Here we go again:
They have funny accents, occasionally dress in strange outfits, and some wear turbans and grow beards, yet Indians have been able to overcome stereotypes to become the U.S.’s most successful immigrant group.
Another season, another self-congratulatory article about desis as a model minority. At least this piece — by “BusinessWeek.com columnist and accomplished businessman” Vivek Wadhwa — drops the M-bomb from the outset. It’s titled “Are Indians the Model Immigrants?” and after the self-exoticizing intro (funny accents! strange outfits! turbans!), goes through the usual recital of achievements: median household income, hotel ownership, doctors and academics (sans supporting data), Indra Nooyi. All of which leads to this burning question:
Census data show that 81.8% of Indian immigrants arrived in the U.S. after 1980. They received no special treatment or support and faced the same discrimination and hardship that any immigrant group does. Yet, they learned to thrive in American society. Why are Indians such a model immigrant group?
I’ll let you read the article to find out the incredibly profound answers, which Wadhwa offers “in the absence of scientific research” (i.e., by pulling out of his butt) and “as an Indian immigrant” who has “had the chance to live the American dream.” You’ll learn, for instance, that such uniquely Indian traits as education, family values, humility, and “determination to overcome obstacles” account for the community’s great fortune. But let’s jump to Wadhwa’s 12th and final explanation:
12. Integration and acceptance. The Pew Global Attitudes Project, which conducts worldwide public opinion surveys, has shown that Indians predominantly hold favorable opinions of the U.S. When Indians immigrate to the U.S, they usually come to share the American dream and work hard to integrate.
Indians have achieved more overall business success in less time in the U.S. than any other recent immigrant group. They have shown what can be achieved by integrating themselves into U.S. society and taking advantage of all the opportunities the country offers.
Again, this last claim (more success in less time) is devoid of any supporting data, let alone its assumptions about the meaning of “success,” but hey, fuzzy math is only one of the characteristics of the “model minority” argument, which also trots out sociological traits that are somehow supposed to be specific to the group in question, and doggedly avoids any contrary evidence. But what makes the argument noxious isn’t so much the grab-my-nuts boosterism or even the total disregard for socio-economic difference within the community in question (dirty laundry for us to hash out in places like this blog), but the implied statements about other immigrant or ethnic groups, which, if they are not as “successful” as Indians are, must therefore be inherently lacking in the bootstraps department. After all, Indians “received no special treatment” and “faced the same discrimination and hardship that any immigrant group does,” yet “they learned to thrive in American society.”
Those who wish to engage these assertions on the issues might start with the fact that selective immigration policies aimed to brain-drain skilled professionals into the US is very much “special treatment” from the get-go. I’m sure that claim about Indians having faced the same discrimination as “any immigrant group” could use a little data-driven scrutiny too.
Still, Wadhwa has done us all a favor, by deploying the “model minority” argument in such candid fashion. We know these views are prevalent in some sections of the community; now we have a complete statement of the case and its underlying logic. You be the judge. All I can say is: Macaca, Please!