By Janani Mohan
If my parents hadn’t immigrated to the United States a decade before I was born, I wonder how different I’d be. Would I speak Hindi better? Would I wear kurtas instead of dresses every day? Would I have closer relations with all the uncles and aunties back in India?
Nothing describes how it feels to grow up as the daughter of immigrants in this country. As a child, I didn’t understand ethnicity. I had no idea that I was Indian American or that our neighbor was Mexican American. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that we came from different places around the world, but I really didn’t get why that mattered. I was as American as anyone else.
But then I realized all the ways in which I wasn’t. In 2004, when I was four, someone told me to “go the f— back to my own country.” In 2011, when I lived abroad for a little, most people thought that I was Indian, not American. Since 2016, when President Donald Trump was elected, everyone loves asking me where I am really from.
My well-meaning economics professor corrected my English to the “more American” pronunciation, a student trashed me for saying “football” not “soccer” and I get “special screening” at airports. I’ve been regularly and “randomly” chosen for bomb swabbing.
I speak of an issue that every minority in the United States knows too well: how easy it is to lose sight of how we fit into an American dream when people don’t even believe you’re American.
And President Trump’s visa policies only reinforce this confusion. Just this year, the President suspended the H1B visa program before a judge paused the President’s action and blocked many international students from studying here this fall. He has extended tariffs on Hong Kong and imposed aluminum tariffs on Canada. He has turned an immigrant’s dream into an isolationist nightmare.
However, there are still sparks of hope in this darkness. I have seen politicians remind us that “we are stronger and great because of diversity…not in spite of it,” as Vice President Biden said. I have seen people protest for better civil rights for minorities together. And, I have seen foreigners, who can’t even get a visa here under President Trump’s policies, step up to help Americans.
I co-lead an organization, Dweebs Global, that provides free mentorship internationally, and we’ve secured jobs for American professionals and helped American high schoolers get into colleges. We have over 400 volunteers from around the globe who are willing to help individuals in the United States, though this country would not give many of them a visa to visit nor treat them as welcome.
While I am saddened by this irrational fear of international talent taking away American jobs — when it is that same international talent that made America succeed — I am also proud of the people who overcome it. The first female Secretary of State, the co-founder of Google and the creator of video games were all immigrants. The current CEOs of Google, Microsoft, Adobe and Mastercard are all Indian immigrants. We have a presidential candidate who will support immigrants’ rights this upcoming November. We have a vice presidential candidate whose parents, much like mine, immigrated to the United States.
Whether you are the immigrant, the child of immigrants or the great-great-grand-child of immigrants, try to imagine what your life would have been like if you or your ancestors hadn’t dreamed about a better life in America. I can’t tell you where you’d have been, but I can tell you about our country. We’d have less innovation, fewer new ideas and minimal cultural diversity.
If our parents hadn’t pursued the American dream, we wouldn’t have been American. But, more importantly, this country wouldn’t be America.
Contact Janani Mohan at jananim ‘at’ stanford.edu.