Tag Archives: American dream

Thanks, Ben Carson for Killing the American Dream for so many Children.

Deepak Chopra with his son, Gotham Chopra, and daughter, Mallika Chopra
Deepak Chopra with his son, Gotham Chopra, and daughter, Mallika Chopra

My parents tell a story about a debate around my birth.

They were newly married and had moved to the US for my father’s medical training. They had arrived in this country with $8, but through hard work and determination, were building a life together. They believed in the American dream.

The fact was that it was expensive to deliver me in the US, and it would be less expensive for my mother to fly back to India and have me there, surrounded by her parents and in-laws. My grandparents could then buy the ticket for her to return here with me.

But here was the problem. Continue reading

New Miss America Attacked By Internet Ignorance

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 11.57.35 AMOn Sunday night, Nina Davuluri (Miss New York), became the first Miss America winner of Indian descent. Davulri won after wowing judges with a Bollywood fusion dance. She plans to use her $50,000 prize to help pay for medical school. As Miss America she will also spend a year traveling the country talking about her platform: celebrating diversity.

This is a hard earned and historic moment for Davuluri, and for minority little girls across the country who watched the pageant. Instead of congratulations and praise though, Davuluri’s crowning as greeted with an onslaught of hateful and bigoted comments from the internet. You can get a good idea of the social commentary on twitter from this viral Buzzfeed post. Only moments after she won the crown twitter exploded with dismayed tweets that “an Arab” could win Miss America, accusing Davuluri of being a terrorist and of course, saying it was distasteful to name an Indian woman Miss America four days after the anniversary of September 11. There’s not enough blog space in the world to correct all of the cultural/geographical/historical errors these people made when bashing Davuluri, and that’s not even the most disturbing part of their tirade.

What’s most ironic is that so many of these people justify their opinions with the statement “This is America.” – as if that’s a righteous defense for bigotry. Do they even know what that phrase means? This is, indeed, America – the great melting pot! Davuluri is from New York, where the Statue of Liberty greets newcomers to this country every day with the words “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” 

Yet there are so many who deny America’s immigrant roots and reject our diverse identity. This is America, and we should be doing better than this.

So from Intent, we offer Miss Davuluri our sincere congratulations and best of luck with your future endeavors. We look forward to hearing more of your stance on celebrating diversity during your reign as Miss America. Obviously it’s a message we still need to hear.

Deepak Chopra: “Immigration Is Us,” an American Story (Part 2)

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Click here to read part 1. 

By Deepak Chopra and Sanjiv Chopra

Psychological survival meant relying on the time-honored mechanism of the immigrant community. Ours was peculiarly select. It consisted of poor Indian doctors living in the largely black neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain in Boston, where rows of cheap apartments served as the temporary shtetl (the term “Indian diaspora” came into being, although this appropriation isn’t something to be proud of – Indian emigration is voluntary, not forced, and unlike the Jews, we’ve always had a homeland).

It took a decade or so for the shtetl to move to the suburbs. Jamaica Plain was all about curry, beat-up VW beetles, and lonely wives whose husbands slept at the hospital. With prosperity came backyard barbecues, Scotch whiskey, and husbands bragging about their first Cadillac. Willed amnesia became fun. We were fortunate. Our choice to assimilate wasn’t made under hostile scrutiny, unlike the fate of today’s poor Mexican-Americans or religiously conservative Muslims.

A combination of anxiety and ambition drove the founders of the major Hollywood studios. Five studios were founded by Polish Jews born within the Czar’s pale of settlement. These early moguls did everything they could to disguise their origins – sometimes their own children weren’t told – but familiar scenes in Hollywood movies were linked to ancestral memories: the bad guys riding into a Western town at night to burn it to the ground echoed mounted Cossacks burning down Jewish villages during a pogrom.

The darkest suspicion that can be aimed at immigrants is doubt over their desire to become “us,” because remaining “them” is always a threat. After 9/11, many observers were astonished that the band of terrorists who crashed the planes weren’t seduced by their stay in America. Embedded for months in Florida, Las Vegas, and elsewhere, the terrorists partook of American luxuries, but they hadn’t been seduced. Their hatred only deepened. Now there seems to be a pervasive feeling that other immigrants might follow the same path.

Sikhs wearing their traditional turbans look like Muslims to many Americans and suffered for it in the aftermath of 9/11. A harsher spotlight shines on immigrant Muslims who want to retain not just their clothing but their own private schools, the madrassas where strong emphasis is placed on the Koran. In essence their desire to retain a strong religious identity and aloofness from American culture is the same as that of ultra-orthodox Jewish groups and Hasids. The political difference, however, couldn’t be greater. (The Muslim connection to the two Chechen brothers behind the Boston Marathon bombings will probably add to the general suspicion, even if overt Islamophobia remains confined to the harsher corners of the blogosphere.) Historically a stigma was attached by turns to the Irish, Italians, and poor Russian Jews as their waves of settlement arrived. “Anarchists” and “Reds” were secretly infiltrating and subverting American society a hundred years ago when imaginations were as inflamed as they are against Muslims today.

Only now a tipping point has been reached, the so-called demographic time bomb.  The influx of illegal immigrants, combined with higher birth rates compared to the white population and a preponderance of young people, has skewed immigrants as never before. As of 2010, the Census Bureau reports that 12.9% of the population is foreign born. The last Presidential election exhibited how strongly this growing cohort has skewed toward the Democratic Party, creating anxiety and soul-searching among the Republicans. Young voters tend to become imprinted with the political party they first vote for. Among the so-called millennial generation, the skew to the Democrats is strong in general but overwhelming when it comes to Asian-Americans, for example.

The children of the foreign-born are succeeding in their aspirations. According to a 2013 Pew Research study that profiled the 20 million children of immigrants who have now reached adulthood, they are outpacing their parents in college degrees, household income, and home ownership. The generation of Indians that we represent quickly shed the anxiety of assimilation – at least we thought so – but this new generation’s anxiety is about being too successful at the game. Some universities are having to confront suspicions about an Asian quota (heatedly discussed in a recent Times discussion). Such a quota probably doesn’t exist. The most prestigious colleges have embraced an influx of Asian students. CalTech is typical, reporting that their freshman class in 2008 – last summer’s graduates – was 40% Asian, compared with a total U.S population that is only 4% Asian. The number has only increased, so that the brilliant home-schooled Asian kid has even become a stereotype.

Are “they” taking over, or will this new slice of “us” be the most useful immigrants ever, taking care of an aging population, doing the menial jobs that no one else wants, competing in technology with China, lowering the age of our workforce compared with Europe, Russia, and Japan, and in the end swinging national politics leftward in the direction of social justice? We can only surmise. But it was poignant to attend a recent charity event where young Indian-Americans were asked to help the poor in India. They gave lavishly, with tears in their eyes, and more than one said, “I never had any idea that things were like that over there.” Our amnesia has become theirs, except that they have nothing to forget.

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Borotherhood cover1Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times Bestsellers in both fiction and non-fiction. Chopra is the Founder of The Chopra Foundation, co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream

Sanjiv Chopra, MD, MACP is professor of medicine and faculty dean for Continuing Education at Harvard Medical School, and author of  seven books including, Leadership by Example: The Ten Key Principles of All Great Leaders.


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Deepak Chopra: “Immigration Is Us,” an American Story (Part 1)

Lady Liberty By Deepak Chopra and Sanjiv Chopra

When you hear the word immigrant, what conjures up in your mind? Is it illegal vs. legal immigrants, contentious debates over immigration reform, or the Arizona lawman, Joe Arpaio, who styles himself as “America’s toughest Sheriff?” Chances are that most people are not aware of the fact that nearly one of every four Americans – 70 million – is an immigrant or the child of parents who came from abroad.

Immigrants come to America for a number of reasons: To escape persecution, to get post-graduate training, to enter the work force and have a better future for themselves and their children. Immigrants have made seminal contributions in academia, business, entrepreneurship, innovation, and in groundbreaking scientific discoveries. In 1906, 30% of all U.S. Nobel laureates were foreign born. The percentage has been as high as 39% in the 1950’s.

America is an immigrant country, but the American identity isn’t an immigrant identity. These two ideas contradict each other. Many of the thorny issues involved in immigration reform get stuck because of that. One kind of immigration (arriving long ago) makes you more American than the other kind of immigration (arriving recently). There is social pressure to forget your old identity and assimilate quickly, yet even if you succeed at this, forced amnesia has its price in loneliness and anxiety over belonging to no country at all.

As first generation immigrants, we have gone through the process of willed amnesia. We were lucky to arrive in the ’70s, when the Vietnam War caused a doctor shortage. We had medical degrees in hand, and there was a community of Indian doctors in Boston that we fit into while making the transition to “real” Americans. So it’s troubling that the country seems to be more hostile and suspicious toward immigrants of every sort, including those who earn university degrees here but are not allowed to get work without returning to their home countries first.

After 9/11, and with the dramatic rise in illegal workers from Mexico, the case for immigrants feels like guilty until proven innocent. One’s heart sank when the two Boston bombers turned out to fit the stereotype of angry Muslim males who hated the country that had given them asylum. One’s heart rose when the New York Times reports on a study showing that the health costs for illegal immigrants is less than the cost of caring for a native-born person. (Of course, giving medical care to undocumented immigrants is largely a subsidized venture and a burden on the whole healthcare system – no one can deny that.)

But, then, prejudices about the undocumented as freeloaders aren’t going to change simply by airing the facts. Guilty until proven innocent holds too much sway even if you arrived legally. To be really successful at turning into an amnesiac, the best tactic is to be born the child of immigrants. Your parents will have worked so hard to disguise their foreign roots that you have a good chance of not knowing they exist.

Assimilation is ambivalent, a happy/sad, win/lose affair. It could hardly be otherwise. At the present moment, during one of America’s periodic waves of hostility toward immigrants, we are suspect outsiders. The animus of toxic nativism is doubly ironic. Those casting suspicion must first forget that they themselves came from immigrant stock, while the accused must work as hard as possible to agree with their accusers that forgetting where you came from, as fast as possible, is your only defense.

Community hospitals were anxious about staffing, and so an active outreach began – foreign doctors were made to feel desirable. Not that India wanted us to go. Deepak had to travel to Sri Lanka and Sanjiv to Hong Kong to take the necessary qualifying test to come to the U.S. since India had banned it. We were allowed to take only a few hundred dollars in currency with us. When we arrived here, the jobs existed, as promised, but the welcome was more a push/pull. American-born doctors were suspicious of anyone with foreign training. Deepak’s first appearance in print was a letter to the Boston Globe protesting a prejudice against Indian physicians that became stronger in the ’80s once Vietnam was over and the doctor shortage a thing of the past.

Stay tuned for part 2!

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Borotherhood cover1Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times Bestsellers in both fiction and non-fiction. Chopra is the Founder of The Chopra Foundation, co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream

Sanjiv Chopra, MD, MACP is professor of medicine and faculty dean for Continuing Education at Harvard Medical School, and author of  seven books including, Leadership by Example: The Ten Key Principles of All Great Leaders.


Follow Deepak on Twitter

Deepak Chopra: Brotherhood – Dharma, Destiny, and the American Dream

Probably every immigrant has encountered the appeal of the “American Dream.” But many also feel pulled and deeply tied to their cultural roots.

In Brotherhood, a new memoir by brothers Deepak and Sanjiv Chopra, the two reveal the story of their personal struggles and triumphs as doctors, immigrants, and brothers going down two very different paths toward achieving their goals. Both pursued medicine, one from a straight, Western approach, the other from a path informed by ancient practices and his own cultural heritage.

Brotherhood is available now at Amazon and other booksellers. Read Deepak and Sanjiv’s remarkable journey, and tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!


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Deepak Chopra: One American Dream Fades – Will Another Be Born?

The United States remains the country that foreigners criticize the most and want to move to the most. Pursuing the American dream remains a potent motivator for every wave of immigration. It is also a constant theme among this year’s crop of Republican hopefuls, who criticize President Obama for tearing down national greatness and pride. Yet beyond hope and rhetoric there are some undeniable facts that counter our embrace of the American dream.

First, the dream was based on democratic equality. Yet the trend has been for certain votes — those cast by the rich, the influential, the corporate connected – to count more than the average citizen’s. In some quarters the dominance of lobbyists in Washington indicates that American democracy is for sale. However you view that proposition, there’s no doubt that Congress is stuffed with millionaires, lawyers, prosecutors, and soon-to-be-lobbyists.

Second, the American dream was based on opportunity. The Horatio Alger climb from rags to riches is our national archetype. But as it stands, other countries, mostly in Europe, offer greater social mobility, meaning that the ladder is harder to climb in America than we like to believe. As evidence we see income inequality that is skyrocketing, along with protests from the 99% that the 1% at the top have rigged the game in their favor.

Third, the American dream flourished in a melting pot of immigrant cultures. Each wave of immigrants arrived as strangers in a strange land, but by the second generation their children were assimilated into the cultural mainstream. Historians tell us that ethnic divisions have always been strong, despite the cultural ideal of the melting pot. Now, instead of pitched street battles between Irish and Italians fighting over jobs and power, we have social divisions baked into the cake, as it were. De facto segregation keeps African-Americans isolated in pockets of crime, drugs, and unemployment. Immigrants are looked upon suspiciously by the right wing. Selected ethnic groups, such as Muslims, are considered as almost permanent outsiders.

There are other ways in which the American dream has been undercut. If that dream includes the doctrine of peace, in reality we are the most militarized nation on earth. We develop the latest means of mechanized death, and lead the world in arms dealing. If the dream includes tolerance for all minorities, the almost rabid opposition to gay marriage and the barely disguised racism of voter ID laws cast doubt on that ideal.

What remains intact and most hopeful in the American dream is our flexibility, ingenuity, and willingness to change. Progress cannot be halted, and a new American dream is beginning to cohere. If the brightest trends bear fruit, this country is demographically at a great advantage over Europe, Russia, and China. As those societies grow old, America’s influx of immigrants assures that we will have younger workers. Some economists see American manufacturing being reborn as costs in China rise. This week General Motors regained its place as the largest auto maker in the world. The high price of oil has made the extraction of alternate fuel sources more viable. Becoming oil independent is an actual possibility, and motivated by the threat of global warming, the trend toward non-fossil fuels has a fighting chance.

The new American dream isn’t simply economic. Once we regain our optimism (a tall order but inevitable, I think) the basis for renewed prosperity is already in place: the GDP in 2011 was higher than before the recession began. Forward movement depends on keeping a progressive-minded President in place, but this post isn’t about that. It’s about realism as it intertwines with myth. The two aren’t enemies. It needs to be part of the progressive agenda to heal the old American dream while giving the new one all the encouragement we can.


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