By Samir Shukla
Human migrations follow opportunity, safety and survival, among myriad other reasons. The world population is growing and environmental degradation, warfare, climate change, lack of employment, all will set ever more humans on migration routes crisscrossing the globe.
Cataclysmic and historic events can redirect the future as much as the simple decision of shifting to a different part of a country or the world, whether those choices are in your hands or not.
Migration is in the human DNA. We have been shuffling about and resettling different areas of the planet for eons. A person can make thoughtful choices, with a calm stillness of the heart, to make a move to another part of the world. There are others who have no such choice, and, often with hearts throbbing, leave all behind in the cover of night to escape brutality and violence. There are many people around the world for whom the choice is whether to stay where they are and wither into slow starvation, succumb to unending cycles of violence, or try to leave, for somewhere better.
Opportunity migrants pack their bags, hug the family and leave for a new land. Many others face a more stark choice, leave now or fall prey to a murderous mob or gang. And for many women around the world the sad reality to leave, often with small children clinging to them, is due to a violent husband. They make such a choice when nothing else can make their lives safer than to flee.
Nearly 75 years ago my maternal grandfather migrated from Karachi (now in Pakistan) to Amdavad in Gujarat, India. It was a forced migration. India was split into three countries upon independence along bogus “religious" borders and millions of families were forced to leave their ancestral homelands and shift back and forth between India and the newly created Pakistan. He arrived in Amdavad with minimal belongings and rebuilt his life and family from nothing to everything.
Forty five years ago, in September of 1974, a mother and four young children landed in New York City. I was the oldest of the children and we reconnected with my father, who had arrived a few months earlier and set up roots. The humble and disorienting beginning bloomed into perseverance and we have thrived. It was a choice migration, seeking opportunity. The United States was reeling from Vietnam and the Watergate scandal while my family began to mingle with this most fertile land of opportunity. We built everything from very little, creating bonds of two cultures and nations.
Most immigrants make something out of nothing, thrive and benefit the places to where they migrate.
Every year between mid-August and mid-September I pause and think of “what if" scenarios. What if Mohammed Ali Jinnah and others' efforts to divide India had failed and somehow the country had avoided partition, which happened on a sad mid-August midnight in 1947. My maternal grandfather and his side of family would likely have stayed in Karachi, resulting in different timeline and family evolution.
What if we had stayed in India instead of making the leap on that promising September midnight 45 years ago? I'm sure we would have built different lives and thrived in India. One small sad outcome if that had happened; you wouldn't be reading this wonderful magazine my brother and I started over two decades ago.
India is an unfathomable feast of diversities and possible futures stolen by invaders and infighting. The ancient land perseveres, albeit battered and divided. The United States is a well of opportunities fueled by diversity. Migration and immigration are and can be the continual foundations for this well to remain full.
Legal and Illegal
Yes, I get the legal and illegal immigration debate, and there has to be a knock on the door for those wanting to come here and go through the proper channels, as my family did, rather than crawl through an open window or a crack in the fence.
We need solid security on land and sea borders as well as ports and airports where people and goods arrive. A nation of immigrants thrives on traditions that built the country while working to erase the dark pasts. Only when the American people want to solidify our values on immigration, keeping a door available for the downtrodden of the planet while smoothing the process for those going through the proper channels, will we resolve immigration dilemmas and divisions for the long term. People will always look for greener pastures and opportunity. Our southern city of Charlotte is rapidly growing and one of the reasons is snowbirds and folks from the economically depressed areas of once-vital industrial states in the north are shifting here to the south. They are economic migrants. A global understanding, equitable economic systems, and a thoughtful movement will help mitigate the inevitable and growing global migrations to come.