Tag Archives: immigrants

363. Masters: Coming to America

What sort of country would (the United States) have now if the Indians had had an Immigration Service when the Pilgrims set out in 1620?
John Masters

When I first read John Masters, something he said stuck with me. Before going to Westercon this year, I wanted to run down that quotation, and in doing so I found much more worth sharing. What he said about writing will appear here later, but today I want to give his insights on immigration, or, as he called it, his Seven Year’s War with the U. S. Immigration authorities.

For reasons detailed in his book, John Masters decided that, though he was an Englishman, there was no life for him in England, and that America should become his home. He applied for an immigrant visa, knowing that the British yearly quota of 65,000 was never filled. His reactions to the questions asked on the application form were humorous, but too long to place here. Apparently the questions were as inane then as they are now. (see 329. Green Card Blues and 361. Take This Test)

A week or so later, he was told that he would have to wait about four and a half years. He had been placed on the Indian quota. He went back to inquire and was told that American law only recognized the place of his birth, not his actual citizenship. Never mind that he was born in a British military hospital. Never mind that he was born of a British mother and a British father, stationed in the British army in a British controlled area. Never mind that a child born of an American parent (and it only takes one) anywhere in the world is an American citizen. Never mind that he was born in 1914, and India didn’t become a country until 1947. He was born in India, so he was on the India quota.

It was a good thing he hadn’t been born while his father was stationed in Greece. The Greek quota was eighty-one years. (Yes, that is not a misprint. 81 years.)

Masters decided to withdraw his application for an Immigrant visa, get a visitor’s visa, and work things out later. That was not allowed. Since he had applied for an immigrant visa, he was no longer eligible for a visitor’s visa. Too many others when facing impossible waits had made that same move, then disappeared once they were in America.

As you might guess, as a British Army officer with plenty of friends, he was eventually allowed a visitor’s visa, came to America, and managed to stay permanently, although with many additional bureaucratic battles.

Good thing he wasn’t actually Indian.

More to the point in 2017, good thing he wasn’t Mexican, or poor, or not a native English speaker.

Master’s comments on writing will come in later posts.

362. Masters of India

     Wasn’t it barely a week since I had thrilled to learn what was inscribed on the base of the Statue of LIberty:
          Give me you tired, your poor,
          Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .
     What generosity, I had thought, what a marvel of welcome!
                         John Masters

We’ll let that quotation hang there, and return to it later. This post, and several more, are connected to John Masters’ third installment of autobiography, Pilgrim Son.

I read the first installment of his autobiography, Bugles and a Tiger, during the 1970s. Normally a military biography would be the last thing to interest me. Furthermore, I was in the Navy against my will at the time, it that made it even more unlikely. However, Masters was a famous novelist specializing in India, so I read Bugles . . ., and I was impressed.

I had just finished four years studying South Asia and was about to return to another year of the same. My experience had shown me that there is wisdom (and stupidity) in writing on all sides of any issue. Wiser’s The Hindu Jajmani System (anthropologist), Nehru’s The Discovery of India (nationalist agitator, then national leader) and Masters’ various works (officer in the British Army in India) all showed accurate views from different perspectives.

I skipped Masters’ second autobiography, The Road Past Mandalay because I had no interest in sharing the horrors of WW II’s Burmese campaign, but Pilgrim Son was about the start of his life as a writer. I was beginning to write, so I ate it up.

That was nearly four decades ago. One particular story from that book stayed with me, and sent me back to seek it out again. I found that the whole book was a gem, far better than I remembered, and with more than one brief bit worth sharing.

For one thing, Masters had a lot to say about immigrants. That had not stuck in my memory because it was not an issue in the early eighties when I first read Pilgrim Son.

I have to set the stage by reminding American readers, whose world historical knowledge is typically shallow, that India is an ancient culture, but is new as a nation. Until mid-last century, it was controlled by Britain. In 1947, what was then India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, and each part became a self-governing nation. Decades later, Pakistan also split, into Pakistan and Bangladesh. What had once been a more-or-less uniform culture divided into hundreds of petty kingdoms, was first unified under British rule, then split into three modern nations.

After several hundred years, members of the British Army and of the British governing class, many of whom had lived in India for generations, had to take ship for England. John Masters was one of those Englishmen who was born in India, had lived his life there, and now found himself an immigrant to his other homeland. He soon found that there was nothing for him in England, and became an immigrant to America, where he began his writing career. more tomorrow