*First published by Wear Your Voice Magazine, September 12, 2016.*
During this most insane of election cycles, I wake up every day thinking that things can’t possibly get any more surreal or bizarre — and somehow, each evening when I watch the news, I find myself surprised at what new rabbit hole we’ve gone down.
And then I saw this headline on NBC News: Indian-American PAC Forms to Support Trump. I’m starting to get scared we might actually be in The Upside Down instead of Wonderland. How could a group of immigrants be supporting a candidate who is basically running on a racist anti-immigration platform?
Trump sympathy and the “model minority”
While it seems anachronistic, from the perspective of the Indian-American community it does actually make sense. The older and more conservative members of the Indian diaspora in America see themselves as a model minority. They followed all the rules and proper procedures to obtain their American residencies and citizenship. They came over legally as doctors, engineers, professors, lawyers, businesspeople, restauranteurs and other entrepreneurs, and the majority arrive in America with fortunes that grow once they are here. They see themselves as contributing positively to American society, pay their taxes and their families stay out of trouble. They paint themselves in direct contrast to other less-model immigrants, who cross into the U.S. illegally and then demand special rights as undocumented workers. Case in point: On the Indian-Americans for Trump 2016 website, they highlight the importance of building a wall between Mexico and America.
On their website, Indian-Americans for Trump 2016, they further note: “Beside family preferences, emphasis will also be given on legal immigration inviting skilled or semi-skilled professionals as per the need of the U.S. economy.” Family preference is a big deal, not just for the Indian-American community but for the South Asian community in general, as this is how many people from the old countries emigrate to the United States. And since the majority of Indians are Hindu, Donald Trump’s proposals to limit Muslim immigration will not affect them in the same way.
When asked about Trump’s controversial campaign rhetoric, which includes deporting undocumented workers and a temporary ban on Muslims in the United States, the president of Indian-Americans for Donald Trump 2016, Dr. A.D. Amar, told New Jersey Advance Media that these statements don’t concern him or the other Indian-American Trump supporters:
“He wants to look into people and find out how are we going to stop this. … He want to shut down the doors for now. I think it’s a smart plan.” Dr. Amar also told NBC News: “I was surprised at the strength Trump had among the Indian professionals and Indian community,” he said. “I have never seen Indians so united behind a candidate.”
Lasting tensions between Hindus and Muslims
We also have to keep in mind there is a fraught history between Hindus and Muslims that goes back to the British colonization of South India and resulted in Partition after the British Empire in the region was overthrown. Partition began in the summer of 1947 and was the result of a legal process to create the nations we now know as India and Pakistan (and later Bangladesh) based on religion.
With the help of the British, new borders were drawn and agreed upon: India for Hindus and Pakistan for Muslims. However, up until that point Hindus and Muslims had been coexisting in the region for all of recorded history, so you can imagine that the decision to redraw borders threw the entire region into upheaval. The process of Partition was marked with violent riots, and thousands died fleeing their homes and relocating to their new respective countries. To this day, there is incredible tension between India and Pakistan, and the Indian government itself is often accused of discriminating against its remaining Muslim community.
Shalabh Kumar, the founder and president of the Republican Hindu Coalition, told The Hill:
“The way the Muslim religion is being practiced today — it’s not the religion but the way it is being practiced today — there’s something wrong,” Kumar said. “The policy setting is that we need to have a lot of scrutiny. I totally agree with [former Speaker] Newt Gingrich [R-Ga.]: Mosques should be monitored completely, vetting should be taking place. … I am totally for profiling. If you need to profile, what is the fuss? … He has to do whatever [it takes] and he is the strongest that has come about in the last 45 years. … On national defense, he will be stronger than Reagan.”
The Hill’s Jonathan Swan further noted: “During their meeting, Kumar was especially won over by Trump’s tough words for Pakistan, India’s neighbor and nemesis; and the businessman praised Trump’s views on Muslim profiling.” Kumar has donated $898,800 to Trump’s campaign, a so-called “double max” donation that he made in the name of his wife as well, thereby doubling the amount that one person can contribute.
While ex-presidential Republican candidate Bobby Jindal was raised Hindu and converted to Christianity as a teenager along with his family, he had this to say about voting for a Muslim presidential candidate:
“If you can find me a Muslim candidate who is a Republican, who will fight hard to protect religious liberty, who will respect the Judeo-Christian heritage of America, who will be committed to destroying ISIS and radical Islam, who will condemn cultures that treat women as second-class citizens and who will place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, then yes, I will be happy to consider voting for him or her.”
This is a not-so-veiled reference to the birther conspiracy and lies about President Obama’s imaginary Muslimness that Donald Trump himself promoted and still will not disavow.
Aside from Hindu-Muslim tensions, while the caste system is officially banned in India, it still functions as a social and ideological framework whereby those in the historically higher castes tend to correspond to those who now have money, and those who were considered Untouchable are still very much economically, socially and culturally living in poverty –often the extreme kind of poverty we don’t really see in the West. Especially in the older generations and more conservative factions of the Indian-American community, caste status still plays an important role in social standing, and judging by their preoccupation with a wall between the United States and Mexico, it looks as though undocumented immigrants — and maybe even Muslims — are the new Untouchables.
Trump’s India bigotry
The painfully ironic thing is that Trump has made his customary and inflammatory racist remarks about India, Indians and call-center workers, even going so far as to mock an Indian accent, badly. Further, he even ejected an Indian-American supporter from one of his rallies because he thought the young man was Muslim.
It’s rather heartbreaking that these groups within the Indian-American community have found ways to justify and condone Trump’s outright racism — and even his racism directly against them — because they have a skewed perception of their place within mainstream Republican American society. They don’t seem to understand that people like Donald Trump will happily take their money, and more than happily go on openly hating them. They conveniently ignore the fact that they will never be accepted as “real” Americans because in Trump and Company’s rhetoric, the only real Americans have white skin. When Trump and his followers say they want to “make America great again,” what they really mean is they want to return to an America where white supremacy openly and actively ruled.
The surreality of immigrants supporting Donald Trump became even more Dalí-esque when the founder of Latinos For Trump, Marco Gutierrez, told MSNBC, “My culture is a very dominant culture and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re gonna have taco trucks on every corner.” The statement has backfired and in turn mobilized Latino communities across the nation, as well as all the people who love Mexican food and would be more than happy to see a taco truck on every corner. Taco trucks are even being proposed as polling places and voter registration units. #GuacTheVote
I have to wonder, though, if there’s a level of internalized racism at play here, where segments of these immigrant communities feel they can attain some level of whiteness by aligning themselves with the Trumpist faction of American society, even though the majority of Trump supporters openly, wholeheartedly and often violently reject immigrants and all minorities, whether “model” or not.
Whatever the case may be, these immigrant groups of Trump supporters need to understand that Trump does not and will never have their best interests in mind. If Trump builds that metaphorical wall, Mexicans and Muslims won’t be the only people he tries to keep out of the white utopia for which he is clearly advocating. All people of color in this country will soon follow, no matter how much money they have and what kind of social standing they might enjoy.