An Immigrant and an optimist in the American experiment

Your Turn

Dr Arun K Singh

Guest Columnist


People who read my book, Your Heart, My Hands, or hear me on podcasts, radio, and TV are touched by my story, and they often ask me, as an immigrant, after what you have gone through, do you feel that America is a racist country? A Time to Close is my personal answer to this question.

Racism is not just a problem of minority – it is a plague affecting every American, regardless of color or race. Racism existed in very early human civilization and was well documented during the early writing of Plato and Aristotle. However, this is a nation where race still plays a factor. Race does matter and still exists in day-to-day life.

Racism has continued in this country since the early writing of Ben Franklin. In 1750, Franklin argued “Why should Pennsylvania founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion “: Here, English hated the Germans, Irish hated the Italians and everyone hated the Jews.

Americans resist immigrants until they can’t! Many of us reacted to adversity with disappointment, discouragement, despondency, disillusionment, and anger, but many of us kept our goal in sight. As an immigrant, one must keep everything in perspective and persevere, or one will die in self-pity.

America is exceptionally gifted with founding documents, values, rights and principles that allow us to raise our hands if there are faults in our system. Our democracy is progressively changing, and we now have an opportunity to make it more significant than ever. We ended slavery and have elected an African American as President and a woman of color as a Vice President of our great country. Recently we appointed an African American woman as a Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fifty years ago, I was the first Indian Asian man of color to perform major heart surgeries in the biggest Hospital in Rhode Island. Now 50 years later, patients across the country are being cared for by Asians, Latinos and African Americans, or other minorities. Despite all this progress, we continue to resist immigration even though immigrants built our country. It is our longest and oldest tradition! We are born of immigrants who define us and make us what we are.

In 1965, since the passing of the immigration Act which abolished the quota system, now we have seen the biggest influx of immigrants from Asia & Latin America in this country. We came here for better opportunities, freedom and ran away from discrimination and political prosecution.

I am one of the beneficiaries. Yes, we look different and bring different values, cultures, and religions. There are innumerable differences, but there are many similarities. Our moto is E Pluribus Unum, not Us versus Them. We need to treat all newcomers with dignity and equality and provide them equity to succeed!

If you remove a plant and replant it to another place and do not provide sun and water, it will not survive. Humans are no different! Injustice to anyone is a threat to injustice towards everyone! Justice will not be served until those who are not affected are outraged as those who are affected! The reality is real, so is redemption, so is hope, and so is healing!

Despite many personal trials and tribulations, America fulfilled its promise to me, and I never lost the sense of gratitude! Many of you are born here, and this will always be your home. We immigrants came from far away; this is our adopted home and most importantly it is our promised land! As a nation, we are facing the biggest challenges with our democracy under assault. America is at best when it is tested, challenged, contested, and victorious.

I personally think the Americans bear the redemptive capacity that exists in the hearts of its citizens. We are ready to forgive! Now, it is time to close the disparities, close the division, and end discrimination. Best of all, perhaps, the young generation of Americans is proving to be more smart, idealistic, and less materialistic and prejudiced than forbears. I am an optimist who believes the American experiment will work as our American dream is still alive. The light of liberty shall be shining on this beautiful precious land forever!

     Arun K, Singh, MD. Heart Surgeon, Professor of Surgery, Emeritus, Alpert Medical School at Brown University. Author of book Your heart, my hands: Member of RI Heritage Hall of Fame.

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