowing that one small mistake by the immigration attorney can force you to simply up and leave the country with all your family. The fear comes with knowing that one small misdemeanor or felony – regardless of circumstance – pretty much spells the end of your stay in the country for you and your family. The fear lies in the knowledge that if something fatal were to happen to you, your spouse and kids immediately lose their immigration status and are no longer allowed to stay in the country. (Don’t you dare think the last one is an exaggeration).

Moving on to freedom, or lack thereof.

The lack of freedom is on display when you are unable to change jobs – even if you are being harassed or abused in your current job – just because of your visa requirements. The lack of freedom manifests in your inability to even change job descriptions within the same company if your education was not in the same specific field. The lack of freedom is for you to see when you cannot get promoted to a position that is inconsistent with your green card petition. You will know your lack of freedom when a junior foreign worker from a different country surpasses you in seniority just because they got their green card and you haven’t. Your lack of freedom is there to see when you are unable to travel back to India for a funeral because your visa extension application is still pending. The lack of freedom manifests as your inability to register any intellectual property in your name. The lack of freedom manifests as your inability to start and open your own medical practice if you are a doctor. The lack of freedom manifests as your inability to quit your job and start your own business, company or non-profit. Your lack of freedom is on display when you realize you cannot take up another job – in addition to your day job – to make ends meet during emergencies. The lack of freedom manifests as your spouse’s inability to work anywhere if you are not already approved for a green card – forcing them to be a homemaker even if they are highly educated. The lack of freedom lies in your inability to relocate to a different city because your green card petition is tied to your current city. Your lack of freedom lies in not knowing if you will be able to legally drive every other year when your visa extension is in process.

Like I said, an abundance of FEAR and a lack of FREEDOM.

Yes, it is true that anyone impacted by this system typically ‘only’ suffers from a subset of the issues I have outlined above. But the mere acknowledgment of this is sufficient grounds for concern on how the system impacts people like me. So the next logical question that comes up is: If things are so bad, how come there are still so many people willing to live under these circumstances?

In the next post, we will look into what it is that keeps people like us in the US.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 2: The Broken and Discriminatory Legal Immigration System

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

In the previous post, I wrote about how the general population is typically unaware of the true nature and scale of the immigration issues – especially when it relates to legal, employment-based immigration in the US. Let me elaborate on what that entails.

There are approximately a million people like myself – Indian citizens who have lived in the US legally for up to or more than a decade on a temporary work visa. For us, the phrase ‘the immigration system is broken in the USA’ primarily means that, under the current immigration system, we will not get our permanent residency for the next decade or two (or three or four or fifteeneven though we have already been approved for it. This has been an issue for more than a decade and is unique to people of Indian origin (and to an extent the Chinese). It stems from an arbitrary cap on the number of Green Cards that can be issued to citizens of any single country each year regardless of when those people had their applications approved.

Since the foreign workforce in the US has a large presence of people from India (and China), this has essentially come to mean that people from India like myself have to wait for decades to see a green card (even though we were approved for it several years ago), while people from almost every other country obtain theirs in a year or less. So, while it is illegal for employers to discriminate against a person based on his/her nationality during hiring, the immigration system requires a discrimination against the same person based on his/her nationality – when issuing employment-based green cards.

So, what exactly does it mean to live in the USA while being on a perpetual wait for permanent residency? Is there even a legal way to live and work here while we wait for our green cards? Turns out, the same system that caused this issue, ironically, also provides what on the surface appears to be ‘a solution’.

Since almost all of us get approved for our green card while on temporary work visas, the immigration system simply allows us to keep renewing our ‘temporary’ visas indefinitely until we actually get our green cards! For those of you who were not aware of these details previously, I promise you I am NOT making this up. As much as this may all sound fantastic and ridiculous, this is actually how about a million Indian citizens live and work in the US currently – by extending their ‘temporary’ visas indefinitely! And for those of us who have been living like this for years, it has long ceased to be a matter of absurdity. On the contrary, we have all mostly just accepted this as a basic fact of everyday life. But yes, the system does appear to provide a pathway for people like me to stay here and work legally while we go through our decades long wait for our green cards. In fact, for the last 3-4 years, there has even been a provision for the spouses of those approved for a green card to be able to work. So what’s all the fuss about you ask?

This is the point where I emphasize that the true nature and scale of the problem is only known to the people who are directly impacted by it.

Over the years, the impacts from this system of legal immigration – where people from one or two countries are discriminated against for green cards – have manifested in ways that go well beyond just the allotment of green cards. An entire ecosystem of different players with different incentives has mushroomed from this flawed and discriminatory system. It has impacted the way companies do business, why people from specific countries are hired, the legal status of children, workplace harassment, career stagnation, forced deportation, family separation, among many others.

In the next post, I will highlight (some of) the problems faced by people (like myself) who are stuck in a decades long green card backlog.

Moving from the USA to Canada – Part 1: Acknowledging an Existential Crisis

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

The decision was made on a cold and windy December day in 2017 – between Christmas and New Year – in Garden City, a small town in rural southwest Kansas. Devanshi and I had been married for a little over 2 years and she had just started working in Garden City, while I lived about 9-10 hours away. By December of 2017, we had truly come to terms with what our future held in store for us if we decided to stay in the United States of America. To say that it didn’t look good would be an understatement, yes; but that would simply confine it to an issue of scale while completely ignoring the nature of the problem.

Over the previous several months, we had walked through all the different ways we could make our lives in the USA while trying to incorporate the not so infrequent constraints (or threats thereof) being imposed on our immigration status by the US Government. We had explored every strand of possibility branching out of these paths and tried to come up with a way to make it work in America for both of us. And at the end of each and every path and possibility that we explored, one thing became abundantly clear: our future lay outside of the United States. 

I am writing this series of posts for three reasons: One, to document the reasons behind a very significant decision in our lives lest I forget; two, to articulate what thousands of families in the US have been going through for several years, and; three, to provide some much needed reality check for those who wish to come here to the US to start a new life so they can make an informed decision.

It all starts with the acknowledgment that the general population are mostly unaware (either by choice or circumstance) of what living in this country (USA) entails for people like me. By ‘general population’, I am including everyone – from Americans to immigrants from India as well as other countries. It also (and especially) includes those from India who are looking to come here to study or work.

When you hear the phrase that the “immigration system in America is broken”, you have to understand that it means different things to different people. Unless it is someone who is directly impacted by the immigration system, its understanding is almost always limited to the rhetorical talking points that are repeated ad infinitum in the media. For conservatives who want more control on the flow of people across the border, it means the lack of laws and infrastructure to prevent that. For liberals, the administration is just not doing enough to help refugees from all over the world or is just making it too hard for new immigrants to enter the country. In many instances, American workers (of all skills and knowledge) have their own cases to make about their journeys trying to find employment. Notwithstanding that, American employers always seem to seek more foreign workers citing the low unemployment rate. The Agricultural industry wants its own share of foreign workers since, apparently, very few Americans actually sign up to be farmers. And all this is just the tip of the iceberg.

But what about the perspective of people who are directly impacted by the ‘broken immigration system’ – you know, the actual immigrants? We only ever hear about the ‘plight of immigrants in the USA’ through the eyes of someone who has no skin in the game (a.k.a the mainstream media). When we do not hear directly from the people who are impacted, our understanding of any situation is always limited to the rhetorical talking points that cater to a specific narrative. Which is why, when it comes to legal, employment-based immigration, very few people are aware of the facts and/or truth.

I say this because I was, in hindsight, one of the naive, uninformed students who traveled to the US full of optimism to do their Masters in 2009. I graduated, found a job, started working and was leading a good lifestyle. I even met and married my wife along the way. Everything was seemingly going to plan. After all, there were hundreds of thousands of people just like me in the US who were all seemingly doing just fine, and more were coming every year. Eventually, though, I got sucked into a state of immigration limbo where the lines between risk and reality began to get increasingly blurred – leading us on the path of an existential crisis. It was then that we began to ask tough questions to ourselves and found that there were even tougher answers awaiting us.

In the next post, I will elaborate on the specifics of what the ‘broken immigration system’ means in terms of legal, employment-based immigration in the USA.

On Hasan Minhaj’s Episode on Indian Elections: The ‘Slumdog Millionaire Effect’

When I first moved to the United States back in August 2009, I had to confront a surprising and rather unsettling situation. I found that many Americans and students from Europe were asking me eerily similar questions about where I was from. These were not questions about how I was coping in a new country, or how I was handling the culture shock. Instead these were questions along the lines of “Is it true that there are no toilets in India?”, or “Do you guys have banks in India?”, or “Is it very dangerous to live in a big city in India? How about the rural areas?”, or “Do you have cars and other technology over there?”.

When I was first asked these questions, I had no clue how to respond to them. I didn’t even have a clue as to WHY this person I had just met was asking such denigrating questions about my home country. But the truth was that none of these questions were ever asked in a condescending manner at all. On the contrary, the people asking me this always showed a genuine sense of curiosity. When I eventually found out the reason why so many Americans and Europeans were asking me these questions, I was flabbergasted. The reason why these questions came up was Danny Boyle’s 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire.

In case you haven’t seen this movie, Slumdog Millionaire is about a kid from the Mumbai slums who grows up being the victim of almost every aspect of India’s dark underbelly. It documents what he went through and culminates with him winning a million dollars in a game show. It was marketed as a rags to riches story, but in reality that theme was just a vehicle to reinforce every single pre-existing stereotype the Western world has about the third world in general – and specifically India. Some of the things shown in the movie include child prostitution, forced begging, open toilets, religious riots, rape, blinding of children, call centers, etc.

slumdog-millionaire-kids

After the movie won the Best Movie at the Oscars, it predictably got a lot of additional publicity and a lot more people made the effort to watch it – especially in the western world. And so whenever I met an American or a European who had watched the movie, I was typically asked questions like the ones above. And it was not just me. Most of my fellow Indian friends have gone through this same experience.

Yes these are not appropriate or even the correct questions to ask someone. What I realized though, was that I was being asked these questions by Americans not out of condescension, but out of an actual lack of knowledge about India. Essentially, Slumdog Millionaire was the ONLY mainstream representation these people had about India. Predictably, those whose opinion about India was only based on this movie were the ones asking those questions – and they were doing so out of pure curiosity and fascination.

Needless to say, Slumdog Millionaire is not at all representative of India as a country. Make no mistake – all those things shown in the movie do exist and they do impact a lot of people. But by deliberately showing ONLY the dark underbelly of a country, there is a conscious building of a narrative – one which dictates that the dark underbelly IS the country. And THAT is not at all acceptable. Imagine if a movie is made about America focusing ONLY on the school shootings, opioid crisis, police brutality, crime in low income neighborhoods, racism in the deep south, widespread obesity, big corporations controlling the population and the elections, and an extremely divided country with one set of people hating the other. And if this movie is the ONLY mainstream representation of America in a foreign country, would Americans consider it fair? Probably not. Such a movie would again just take the dark underbelly of a country and portray it to be EVERYTHING there is to know about the country. And that is simply an incorrect portrayal.

texassharpshooter

And that right there is what I call the “Slumdog Millionaire Effect”. This is a classic manifestation of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. This is what happens when the spotlight is put on a select few aspects of a situation and the audience’s understanding of the entire situation is thus limited to just what is shown in the spotlight. It is a dangerous technique but one that is widely used in today’s society – especially in the media. 

Which brings me to Hasan Minhaj and his Patriot Act episode about the upcoming Indian Elections on Netflix. In a nutshell, Hasan Minhaj has used the same techniques that Danny Boyle used to portray India. But just labeling it as an example of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy would hide all the other (more important) deep seated issues that the episode is symptomatic of. And that will be the focus of the next post.

Our Small, Lean Indian Wedding (Part 1): The Long Wait

This is the First of Three Parts describing our wedding in India last month. Read Part 2 here and Part 3 here. 

Devanshi and I finally had our traditional wedding in Bangalore last month. This came more than 2 years after our registered wedding in Des Moines, IA and after having moved out of the United States to Canada (more on that in a separate post). Predictably, our traditional wedding had been in the works soon after we got married in the USA. There were a few false starts and disbanded plans – largely due to my work travels and constraints arising from our immigration status. But things (mostly) fell into place for a wedding ceremony during our visit here and we got it done last week.

But ever since plans for our traditional wedding (henceforth just referred to as wedding) began to be formulated (from back in 2016), there were always points of disagreement between Devanshi and myself, my parents and myself, and my family and her family. The fact that we both were from different states (she from Gujarat and I from Karnataka) and having different wedding customs certainly contributed to the difficulty in planning the wedding. But whatever our disagreements, we all had one common objective – to have a wedding without any excesses.

It started off as a plan to have about 250-300 guests at a reasonably sized venue (we were looking at Ganjam Mantapa in Basavanagudi) over the course of one day – with the ceremony in the morning and reception in the evening. The devil, of course, was in the details, and we soon began to have our differences. Do we hire a professional photographer? What about the flower decoration? What’s on the menu? Who to invite? Needless to say, we were disagreeing on what each of us considered to be ‘excess’. Spending lots of money on a wedding photographer was excessive for me, while inviting guests we would likely never see again in our lives was an excess for her. There were many more arguments and disagreements with each of us wanting something that the others did not necessarily agree with. I understand this is all part of anyone’s wedding preparation, but it was still not a pleasant experience. Ultimately, due to all these small additions from each of us, the total cost of the wedding began to balloon out of control and we were all dissatisfied for different reasons.

I was probably in a fantasy land when I initially believed we could have a wedding as described above for less than 5 lakh Indian Rupees (about $7,000). When I eventually crunched the numbers, it became painfully obvious that that number was woefully inadequate and that it was going to cost at least 2-3 times as much (emphasis on ‘at least’). Attempts to introduce cost cutting measures were only met with more arguments and unpleasant interactions. Even though I was repeatedly told by my parents to “not worry about the expenses”, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable and hesitant to proceed with spending all that money for my wedding. In the end, I was tempted to simply give up and let my parents have their way – after all I have heard most brides and grooms end up doing exactly that. But in an unexpected intervention of circumstances, our process of immigration to Canada practically put a veto on any wedding plans till we had actually moved there. (I will not go into details, but suffice to say that we needed to stay put in the US and save our money till we finished our move).

Yes it was a little painful for all of us – especially for my parents who had already put in a lot of effort and were very excited about the whole thing. After all, I am the only child and they had been waiting for this for a long time. But these circumstances were beyond our control and we called off the wedding.

Fast forward to November 2018 when Devanshi and I have moved to Toronto and I am visiting India after 4 years towards the end of the month. Talks of our wedding inevitably resurfaces as this provides us all with one more chance to complete the ceremony. But with less than a month of notice, there was clearly going to have to be a big change in the planning of the wedding. My parents were understandably hesitant to drastically reduce the scale of our wedding – especially considering it had never been done before with anyone in our families. In the case of such a scenario, they were also not sure who to invite and who to not invite. Add to this their general desire to have a reasonably sized wedding for their only son, and it was going to take a leap of faith and courage from all of us to actually proceed with something like that.