Culture

iMahal Interview Series: Rahul Roy
August 22, 2002

iMahal: What would you tell young people in India who are eager to come to the US and be successful?

Roy: They should come with an open mind. They should be willing and able to adapt to this society; and it is a different society as they will find out. Coming to the US is a broad choice. There are many variables and there is no unique answer. This soil, as I said, is the land of opportunity, and is home to a unique group of people, these Americans. Almost all of them are descendants of immigrants, from every corner of the planet. That in itself makes them and the culture here unique.

But, at the same time, I have noticed that many of these Americans don’t have a well-understood feeling for their cultural heritage. One time, early in my time here in the US, an American guy started asking me some odd questions. Where are you from? India, I answered. Oh, so where is India, anyway, in Africa? No, I said, it’s east of there. Oh yeah, all those snake charmers, right? Uh huh. And lots of people in India live in trees, right? Sure. And then he says, But you speak very good English! I answered, So do you! Then I asked him, So who are your forefathers? Where did they come from? He honestly didn’t really know. He could only think back a generation or two and had little idea of which country they came from and why they came here. I asked him, Why don’t you know? He had no answer to that question.

Young people from India who come here should expect a different culture. In comparison to the US, ethnic and religious tolerance is much worse in India. Indians are very kind to their family and their friends, but outside of that circle it’s just the opposite. Here in the US, with so many different people, there is strong cultural pressure to be kind and fair to all people. I believe that communication is the ultimate tool that helps make this happen. And I don’t like it when some people suggest that America should be a multi-language society. I think when you come to America, you should learn to speak the language of America: English.

One thing I don’t like about the US is the acceptance of welfare, living on foodstamps, as a constant way of life. We should be more focused on raising up all of these people out of poverty, not just continuing to fund their low state of life.

Quality control, what we lost in India, I don’t want us to lose here, so I stay involved. We need to avoid civil wars. We must help all poor people regardless of their ethnicity. We must share. One time I met Michael Jordan. I had done my research about him, so I knew what kinds of things he did with himself and his money. When I shook his hand I looked him in the eye and said, “Why don’t you do more for your community?” He was confused and had nothing to say.

The easiest community to help for us first-generation Indians is other Indians here in America. But I try not to stop there. I try to help people from every ethnicity. It is the right thing to do.