The newspaper letter writers, like so many nowadays, were worried about immigration.
But the perspective in India on immigration’s impact is distinctly different from what we most often see in the U.S.
The rise of native son Sundar Pichai to CEO of Google triggered the epistles.
“Google is emblematic of the U.S. itself,” Aman Nara wrote to the Hindu, one of many vibrant Indian newspapers I read during a family trip to India. The train was traveling from the high-tech hub of Bengaluru (also called Bangalore) to Chennai, Pichai’s (and our host’s) hometown. Throughout the trip, we heard positive perceptions of America.
“The attributes of the nation,” Nara wrote, “like innovation and risk-taking, and its position as a melting pot of cultures, provide the right environment for the best professionals, many of them Indians, to set up base there. Should we be happy or concerned about this? That many like Sundar Pichai chose the U.S. over India is a matter of concern. … Mr. Pichai’s achievement should send a signal to India to write a new script if it wants to retain talent.”
India, in fact, has retained considerable talent, as evidenced by the many multinational companies with offices or headquarters there. But, concurrently, a gifted Indian diaspora has had widespread international influence, particularly in America’s tech sector, where Indian innovators including Pichai are leaders in an industry with global technological, economic, cultural and even geopolitical impact.
“More power to India-born executives” headlined a Deccan Chronicle story about Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen and NetApp CEO George Kurian, among others.
Another letter writer, N.J. Ravi Chander, channeled many Indians’ conflicting emotions by writing: “[Pichai’s] rise at Google has been meteoric, and his position at the top is a milestone for all Indian-origin CEOs. Mr. Pichai’s journey and that of others like him only prove that nothing is off-limits and that with dedication and personal resolve one can accomplish any dream. While this is undoubtedly a great moment, the bitter truth is that the cream of our students chooses to make a mark elsewhere and not in the land of their birth. This is a pointer to the fact that a lot needs to be done by the government to nurture and encourage talent and, more importantly, create the right climate for them to stay on.”
Creating the right climate for them to stay on — in America, that is — should be a priority for President Obama and the scores vying to succeed him. Immigration’s immeasurable benefits to America’s social fabric are also an enviable economic asset, especially in contrast to aging Asian and European nations that could use a boost from dynamic newcomers. But “the right climate” may look like a cold front for foreigners following the Republican race.
The same newspapers trumpeting Pichai’s promotion have also chronicled Donald Trump’s self-promotion, including his polarizing positions on immigration. But it’s not just Trump whom Indians — and international observers everywhere — are reading about. Some Republican rivals have also made increasingly incendiary statements, and some have tried to trump the front-runner by also advocating further limits on legal immigration, which could keep future Pichais away.
Those who aspire to the highest office in the land — indeed, worldwide — should truly heed conservative principles and preserve America’s image, which is an asset in an increasingly interconnected world where talent is the most important natural resource. As evidenced by the robust commentary in Indian newspapers (and after several casual conversations on this trip and more formal interviews conducted during other international reporting trips), the world yearns for an engaged, welcoming America. Conversely, an unconfident country characterized by candidates making nativist statements risks squandering this unique reputational asset.
To be sure, immigration is a key issue in the election. And it’s likely to be one of the defining dynamics of this era — not just in America, but worldwide, as multiple migration crises convulse countries with waves of people on the move.
Indeed, all will be tested by the magnitude of migration across countries and continents. America is no different. Like all nations, it needs to protect its borders.
But America also needs to live up to its history, and its destiny, by continuing to be a beacon that attracts new people who bring new ideas and new vitality to what is still a relatively new country.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:20 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.