When President Barack Obama wanted to make a point about small businesses on Saturday, he bought Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland and a few others from a DC bookstore.
When he wanted to make a point about immigration reforms earlier in the week, he had Geetha Vallabhaneni, an Indian-born techie, introduce him at an event in San Francisco.
And just the week before, his handpicked assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal took office in a major milestone for the community.
Obama’s Saturday book buys were in support of an initiative he started in 2010 called Small Business Saturday to encourage people to buy from small businesses.
It’s observed once a year on November 30, the day after the Black Friday shopping frenzy that starts in the US the night of Thanksgiving on Thursday.
Obama dropped by at the bookstore, Politics and Prose, with his daughters and bought over 20 books. When asked what did he buy, he said, “Books for every age group, from 5 to 52.”
He turned 52 in August.
But it was not clear who asked for The Lowland. Lahiri is a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which has Michelle Obama as honorary chairwoman.
Vallabhaneni fronted the President’s other leading initiative -- a comprehensive immigration reform, which many in India are following closely with some anxiety.
A bill passed by the senate, for instance, makes it difficult for Indian IT firms such as Infosys, Wipro and TCS to continue to operate with their H-1B-dependent business model.
But the Bill makes it easier for Indians like Vallabhaneni who come to the US to study and then wish to stay on, first on Green Card then as full-fledged citizens.
Vallabhaneni came to the US from Yerragonda Palem in Andhra Pradesh 15 years. It took her 12 years to get a Green card, which permits permanent residency without citizenship.
Within 10 months of getting her green card, Vallabhaneni started her own company Luminix, which makes enterprise software that for mobile computing.
“Needless to say, I would have started my company sooner if the system had permitted me to do so,” she said with the President within earshot, waiting to be announced backstage.
That is what Obama wants to change. The senate bill fast-tracks green cards for foreign students of science, technology, engineering and math to keep them here in the US.
Lahiri and Biswal were luckier.
Their paths to citizenship were paved by their parents. Lahiri parents came to the US from London, where she was born. Biswal’s parents came to the US from Gujarat when she was six.
Neither, therefore, had to struggle for a green card -- their parents went through the process much before, and at a time when applicants didn’t have to wait long.