Last week the president of the NVCA Mark Heesen wrote an article in Venturebeat about the positive impact immigrants have had in silicon valley and the US economy. My friend, Aydin Senkut, in his new and promising blog, mentioned how it wasn't easy for Europeans to grasp this fact. How can I disagree, having started as a software engineer with an H1-B myself? Now, as a VC, the majority of the entrepreneurs I've backed have been immigrants themselves. They all have a story that's different and unique, but their stories are all similar in one way that's little known.
What's generally known about immigrants is that they start from zero and work hard to carve out both a living and a name for themselves. What's little known is the sacrifice it takes to uproot from one place to another. Few people have written about this sacrifice as powerfully as Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri.
One of her books, The Namesake, is the story of an Indian couple, Ashoke and Ashima, moving to the US after Ashok gets a job as a professor at MIT. I read the book a few years ago, but this recent discussion on immigration made me want to dig up the book and quote you these powerful lines I remembered that describe what it's like to be an foreign immigrant in another country. In her own words:
"...being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy - a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect"
This is no doubt Pulitzer material. The book is filled with such insight. One I couldn't find, says that each time they go back to India there are fewer and fewer people at the airport waiting to greet them. Finally, she depicts in her penetrating style the way that bad news comes to them as they live abroad:
"As their lives in New England swell with fellow Bengali friends, the members of that other, former life...slowly dwindle. More deaths come, more telephone calls startle them in the middle of the night, more letters arrive in the mailbox informing them of aunts and uncles no longer with them...Gogol and Sonia (their children) are woken by these deaths in the early mornings, their parents screaming on the other side of thin bedroom walls. They stumble into their parents' room, uncomprehending, embarrassed at the sight of their parents' tears, feeling only slightly sad. In some senses Ashoke and Ashima live the lives of the extremely aged, those of whom everyone they once knew and loved is lost, those who survive and are consoled by memory alone."
This point of this post is to let you know of this great novelist that wrote a great book about immigrants. The point is not do depress you. These days the world is so flat and connected that one can follow any TV show or football league in any country if they wanted to. Phone calls are nearly free. So it's a lot better than how Ashoke and Ashima had it. Nonetheless the book is well worth reading. You can buy it from the link below.