Scott Haas, Ph.D. is a writer and clinical psychologist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. He is the author of Hearing Voices: Reflections of a Psychology Intern (Dutton), Are We There Yet? (Plume), and Back of the House (Berkley/Penguin). He is the co-author of Da Silvano (Bloomsbury). Dr. Haas’s work appears regularly in Travel plus Leisure (North America and Southeast Asia), The Boston Globe, USA Today, and Gastronomica (University of California). He won a James Beard award for his on-air broadcasts on Here & Now, a nationally syndicated show on National Public Radio. His Ph.D. is from the University of Detroit and he did his doctoral internship at Massachusetts Mental Health Center, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital. He is at work now on a book about grief and resiliency in families.
NAW: How did Those Immigrants come about?
Scott Haas: One rainy morning in Kerala, overlooking a lake from our verandah, I was putting the finishing touches on a book when I stopped writing and thought instead about where I was with my family on holiday. The vitality of the region, both natural as well as human, made me feel alive in new ways that at the same time linked me to experiences with Indian-Americans back home in Boston. Specifically, I recognized widespread social confidence, a willingness (some would say eagerness) to express ideas and opinions, and an extraordinary well-read people. In Boston, the medical director of a hospital where I worked, and colleagues too numerous to name, both writers and doctors, either came from India or had parents born in India. I began to think more openly and deeply about what characteristics and strengths, from cultural and psychological perspectives, contributed to what I was observing in Kerala; and, what might have contributed to the success of individuals in the States that were rooted in the broadest sense to India. I had already read a ridiculous amount of books by and about Indians, from literature to economics to cinema to religion, and so I realized right away that I didn’t know nearly enough and had to read much more. While reading, when I returned to Boston, I contacted Times of India, blindly, as I didn’t know a soul there, and proposed a series of short interviews with Indians in the United States whose lives might be of interest to their readers. Within a year’s time, six of the interviews were published with writers, physicians, psychologists, and artists. I took these and wrote a book proposal and again, blindly, reached out to publishers and agents in India; I was very lucky to find leadership in both categories whose patience and guidance shaped the book.
NAW: Your book deals with this, but to what do ‘you’ ascribe the success of Indian Americans?
Scott Haas: One goal I had with this book, the overriding goal, which shaped its narrative, was to do the best I could to cut through the hagiographies, idealization, fetishizing, and stereotypes of Indians. Similar to biases about success in the Chinese-American, Jewish-American, and Korean-American communities, there is a terrible and deeply damaging narrative about the reasons why a disproportionate number of individuals within this internally diverse communities have public and financial success. The “Tiger Mother” story has mythic status; the genetic superiority of groups is falsely assumed. So what are the real reasons? Each group has certain common features, but with respect to the Indian-American community in the United States, various narratives emerged about the thirty respondents interviewed for the book. These narratives seem to be emblematic of others who read the book and found common ground. Among the reasons for success are these: The earlier wave of immigrants from India, after the U.S. immigration law banning most people from Asia was partially lifted in 1965, were, for the most part, highly-educated; their success created a framework for subsequent immigrants. The first group was self-selected, geared to achievement and skilled. Another reason for success relates to language: Like the Irish, most immigrants from India had the good fortune to be able to speak English upon arrival to the United States; this gave them an enormous advantage over many other immigrant groups. Similarly, having grown up in a relatively anglicized culture, Indians, like Jamaicans, were familiar with aspects of living among white Europeans. Add an understanding of diversity: India, as we know, is a panoply of dozens of cultures, and arriving in a culturally diverse nation like the States was old news. Other factors played important roles in the lives of many immigrants: Few in the States knew or cared much about whichever affiliations a person had back in India; this granted a degree of untoward social flexibility with a different set of barriers. The opportunity, too, for creative expression, based on merit rather than old and often imposed affiliations, was wildly liberating. The immigrants, in general, also prized education, entrepreneurship, and idealism. Finally, there was a belief in having the U.S. live up to its democratic principles; the natural and ferocious resilience of many immigrants; and, a commitment to mentorship–finding people who could mentor the youth.
NAW: Kamala Harris vs Nikki Haley in 2024! What’s your take on this?
Scott Haas: Everything depends on 2020. If Trump gives up power, you can bank on the strong possibility of President Harris in 2024. At that time, anyone who chose to ally themselves with his white supremacist regime will be regarded as a collaborator. If Trump stays in office, anything could happen, sorry to say, including no national election in 2024.
NAW: Please share with our readers a bit about yourself and what to look forward from Scott Haas in the near future.
Scott Haas: “Why Be Happy? The Japanese Way of Acceptance,” was published on 7/7/20 by Hachette, and foreign rights have sold to France, Italy, Russia, UK-Commonwealth, Vietnam, Taiwan-HK, Poland, Bulgaria, etc. (India-Hachette is publishing the book.) I’m currently in what I’m hoping is the final revision of a book about girls and women in Japan, a fictional work based on the real case of a child’s temporary disappearance in Japan in 2017, called, “You Don’t Belong Here.” Other than that, I write a jazz column twice a month for Boston’s weekly Black newspaper.