For the last five decades or so, Keralites have been immigrating to the United States and making it their home. In the early years, New York served as a gateway for most of those new immigrants. That explains why the tri-state area is still home to most of the early Malayalee settlers to this great country.
Today, Keralites constitute the second largest regional group from India to the U.S. after people from the state of Gujarat. As we know, Keralites are mostly professionals made up of Doctors, Nurses, Engineers, IT personnel and others in contrast to Gujaratis who exemplified themselves in Business.
Keralites have been generally successful in their careers and led a comfortable living in the new land facing various challenges that naturally confront new immigrants anywhere. The community has built churches, created thousands of cultural and religious organizations, regularly celebrated Indian festivals and acted as goodwill ambassadors to their adopted country.
Most of the second generation of Keralites has followed the footsteps of their parents and become professionals in their own right and some others continue to search for new avenues to fulfill their destiny. As any other community, we may have our own share of difficulties, problems, and disappointments, however, we continue to strive and overcome!
For all the economic success the community has accomplished over the years, there is one thing that is sorely lacking. It is the absence of an integrated dynamic link to the local and national political process. This connection is imperative if we are to reach the next level in the community’s development.
If one examines the Bios of all those political appointees of Indian origin by the Obama administration, it is quite evident that most of them were one way or other linked with his campaign directly or helping him to raise funds for the Presidential run.
Keralites, by and large still mostly remain today as onlookers to the American political process. Except for the daily foray into the workplace, we are mostly detached from our real surroundings. There are indeed few exceptions like Annie Paul who got elected to the Rockland County Legislature or Attorney Stanley Kalathara who made a run for the NY City Council from Jackson Heights. It is refreshing to see that some others around the country are in the process of making history as well.
However, for most of us in the community, we rather spend our time, resources and energy on either religiously affiliated projects or with cultural entities that lack any forward vision for the community. I am not absolving myself from any criticism in that regard but rather thinking aloud along with all of you on how we can change the trajectory in setting up new goals and objectives for the community. Obviously, our children are not going back to India and we need to take a second look at what our priorities are and how they are going to impact the future generations. Those religious and cultural organizations may continue to play a role in our lives, however; we should in no way allow ourselves to be limited by it.
If we carefully examine the American power structure, one thing becomes abundantly clear. It is controlled by an elite group of people with two distinct characteristics. Many of them are Ivy-league graduates in Law or Business who end up drafting laws in the legislative bodies across the nation or running multi-national corporate board rooms. One report indicated that 50 percent of all top lawmakers and corporate heads come from the top 15 Universities in the USA.
At this point in time, it is worth pondering, as parents, whether our insecurity to hold on to our children closer to home may have prevented them from getting a top tier education and unleashing their full potential or if our total focus on ethnic and religious agenda kept us or kept our children away from fully getting connected to the community where we live in!
Queens, New York where the India Day parade will take place on August 13 is home to the largest concentration of Keralites in the country. In the last election to the New York City Council (District 23), a South Asian failed to get elected from that district only because the Democratic Party machine succeeded in splitting the south Asian votes. Keralites constitute a substantial segment of that ethnic voting bloc and it is the time we recognize that underutilized leverage.
I believe that the India Day Parade in Queens presents us with a great opportunity to leave our carefully crafted comfort zone to show not only our faces but also to make a statement to the power brokers in New York city that we are here in substantial numbers to make a difference and to proclaim to our fellow members in the community that we have stopped living at the fringes! Let this gathering be a stepping stone to better planning and greater assimilation that would bear fruits for generations to come!
(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)
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