Have you read the recent piece by Time columnist Joel Stein, “My Own Private India“? We have received an outpouring of emails from community members from across the country expressing their concerns. Raised in Edison, New Jersey, a city with a significant and growing South Asian population, Stein bemoans that his “town seems totally unfamiliar” to him, states that “not-as-brilliant merchants brought over their even-less-bright cousins” and questions if “dot heads was the best racist insult” that gangs in New Jersey could come up with when attacking community members in the 1980s.
Some may argue that this is humor. Perhaps Stein was attempting to take a page from the anti-immigrants’ playbook regarding the influx of immigrants in this country. But there is a difference between critical satire that points out the preposterous nature of xenophobic arguments and rhetoric that blatantly disparages immigrants. Whether it is ridiculing working-class storeowners, invoking artificial nostalgia over a New Jersey without immigrants, or making light of hate crimes and violence inflicted upon the community, the piece veers towards justifying anti-immigrant sentiment that has permeated public discourse and taken hold of state legislatures across the country.
SAALT’s Executive Director, Deepa Iyer submitted a letter to the editor to Time Magazine, the text of which is pasted below.
Joel Stein’s take on how immigration patterns have changed the landscape of Edison, New Jersey (”My Own Private India”, July 5, 2010) is offensive and misinformed, and definitely not funny. Relying on economic and educational stereotypes, Mr. Stein provides a cursory history of Indian immigration to Edison that neglects to mention how Indian businesses, families, and entrepreneurs have contributed to the revitalization of the economy and the cultural fabric in New Jersey for decades. Most offensive is Mr. Stein’s flippant characterization of the horrible hate crimes that Indians endured in the 1980s at the hands of the New Jersey Dotbusters in the 1980s. Why is it that Mr. Stein has a bone to pick with Indian immigrants, whose presence, experiences, and contributions mirror those of Irish and Italian immigrants in New Jersey? South Asians have been an integral part of this country’s fabric since the 1800’s, and the vibrant immigrant community that they are part of in Edison should be celebrated rather than derided.
- Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together
We encourage community members to take a few simple steps to register their concerns with Time magazine:
- Send a comment to Time Magazine’s editors registering your opinions about the piece. Comments can be brief and personal conveying what your own reaction was to the column; be sure to reference the article name and author (“My Own Private India” by Joel Stein). They can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sign the petition to Time Magazine’s editors. Community members can join SAALT’s petition expressing concerns about the column and asking the magazine to open a space for a response to the column; convene a dialogue regarding its impact on the South Asian community; and refrain from publishing future pieces that fail to treat immigrant communities with respect. The petition can be found here.
Check out the article for yourself and make your voice heard.