Without question, the most influential, powerful and culturally diverse country in the world is the United States. The current population is over 308 million covering nearly ten million miles of land area. It has been called the melting pot of nations and one of the most successful of peoples that have flourished in the country are Indians living in the United States.
Of the current population, Indians living in the United States number nearly two million seven hundred thousand individuals, or about 16.2% of all Asians currently in the United States. Much of these individuals have traveled from India as immigrants to the United States. A little over three quarters of the total number of Indians living in the United States had arrived in the country in the past two decades, particularly between 1990 to 2000 as part of the internet and engineering boom in the United States.
The prevailing notion is that in the United States, the roads are paved with gold and it is easy to be a success. This has been true for many Indians living in the United States as this group has a lower poverty rate compared to the median poverty rate in the country. Over two thirds own their own homes and this ethnic group has the highest labor employment amongst all nationalities from Asia. Over a third of them occupy management professional level jobs thus ensuring an above average standard of living. This way of life, compared to a similar one in their native India, further strengthens the concept that life is better in America
History of Indians living in the United States
Life in the beginning though in the United States was not so good for Indian immigrants. The first Hindu family arrived in America in 1889 where the government formed a mandir. Soon thereafter, many more Hindus started immigrating to the country, making the government build more mandirs for their worship. Not all Indians living in the United States enjoyed this privilege, as Sikhs were not allowed to build their own temples until 1911, when the first gurdwara (Sikh temple) was built in North America.
The first Indians living in the United States were part of the pioneer west, especially the California gold rush. Immigration though was limited to Indian men as the then American government wanted to limit the number of Asian immigrants to the United States. As such, many of these men married Mexican women and resided in California. These first Indians living in the United States did not enjoy the rights to vote, to petition family members and citizenship. Their first attempt to gain constitutional rights was rebuffed in the case of United States vs. Bhagat Singh Thind, where British Indians were declared ineligible for American citizenship. Thind was later sworn in as a citizen years later paving the way for Indians becoming citizens.
Wave upon wave of Indian immigrants to the United States came between the 1950’s to the 1980’s, as Sikhs started to petition family members from India with the relaxation of immigration laws. The post-World War American economy was burgeoning as more and more professionals and other skilled experts from India started to make their lives in America. The second wave came with the explosion of the Internet in the United States, together with the change of technological innovation, where Indian information technology and engineering experts became very much in demand.
Much of the population of Indians living in the United States is in the state of New York, with over half a million individuals. Other Indians in the United States can be found in Washington D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. While many are employed in white collar positions, many work as taxi drivers, laborers, farmers or small business owners.
The Conflicts Faced by Indians Living in the United States
Coming from a culture steeped in tradition and being placed in a country where other cultures would be rubbed elbows with create many issues for a traditional Indian family. The following are but some of the conflicts faced by Indians living in the United States:
- The Food. American cuisine is very diverse, with many influences from every corner of the world. Staples though are fast food which is either pork or beef based. Traditional Indians hold the cow sacred and it is considered as a sin to partake of beef meat. Thus, finding traditional Indian ingredients is quite an effort as not many large supermarkets do not carry Indian spices and other food stuff on their shelves. This has since been remedied by Indians living in the United States who have gone into the retail business.
- The Dating Scene. For traditional Indians, the concept of dating is unknown as relationships between Indians were pre-arranged and approved by the family’s elders. This tradition of marriage for Indians ensured that the family would be improved by a husband or wife of their same social caste and with the ability to provide for their child. Now, Indians living in the United States find that they need to date in order to enter into a relationship, which is the norm in the country directly in conflict with traditional Indian mores.
- The Racial Tensions. Within India itself are many other sub groups or castes depending upon their religion. These include Sikhs, Hindis, Punjabis and many more. When Indians living in the United States interacted with others, they were all lumped together as one social group regardless of their religious or social castes. There is no understanding as to Indian culture and traditions and often lumped together with other Asian groups such as Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and others. This also has become part of racial tensions, with many receiving taunts and being called names as part of their daily lives. They are often referred to as “rag heads” as they were traditional turbans and their distinctive looks were subject to ridicule and taunts.
- The Socialization Norms. In traditional India, touching is a social no-no as people find it offensive to be touched by another person. This is not so in American culture, as handshakes, high fives and kissing is part of the greeting. Another aspect of social norms is kissing in public or in film is considered as pornography in the country where the Kama Sutra was born. In the United States, kissing and public displays of affection are normal, which many traditional Indians living in the United States find hard to accept but have to live by.
As can be seen, Indians living in the United States have become pervasive, as metropolitan hubs throughout the country are often home to many Indian immigrants. After hurdling their visa issues and traveling as immigrants to the United States, there are still many difficulties being faced in each and every day. Should there be an issue regarding visas or other immigration concerns, Indians living in the United States can reach out to the Indian Embassy located in 2107 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 and can be reached by telephone at (202) 939-7000 with consulates found in many urban centers in the country. All in all though, many Indians living in the United States have found their success in their fields of endeavor but as they say, you may take the Indian out of India, but you cannot take India out of the Indian living in the United States.