PITTSFIELD >> I was an awkward 12-year-old schoolboy in Bombay (now Mumbai) when John F Kennedy was elected as the 35th president of the United States. Serendipitously, the United States Information Service) (USIS) library was a block away from my residence. To this day I remember joining a long line of admirers outside the library to acquire a color poster of this iconic president.
It was not so much the man but what he stood for. His optimism for a nation challenged to put a man on the moon in the next decade was an inspiration that crossed color, creed and the rigid caste-based boundaries of a social system of India in the '60s.
Over the years, as an only child in a large extended family, I was a regular to that library and its collection of Americana. I devoured Twain (my favorite) and Poe and Emerson and Hawthorne. But what impressed me the most was the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
It was then that I made up my mind that America would be my future home. Here was a country that actually made a bedrock of these principles.
In 1977, after completing medical school, my dream came true. I could have had a very comfortable life if I had stayed, cocooned in the family fortune of a burgeoning contact lens business. Instead I chose "the pursuit of Happiness."
An Air India 747 landing at JFK (coincidence?) airport on Christmas day was my Mayflower to the New World. Slightly home sick in a small town in Oregon, I penned these words as a question which has been answered since then.
I bear the onus and glory of my countrymen, I have left my motherland for this land! Will it nurture me and hold me to its bosom or will it be a cruel stepmother? I do not know.
For I have left behind more than a land. Sunsets and warm summer monsoons. Friends and coffee shop talks. The spiced aromas of the market place, some of the roots of my very existence.
I have left behind parts of myself to seek parts of myself. Reality to seek a dream. Or is it the other way around? Sometimes I forget.
Fast forward to 2016. When I read those words again, "We hold these truths..." it still gives me goose bumps. And it also fills me with dread and at the same time, sadness.
A different climate
The current political climate seems to project a different America than one dreamt by our founding fathers. A climate when these words instead of being a living and breathing testament to the greatness of America, may soon be relegated to a dusty museum archive, as the rhetoric of hate and division takes over. And especially the anti-immigrant stance of the presumptive presidential candidate of the Republican Party. He has proposed building a large wall across the Mexican border to keep the "illegals" out. Of course this concept has worked very well in the past!
What next? You will pardon the following rant from the not so sublime to the ridiculous. How about another wall on the US-Canadian border to keep those pesky "eh"-sounding Anglophiles and Francophiles from polluting our northern states with their donut shops and strict gun control laws and who really wants to "parlez vous francais"? And while we are at it, considering that some "birthers" do not consider Hawaii as part of the U.S., let's station the 6th fleet around the island in a perpetual embargo?
In a meta-physical sense we are all immigrants on this planet. We come, we live our lives, we go. On a more temporal level, each of us living and breathing in this great country of ours are in a direct or indirect way; immigrants. Their dreams of the promise of America gave us the light bulb of Edison and the quantum genius of Einstein. And Steve Jobs and his ubiquitous Apple and the Wright brothers with their gift of human flight. And the freedom of thought and religion was the raison d'etre of the Mayflower and the first Pilgrims which culminated in The Declaration of Independence from colonial tyranny.
In restricting immigration by practicing the politics of fear and isolation, we stand to lose one of our greatest strengths.
I, for one, am proud to be an immigrant.
And an American.
Dr. Mehernosh Khan is a Pittsfield-based practitioner.