Monday, December 9, 2013

Musing on Passports, citizenship and Immigration and Book Reviews

An interesting article in Weekend WSJ made me reflect on Citizenship as a “flag of convenience.”  The front page article is titled “A Venture Capitalist Invests in His OlympicDream: Paul Bragiel Pauses Career to Ski For Colombia in 2014 Games” It features Paul Bragiel, an American citizen and entrepreneur who decides to pursue a dream: making it into the Olympics! For that to happen, the self-described "chunky, out-of-shape computer nerd" not only has to find a sport that he can learn to compete in but also find a nation that will host him. The article describes Bragiel’s quest: “A U.S. citizen, he found a way to become Colombian as well, although he doesn't speak Spanish.”

Paul Bragiel's story is a mirror to the aspiration of millions of Desis (South Asians), Chinese and others who try to pursue their dream: migrating to America and other western nations and eventually finding a footing by acquiring citizenship in their host nations. Citizenship, immigration and migration is also a topic Indian Americans, self-included, find fascinating.

A couple of recent books that I read capture a slice of the immigrant stories, albeit from different angles.
  • One is The Billionaire's Apprentice,  a best seller by Anita Raghavan that received a lot of coverage from mainstream media. The book is primarily a chronicle of the rise and fall of three protagonists – Sri Lankan born billionaire, Raj Rajratnam, Indian born former head of McKenzie Rajat Gupta and former McKenzie partner Anil Kumar. The author attempts to build the initial narrative in the book by highlighting how South Asian immigrants to the US are a “twice blessed generation,” who benefited from educational system in post independent India and also the relaxed immigration rules in America.  (link to my review on Amazon)
  • Another is “The Caretaker” a debut novel by A .X. Ahmad in which he throws in a lot of masala: story spanning continents, transnational characters, power and intrigue and a bit of melodrama. The author also weaves in bit of geo politics – a US senator trying to get brownie points by getting involved in Indo-Pak conflict and hostage negotiation in North Korea - and quirks in US immigration. A different slice of immigrant life and aspiration. (link to my review on Amazon)
It is interesting that while millions aspire to be economic migrants, a few prevelidged to be born with western passports also aspire to swim against the tide, acquire passports of developing nations to pursue their “dreams.”  Border controls, immigration and visas are modern constructs that human aspirations transcend. Passports, in that sense are just tools of convenience

Other links
Business Book review WSJ
Inside Men: NYT Book review