Last year I borrowed my father’s minivan and took a three-month-long road trip to Texas. (Here’s an interactive map of my wanderings.) Part of the time I stayed with a friend in Houston, and part of the time I toured around Texas and the neighbouring states. I didn’t have much money, so most of the time I slept in the back of the minivan either in state parks or at highway rest stops. But every once in a while, when the weather was crappy or when I desperately needed a hot shower or a soft bed to crash on, I would get a cheap motel.
The cheapest place I stayed was in Corpus Christi. It cost twenty bucks. It smelled of cigarette smoke, and my highly anticipated hot shower turned out to be state-park-cold. The most expensive place was in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and it was maybe forty-five bucks a night. I stayed off the interstates, so these weren’t chain motels – they were independent operations that mostly dated back to the glory days of American highway travel, the fifties and sixties. Apart from outdated decor, what they had in common – every single motel I stayed in – was that they were run by Indians.
(Here I use the word Indians to refer to recent immigrants from the subcontinent; I have no idea whether they were from India or Pakistan or Bangladesh, etc.)
During my trip the Democratic primaries were still going on, and Joe Biden had recently gotten in trouble for cracking a joke about Indians running convenience stores. I stopped in lots of convenience stores while I was down in the States, too, and I didn’t notice a disproportionate number of Indians behind the counter. But the Indian monopoly on low-end budget motels was virtually absolute. How did that happen? Is there something about running motels that is particularly attractive to Indian immigrants to the southwest? (I haven’t done enough travelling to know if this phenomenon extends to other parts of North America.) Are all these motel owners distantly related? Maybe they’re all from some small town in Bengal which produced a famously wealthy Texas motel magnate, inspiring an outflux of entrepreneurs seeking to emulate his success?
I don’t know why or how it came about. But unless one has a particular aversion to the smell of curry in motel lobbies, I don’t see why anyone should care. The service that the Indians provide is identical to what one would get from anybody else. I feel I have to spell out my broad-mindedness this way because apparently, in some people’s minds, to merely observe that one ethnic group dominates a particular industry is in poor taste and possibly tantamount to racism. I bring this up because of Joel Stein’s recent column in the L.A. Times where he poses the question, How Jewish is Hollywood? His answer is, very:
The Jews are so dominant, I had to scour the trades to come up with six Gentiles in high positions at entertainment companies. When I called them to talk about their incredible advancement, five of them refused to talk to me, apparently out of fear of insulting Jews. The sixth, AMC President Charlie Collier, turned out to be Jewish.
Stein’s article was inspired by a recent survey by the Anti-Defamation League which revealed:
59% of Americans think Hollywood execs “do not share the religious and moral values of most Americans,” and 43% think the entertainment industry is waging an organized campaign to “weaken the influence of religious values in this country.”
These numbers seem disturbingly high to the chairman of the ADL, Abe Foxman. I guess he’s worried that if 59% of Americans think Hollywood executives don’t share the values of “most Americans”, it follows that those 59% have a problem with Jews. I don’t see why A leads to B. If someone surveyed my friends to determine whether Michael “shares the religious and moral values of most Americans”, one hundred percent of them would answer, I think correctly, that no, I pretty much don’t. That doesn’t mean that one hundred percent of my friends dislike me.
Of the three survey questions described in Stein’s column – Do Jews run Hollywood? Do Hollywood Jews share the values of the average American? and, Are Hollywood Jews trying to undermine American religion? – a non-bigoted person might very reasonably answer yes to questions one and two. As for question number three, Hollywood would have no reason, nor is it organized enough, to wage an organized campaign to undermine religious values. That 43% seems pretty crazy. But then, 55% of Americans apparently believe they are protected by guardian angels. It is remotely possible that some of the people who took the ADL survey believe, as I do, that if Hollywood were working to undermine the country’s religious values, it wouldn’t be such a goddamn bad idea.