Why George Floyd Matters

By Rishi P. Oza

The South Asian community has had its share of challenges integrating into the fabric of America. Waves of Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Nepalese and others have come to the United States seeking a better education for their children, religious freedom, greater employment possibilities and the other advantages the United States has to offer. The country's immigration system, which is often discussed in this column, has helped to bring millions of individuals to America's shores, including my own family – my parents immigrated in the late 1960s/early 1970s and as a result, my family's second generation includes seven children and the third generation includes eleven more. In short, immigration matters and at a very personal level, has been the basis of both my personal life and professional career.

The needless death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers set off nationwide protests decrying the ongoing scourge of racism, particularly against the African American community in the United States. This tragedy and the full-throated repudiation of brutal policing beg the question – what does this have to do with immigration? By and large, the South Asian community has been a powerhouse of economic prosperity but has languished on the sidelines as a political force.

Pockets of activism have been largely diluted by an all-to-often laissez faire mentality that tends to avoid forcefully advocating for larger change. By no means is this a criticism – quite the contrary, the leaps in success by the South Asian community in just a few decades of migration has been truly extraordinary. However, the death of George Floyd requires us all to recognize that the time has come to foster larger scale change across all of America and not only within our own communities.

Immigration has always held the promise and aspirations of those coming to our shores and that they may help to soften some of the pain that has been of America's historical making. Unfortunately, the legacy of slavery continues to be a reckoning with which America has struggled to move past and the South Asian community has too often failed to acknowledge that the struggles of Black America were sometimes reflected, to a lesser degree, to India's colonial past.

The Indian struggle to expel the British resulted in the untold deaths of millions over decades, simply for the fundamental right to be human. This historical back story provides the South Asian community with a basis for understanding, however imperfectly, the African American struggle in the United States.

The grand American experiment has often been imperfect, a realization that requires a sober acknowledgement of our nation's past; the United States has a sordid history of racial injustice and violence, which will not be mended easily, but certainly isn't improved through violence by the state upon its citizenry or vice versa. Can we understand the Black Experience in its totality? Of course not, but as a community built on being an “other" in a land of diversity provides us with a collective sympathy, humanity and understanding that may help to foster positive change.

By no means is the intention of this column to assert that the South Asian community or that immigration more generally can fix centuries of problems dating back to America's founding or that we have all of the answers. However, hope mixed with action does hold the unique ability to achieve outcomes that may have otherwise be unattainable. The South Asian community has the brainpower, resources and historical experience to be a cog in the wheels of justice for all of America's children, regardless of color, religion, social class or creed. What is left to muster is simply the will to get out of our own homes and communities and get to work.


Rishi P. Oza is Partner at Brown Immigration Law, a firm that focuses solely on immigration law; he practices in Durham. roza@rbrownllc.com