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Immigration is deeply personal to me. I was born in New Delhi, India, in 1946 and moved to the United States in July of 1970 to pursue advanced medical training. At the time, the United States was still in the throes of the Vietnam War. The country was experiencing a shortage of doctors, so its hospitals and medical facilities were actively hiring foreign-born physicians. Yet India didn’t want its best and brightest leaving the country, so it prohibited its citizens from taking the test required of foreign doctors by American institutions. To circumvent this prohibition, I traveled to Sri Lanka to take the exam, which I passed. Because India limited the amount of money that could be taken outside the country, I left my homeland with just eight dollars in my pocket.
With the help of an American charitable organization that recruited foreign doctors for regional hospitals, I ended up as an emergency-room intern at Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield, New Jersey, where I worked with every type of patient, including those who had sustained gunshot wounds.
In 1971, my wife Rita and I moved to the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, where I began my residency in endocrinology and internal medicine at the Lahey Clinic. To supplement my income, I also worked in the emergency room of a local medical facility for four dollars an hour. I later worked at the Boston VA hospital, where hours stretched over long days and nights. Despite these difficult circumstances, Rita and I wanted to be in America because it’s a place where people can be free.
When Rita became pregnant, we couldn’t afford to have the baby in Boston, because her pregnancy was deemed a preexisting condition by our insurance company, so she traveled to India, where our baby was delivered, and I remained in the United States where I continued to work long hours to provide resources to my family.
In 1984 I became an American citizen and, with our family, moved back to Boston, where I served as the chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital. In the mid-1980s, I left that position to blaze my own trail, first as a representative of the Transcendental Meditation movement and later, in 1993, as the founder, with Dr. David Simon, of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Since 1986, I have written more than eighty- five books with numerous New York Times Bestsellers.
I am grateful for America and believe that it isn’t just a country—it’s also an idea. We can’t lose faith in this idea, because then, like a flame, it will flicker and burn out for all of us. People can climb the ladder here and succeed beyond anything they could have imagined, but immigration is what makes this idea sustainable. If we turn against immigrants, we turn against each other and against America itself.
I like to tell people that I am Indian by birth, American by choice and a global resident.