The poverty rate in America is soaring. The middle class is disappearing making way for a new class called “the working poor”. Common people are frustrated and devastated. But there is some good news – the rich have gotten richer. And the politicians, both Republicans and Democrats have become more belligerent and partisan, bickering at every small thing to win popularity and hence votes at the upcoming presidential elections. While many people may be surprised at this economic and moral decline of the most powerful nation on earth, it has not surprised me one bit. Economic destruction of America had long been coming and I, just a housewife, saw it almost immediately when I landed in this country twelve years back.
I grew up in a conservative middle class family in India.
I spent part of my childhood in Kolkata before we moved to Mumbai due to my father’s transfer to that city. We were a family of four- my parents, my brother and me. My father was the sole earner for our family. Working in a bank for a nine to five job, he earned enough to provide a good education for us. He was not extravagant. But he was not that frugal either. We never had designer clothes but we did not buy too cheap clothes either. Growing up in the eighties and the nineties, we did not have a computer or a microwave oven. But we did have a television and a VCR. My mother, being a very simple lady, bought saris only when she needed them, never wore make up and never spent money other than for basic needs. Occasionally, my father even took us for family vacations. Yes we could not afford to travel by airplane. So we took the trains. We could not afford to go to Hawaai or Switzerland but we did manage to go to Goa and Darjeeling. My father managed to save a good amount of money too. He even built a house with his hard earned money which did not include a penny of inherited property. Being a victim of Bengal Partition, my paternal grandfather did not really earn enough to leave anything for his nine children.
And America - back then only place I heard of a land called USA was in the geography book in school. I did not even know that something called “American Dream” even existed. We were quite content living our “middle class Indian life”. It was only in the mid nineties, when I was pursuing my master degree that I got this itch to come to USA. However, my parents did not concur with my thoughts. Like any other conservative Indian father, my father wanted me to get married and settle down. “You can go to USA if your husband so desires,” he would say.
As luck would have it, I did get a chance to come to America after my marriage. My husband was working here on a temporary visa. My in laws wanted him to return to India. Their thinking was like this – if our son gets married to a girl who works in India, he will have to come back. Unfortunately, that did not happen. I left my job at the private bank and joined my husband here in America. I even remember the day – it was the 8th of May, 1999. As I landed at the Philadelphia airport, I realized that my wish of coming to America had finally come true.
For sometime we lived in a small town called Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. My husband was sent there to work on a IT project for an insurance company. Every morning after my husband left for work I would take a stroll outside. As I walked down the sidewalk, I admired the beautiful houses with manicured lawns and flower gardens. The houses were well decorated. Almost all the houses had garages with at least one car parked in them. There was not a speck of dirt on the roads. They seemed awfully clean. There were no stray animals There were hardly any “baniya ka dookaan” round the street corner. Instead there were these huge stores called Walmart, K Mart and so on. One could find everything under one roof – from food to vegetables to clothing to furniture to garden items. Almost every store had public restrooms and that too very clean and well maintained. I was quite dazzled by all these. In all, I felt the people here were living well and living what they called the “American Dream”.
However, my brutally no nonsense husband reminded me that old saying “All that glitters is not gold”. I was shocked to learn how most Americans were living a life of debt. Those big houses came with big mortgages, the fancy cars came with fair amount of loans and even healthcare and education came at a very high cost. Not only that, most people bought clothes and food on credit. Within a year of living in this country I realized how deep the Americans were in the sea of debt.
To make matters worse, the politicians at Washington DC sort of “pushed” the common people towards “home buying”. The greedy Wall street corporations and even greedier lawmakers were busy tantalizing the common people into buying something that many of them could not afford. Most of these innocent people had one fault – they listened to their elected representatives and trusted them, all the time unmindful how they were being duped into doing something which would bring huge miseries upon them and to this country.
However, dreams do not continue forever. People have to wake up someday. With the advent of the Great Recession, the myth called “American Dream” started crumbling. People lost homes they could not afford in the first place. Foreclosures skyrocketed.
Unemployment levels are highest in decades. Factories closed and businesses have gone bankrupt. Food banks, shelters and soup kitchens are now running out of supplies. The poverty level in America is so high that according to a recent survey by the U.S census bureau, one in every six American is living a life of poverty. The most affected are the children of this country. Is this the kind of life the forefathers of this great land had envisioned? Certainly not.
Yet for a country that has enjoyed being one of the richest nation on earth, it is not easy to accept its days of adversity. Many Americans blame India and China for taking away their jobs. They still don’t seem to believe that the Indian middle class has buying power much greater than the American middle class, that is, if it still exits. They boast of their own education system and yet it is the Asian countries that are churning out engineers and IT analysts at a faster rate than the Americans are. I often wonder if one 9/11 can bring America to its knees, what would they have done had they been surrounded by hostile nations and terrorists for decades.
India with its rich history, has been able to prosper in the midst of adversity. Plagued by corruption and dirty politics, India has still been able to reclaim some of its reputation of once being “sone ki chidiya”. Yes India has a long way to go. Today India is a rising star on the world stage. While American dreams may have been shattered, “Indian Dream” is just beginning.
That brings me back to my thoughts of coming to this country a decade ago. Yes I was eager to come but I did not have the “American Dreams” on my mind. All I wanted to do was to see this country and enjoy. I never bothered about owning a house or a fancy car or buying the latest fashion garb or the newest cosmetic in the market. It was my husband’s job that kept us back here. We have had our share of ups and downs – unemployment and loss of health insurance, we had seen both long before the Great Recession. By God’s grace, my husband found a job and my kids are doing good in school. We now have a small house, a townhome and a fair amount of saving. We do not live an extravagant lifestyle but we are not frugal either. We still cannot afford a vacation to Hawaai or Switzerland but we do go to other states here in USA and visit India every summer. My sons don’t play video games yet. They are satisfied with the animated kids programs on the television.
However, I do have dreams. I hope to see my sons grow upto be happy and responsible young men some day. I hope someday they can come back to India and be a part of this great nation and its rich heritage. Whether it will happen or not, only time will tell. Till then I can only wait and watch.