The lucky ones among the Indian Americans are those who have lived for a long time in the country without hearing a racist comment or slur; and the luckier ones are perhaps those who have heard all these but chose not to get overly aggressive about it for obvious reasons. But what happened in Texas to a group of four Indian American women is not without irony—they were racially abused and shamed by a Mexican American who pulled superiority only by virtue of having been born in America!
That these four Indian Americans too could have been born in America would have crossed the mind of the Mexican American is something too much to ask of a person fixated on spewing venom and four-letter words as if they were going out of style.
It took 20 hours to file charges
What is more troubling is that it took the local police some 20 hours to file charges after being called to the scene. But in a country where the Indian American population is said to be anywhere between 4.2 million and 4.8 million—or between 1.2 to 1.5 per cent of the total population — a 2020 study revealed that one in two felt they had faced racial discrimination of some kind.
On August 24, the Indian American women had met for a quiet dinner in Dallas, Texas and upon finishing their meal, were confronted by Esmeraldo Upton at the parking lot, who used racial slurs and smacked at least two of the women. Upton was later arrested but the entire incident was caught on camera that soon went viral. Earlier, on August 21 at Fremont, California, an Indian American who was waiting to pick up his order at a Taco Bell restaurant was subject to a long anti-Hindu tirade and abuse; and at the time of writing no arrest has been made.
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According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism of California State University at San Bernardino, hate crimes in the United States in 15 major cities with a combined population of about 26 million rose “only” by about five per cent in the first half of 2022, when compared to a nearly 30 per cent increase in 2021 in 52 major cities.
The surge in hate crimes in recent years is attributed to anti-Asian feelings over the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice protests that broke out in the aftermath of the cold-blooded killing of African American George Floyd by police officers. In fact, during the course of the pandemic both Indian and Chinese Americans were singled out for abuse.
Hate crimes on the rise
It is maintained that if the increases in the early months of 2022 stay the course, that would be the fourth year in a row that hate crimes have risen in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines a hate crime as a “criminal offence against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
And, Indian American organisations like Indiaspora have immediately condemned the incident. “We want the authorities and society to know that these individual hate crimes affect larger communities and should be treated with urgency,” said executive director Sanjeev Joshipura.
Indian Americans are not the only ones singled out for hate attacks; African Americans, Jews, Hispanics and Latinos, as well as sexual minorities, have been targeted personally, their businesses or places of worship. And, in the last five years, the heated debate over immigration during the Trump administration along with bizarre and deliberate characterisations of the pandemic by President Trump as ‘Kung Flu’ or ‘Chinese Flu’ only added to the already charged atmosphere.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in May 2021 has resulted in at least 40 persons being charged with hate crimes linked to the pandemic.
The Indian American community has indeed come a very long way in the United States working its way up in every imaginable fashion. It has been pointed out that a Commission established by the US Congress had said in a 1911 report that the Hindus were “universally regarded as the least desirable race of immigrants thus far admitted to the United States”.
Some 110 years later, speaking on the phone to an Indian-origin NASA scientist, Swathi Mohan, President Biden quipped, “It is amazing. Indian—of descent—Americans are taking over the country: you, my Vice President (Kamala Harris), my speech writer (Vinay Reddy)… You guys are incredible”.
Biden’s remarks were thought of by some as a gaffe; but many realised the reality of what he had said. The Indian American community has earned its rightful place and, in the process, stirred a lot of envy, sometimes of a painful variety. Most in the community have at least a bachelor’s degree; the median income is more than US$120,000, the highest among Asians and double that of the American national median.
Statistics show that 9 per cent are doctors; 10 per cent of tech workers are of Indian origin and one-third of the start-ups have an Indian co-founder. In 2020, about 60 Indian Americans ran for Congress or state legislatures and 120 are in the Biden administration that would include some appointees of President Barack Obama, showing among other things the community’s political clout.
Indian Americans have come a long way with little to nothing handed to them on a silver platter. One estimate is that by 2030, the community could be the largest population among Asians surpassing the Chinese. Bigotry and extremism will not vanish overnight; neither will they be subdued by laws.
An election year and tight races at times bring out the worse in people; 2022 and 2024 are going to be no different. What happened in that parking lot in Texas or before that at a restaurant in California is certainly not going to dent the resilience of people who have indeed come a long way and are keen to stay the course. No amount of abuse is going to make a difference!
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)
The writer is a former senior Journalist in Washington covering North America and the United Nations.