Illinois State University. My journey in America began here. This is the quad where I saw my first snowfall.
After thirty years of living in the U.S., and going through countless experiences working with ordinary men, women and families from so many different communities, colors, religions, nationalities and lifestyles, I have developed a fair amount of knowledge and wisdom about this country.
I have worked with students and teachers in various parts of the country — both as a student and teacher. I have worked with many immigrant communities — both as a grassroots organizer and policy advocate. I have worked with big and small media — both as a journalist as well as someone their journalists spoke to. I have worked with NAACP, ACLU, Catholic Charities, NYPD (to help them work with innocent people, and also to bring dissent to some of their actions), big and small labor unions, peace groups, environment groups, poets, musicians, authors. I have worked with Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras, Christian churches, Muslim mosques, and Jewish synagogues. I have worked with gays, lesbians, atheists. I have worked with socialists.
I have supported Bernie Sanders’ candidacy when he ran for president. I found his message of democratic socialism the best possible thing America could have.
Not a single time, I have had any negative encounter that has left a bad taste in my mouth. Never with the ordinary people I worked with. I have gained countless friends, students, supporters, and well wishers.
Yet, I have had my share of explicit mistrust, hate and racism, and I have had my share of subtle dislikes and distances — as if I am never totally, completely, unequivocally “one of them.” If I criticize the U.S. foreign policy based on global war and exploitation coupled with media lies, some call me too un-American. Some openly ask me to go back to India; some others tell me that I need to know this country well enough before I opened my mouth. If I blast the U.S. economic policies based on international and domestic oppression and media lies, some people call me un-American; some others raise eyebrows about my allegiance to my new country.
Some frequently ask me why do I still have so much love and nostalgia about India, country that I left behind three decades ago? (And my Indian brothers and sisters question why I criticize India and Bengal so much: don’t I have any feelings left for them?)
Some question why I still speak about old history, and “fail to move on?” Why do I speak about Hiroshima, or the British partition of India, or slavery in America, or Vietnam, or Iraq, or the Bangladesh genocide in 1971? Why do I not forget about Modi’s massacre in Gujarat, or police brutality in the U.S.?
Ironically, most of my critics (fierce, outright critics and subtle, soft critics alike) are ordinary men and women, both from America and India. In spite of the fact that I keep repeating that my dissent and reservation are never about them. It is always about the elite, the one percent — the people in power.
The biggest and strangest twist in all this is that the one percent I save all my criticism for couldn’t care less about what I say. I have no name, no fame, no money, and no pedigree. I am no Noam Chomsky. I am no Cornel West. I am no Amy Goodman. I am no Victor Navasky. I am no Donna Lieberman. I am no Khizr Khan.
And the biggest irony is that I get all my overt and covert hate, mistrust and doubt and apprehension from the ninety-nine percent — people who I have always worked and spoke for.