She had walked from the department to the bus stop that afternoon, feeling the weight of the world weighing down on her shoulders. It was a cold, rainy afternoon in fall, and it seemed nature was crying at her predicament. She reached the bus stop just in time to see the bus leave right in front of her. The frustration of missing a bus becomes manifold when you actually watch it leave right in front of you, knowing that you do not have enough time to run and cross the road. This was perhaps very symbolic for her that afternoon, looking at the bus full of opportunities abandon her. Although she was suitably qualified for what she was aspiring to be, she did not have that powerful piece of document that declared her eligible for the job. It was the same document of citizenship or permanent legal residence that people in the past have killed, manipulated, and married for. Neither her parents had the foresight to visit the US and give her birth there, nor she had the foresight to get hitched to someone local. As a result, despite what she would have liked to think of as spectacular and scintillating academic potential, she was disqualified for the numerous teaching fellowships she tried applying to. Apparently, she did not fall under the category of people America deemed fit to allow to teach and educate their children.
She had always wanted to work as a science and math teacher. That was her forte, her calling. That was what she did in India, and that is what she eventually wanted to do in the US. Who said PhDs were overqualified to teach in schools? She was doing a PhD, training to be a professor, but she also wanted to take a few years off first and go teach in a public school setting. She thought she would immensely benefit from the classroom experience while developing her research agenda as a professor, and she loved teaching anyway. Hence, while most people’s careers took off on an upward trajectory, she was willing to step down and go teach in a school for a few years. Don’t get her wrong when she said “step down”, for she in no manner insulted teaching in a public school as an endeavor fit for the lesser achieving. What she meant is, she was overqualified for the job, and hence thought she would definitely get it. The minimum requirement for teaching in a school is a bachelor’s degree. Armed with two masters’ degrees, and a PhD on the way, she knew she would never struggle to find a good school to start teaching.
She forgot something very basic while happily making her future plans. She forgot that she did not belong to this country. She was an outsider, a foreigner. A very unwelcome foreigner in a country where she has been told, “The foreigners took our jobs!!”.
She started looking at teaching fellowships. That was when the truth hit her. Every teaching fellowship she tried applying for specifically mentioned that they require citizens and permanent residents only. They would not sponsor her visa. Desperate, she emailed them, each and every institution, asking if they ever made exceptions for doctorate degree holders. None of the answers came as affirmatives.
There was a clear disconnect between theory and practice. In theory, she was always told by different people, at different point of time that America was in dire need of good science and math teachers who were passionate about teaching. That was when she started to think that she would be a great fit in the setting. Even her professors assured her that visa sponsorship should not be an issue. Clearly, she now knew better.
Her thoughts were mostly sad as she waited for the next bus in the rain. She realized that she did not qualify even for an interview. To deny someone the right to employment by denying them the right to be interviewed, not because of lack of credentials or enthusiasm, but because of the lack of paperwork produced as a result of a random event of being born in the United States was perhaps the ultimate example of social injustice. While America embraced international students with open arms (statistics say so, not I), they were equally reluctant in creating job opportunities for them. No one had taken a look at her academic achievements that she had so painstakingly put in her resume. She was rejected - Just like that. It was an alienating experience. She was neither into chip making, nor into programming, occupations that highly commanded visa sponsorships. She was just an ordinary human being and all she wanted to do was teach. For the first time, thoughts of going back to India seriously occurred to her. Strangely, it was a freeing, emancipating thought. Not that there were any better jobs in India, but she would at least not feel like a foreigner, an intruder. True, millions of people immigrated and embraced this country as their own. Then how could she explain the chilliness, the hostility of the situation she was facing? Certainly there was no pride in living the life of a second class citizen from a third world country, trying to fit in a first world nation. Her ideals were conflicted. She had always wanted to excel at what she did, so that she would be in demand for the quality of her work, no matter where she lived. She wanted to be so good in what she did that the job would come looking for her, rather than the other way around. Clearly, she could have all the respect she wanted, as soon as she could produce proof of citizenship.
Various thoughts and incidents from the past flashed in front of her. She remembered the woman in her late thirties she had met at the Zumba class who had beamed in pride, “Why do I need to work? My husband is a professor. I have married well.” She thought of her friend, whose husband had applied for their green card the moment she married and stepped into the country. None of these women had trouble finding legal residency in the country, and were happily and proudly unemployed. However, when some people actually wanted to work and make a difference, they were denied the opportunity because they had probably not married well. Where was social justice in this God?
She remembered a scene out of a movie she had watched in her teens. The big ship was sinking, and the affluent people left in their lifeboats one by one. Clearly, she was staying onboard, sinking with the ship. After all, she was a second class citizen from a third world country, trying to fit in.