Immigrant Violence in America, A Big Problem
There is convincing evidence that children of immigrant parents are especially liable to radicalization and violence. This was true for one of the terrorists in San Bernardino as well as the Army officer who committed mass murder at Ford Hood, Texas, in 2009. There have been others as well, now including the murderer in Orlando.
As a child of immigrant parents, I may be able to provide some insight about what’s behind this. I can’t explain why someone becomes a homicidal maniac, nor am I interested in offering excuses for such a person. But I do know what it’s like to be the son of foreign-born parents in America. That is certainly not the most difficult challenge anyone can face, but it does merit concern.
I was born into a lower caste family in Mumbai, the most populous city in India. My family moved to New Jersey when I was seven years old and I quickly distinguished myself in public school. So far, so good.
At age fourteen I completed a special program in computer science at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Science, I was then recruited by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey as a research fellow. There my mentor presented me with an irresistible challenge. I was asked to create a computerized equivalent of the time-honored interoffice mail system, in which hard copies of documents were circulated through an office environment in a large manila envelope. Once again, so far, so good.
I wrote fifty thousand lines of computer code for a user-friendly communication software program that included inbox, outbox, attachments, folders, and all the other features of email. Except there was no “email” until then. At that hospital in Newark, I literally invented email. I even got the first U.S. government copyright on my software system, which I named “EMAIL.” Copyright was the only legal protection available for software at that time. So far, so good.
For the next thirty-three years, I sought neither recognition nor financial gain for my work. I earned four degrees from MIT, including a doctorate in biological engineering. Then, in 2011, an article appeared in Time magazine entitled “The Man Who Invented Email.” Soon the Smithsonian wanted the papers documenting my invention. On February 16, 2012, an article appeared in the Washington Post with the headline, “V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai Honored by Smithsonian as the Inventor of Email.”
That’s when “so far, so good” came to an abrupt halt. My work was suddenly scandalizing to the software establishment and to internet tabloids. On Gawker sites I was called a “liar,” a “dick,” and a “fraud.” Elsewhere it was written that “the curry-stained Indian should be shot and hanged by his dhothi.”
But here’s what really got the goat of the tech industry insiders. When I was ridiculed and defamed, I did not humbly fade away. I wouldn’t, and I couldn’t, conform to the reassuring Mahatma Gandhi stereotype. I would not obligingly let myself be sacrificed like Gunga Din and sit in the lotus position.
How infuriating to them! One blog post called me a “ni**er Indian” after I filed my lawsuit against Gawker. But these people who were infuriated had not spent their early years as a low caste “untouchable” in Mumbai. They had not moved from Mumbai to Paterson, New Jersey. They had not gotten recognition from the Smithsonian, and then abruptly been called a “liar” and a “dick.” The truth is I was outraged and couldn’t let go of this. I’m sure it has a lot to do with feelings that aren’t even available for me to articulate. But as the saying goes, “Walk a mile in my shoes.”
I was fortunate that my parents were bright, loving people who did everything they could to help me. I’m glad I was able to play baseball and soccer. I’m gratified that I was a smart boy who went to MIT. But looking back, I know there was anger and dislocation. I’m glad I’ve been able to overcome that, as many other immigrant kids have as well.
But some haven’t. Some have dysfunctional and destructive families. Some are bitter. Some are blamers. Some are just crazy – call them sociopaths if you prefer — and their alienation has brought out the worst in them. Instead of filing a lawsuit when they felt wronged, as I have done, they bought guns.
This is the nation we live in.
President Obama himself has experienced a version of the child-of-immigrant experience. I’m sure that is an element of his actions, confusion, decisions, and indecisions on the immigrant violence we face, front and center. These are deep matters for which I don’t have full understanding or complete answers. I do know they are not going to be solved by simply passing new legislation on gun control. Los Angeles has strict gun control laws but a dislocated immigrant student, who felt wronged, shot his former wife in Minnesota, then drove to LA with his gun and shot his former professor. We better wake up and start paying attention.