Indian Americans: A Model Ethnic Group In The US

“In the Western imagination, India conjures up everything from saris and spices to turbans and, temples—and the pulsating energy of Bollywood movies,” the prestigious Smithsonian Institute stated recently. “But in America, India’s contributions stretch far beyond these stereotypes. From the builders of some of America’s earliest railroads and farms to Civil Rights pioneers to digital technology entrepreneurs, Indian Americans have long been an inextricable part of American life. Today, one out of every 100 Americans, from Silicon Valley to Small town, USA, traces his or her roots to India. Breakthroughs in business, the arts, medicine, science, and technology, and the flavorful food, flamboyant fashion and yoga of India have become a central part of our national culture.”

In 1997, when I had landed in Milwaukee, WI to pursue my journalism degree, it was rare to find Indian Americans in the city. Today, everywhere I go, at work, shopping malls, sports arena, theaters, churches, schools where my 3 daughters attend, and in my neighborhood where I live, there is a growing number of Indian Americans.  There has been an influx of Indian Americans across the nation, especially in the past couple of decades.
According to The Economist, “Three-quarters of the Indian-born population in America today arrived in the last 25 years.” The present Indian population can be explained from the nearly 147,000 immigrants that India provides to the country on a yearly basis, reported Huffington Post.
In the early 20th century just a few hundred people emigrated from India to America each year and there were only about 5,000 people of Indian heritage living in the United States. Today Indian-born Americans number over 3.8 million and they are probably the most successful minority group in the country. Compared with all other big foreign-born groups, they are younger, richer and more likely to be married and supremely well educated.
The modern immigration wave from Asia is nearly a half century old and has pushed the total population of Asian Americans—foreign born and U.S born, adults and children—to a record 18.2 million in 2011, or 5.8% of the total U.S. population, up from less than 1% in 1965.
Pew Research study has found, “Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.”
Indians have always been rising in America. As James Crabtree of Financial Times suggests, “More than any other group of outsiders, it was the Indians who figured out that, to make it in startup land, it helps to have a social network of your own.”
The less than four million Indian Americans appear to be gaining prominence and have come to be recognized as a force to reckon with in this land of opportunities that they have come to call as their adopted homeland. They are the most educated population in the United States, with more than 80 percent holding college or advanced degrees, as per a report by Pew Research Center. They have the highest income levels, earning $65,000 per year with a median household income of $88,000, far higher than the U.S. household average of 49,000, according to the survey.
Although disparities persist with nearly nine percent of Indian Americans live in poverty, they have made a mark in almost every field in the United States through their hard work, dedication and brilliance.  Notching successes in fields as diverse as poetry and politics, the fast growing strong Indian American community packed more power and influence far beyond their numbers in the year gone by.
“While the Indian-American community has been the wealthiest, most-educated minority in the U.S. for some time now, they’re only more recently experiencing wide-scale recognition in public life,” Forbes magazine stated.
Indian Americans are just one percent of the American population, but 3 percent of its engineers, 7 percent of its IT force, and 8 percent of its physicians and surgeons. Some 10-20 percent of all tech start-ups have Indian founders. Indeed, a joint Duke University-UC Berkeley study revealed that between 1995-2005, Indian immigrants founded more engineering and technology companies than immigrants from countries like UK, China, Taiwan and Japan combined. They have risen to the top ranks in major companies like Satya Nadella in Microsoft, Sundar Pichai in Google and Indra Nooyi in Pepsico.
Indians for decades have been playing an important role in global technology landscape. Indians, especially in Silicon Valley, are growing in prominence, influence, and sheer population. The fact that Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, and Nikesh Arora lead some of the most prominent tech world giants is an example of their importance to the larger world and the significant contributions they continue to make.
Rajeev Suri is leading Nokia. Hyderabad-born Shantanu Narayen is the leader of Adobe, while Sanjay Jha ids the CEO of Global Foundries. George Kurian became the CEO and president of storage and data management company NetApp in June 2015. Francisco D’Souza is the CEO, Cognizant, and Dinesh Paliwal is the president and CEO of Harman International, and Ashok Vemuri is the CEO, Conduent Inc, the Xerox’s sibling business services. These are only a few of the success stories of Indians in the US, leading the tech industry in the US.
The surge in Indians moving to America was intimately linked to the rise of the technology industry. In the 1980s India loosened its rules on private colleges, leading to a large expansion in the pool of engineering and science graduates. Fear of the “Y2K” bug in the late 1990s served as a catalyst for them to engage with the global economy, with armies of Indian engineers working remotely from the subcontinent, or travelling to America on workers’ visas.
Today a quarter or more of the Indian-born workforce is employed in the tech industry. In the Silicon Valley neighborhoods such as Fremont and Cupertino, people of Indian origin make up a fifth of the population. Some 10-20% of all tech start-ups have Indian founders; Indians have ascended to the heights of the biggest firms, too.
If Indians are a powerful force in the tech sector, they have also begun to show their power in the political arena. There have been several Indian Americans who have been elected and appointed to important positions at national, state and local level offices.
A record five Indian-Americans serve in the US Congress, scripting history for the minority ethnic community that comprises just one per cent of America’s population. Congressmen Ami Bera, Raja

Photo by: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx
Dr. Vivek Murthy (U.S. Surgeon General) at The National Action Network Conference.

Krishnamoorthy, Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal have been elected to the US Congress while Kamla Harris represents California in the US Senate.

Kamala Harris,  a rising star, the first Indian American and first black senator from California,  the Huffington Post has suggested Harris could be “the next best hope for shattering that glass ceiling=,” by becoming the first female President of the greatest democracy in the world.  Pundits have compared her rise to that of former President Obama.
Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a fast-rising Democratic star, has featured in the Politico magazine’s “Power List for the year 2018” for having assumed the mantle of a House “leader of the resistance.”
US Ambassador to the United Nations, Haley is arguably the most visible Indian American in the Trump administration. Elected governor of South Carolina in 2010, Haley was the first Indian American woman ever to become a U.S. governor, and was both the first female governor and the first governor from an ethnic minority South Carolina had ever seen.
Over the past several months, there have been a number of articles in the national press, speculating whether former South Carolina Governor and the current US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley might consider a presidential run in 2020. Some say her efforts and clear leadership as governor and ambassador to the United Nations have put her in a strong position to possibly become this nation’s first female president.
In the most recent elections, Indian Americans made huge victories across the nation. Last November, Indian American politician Ravinder Bhalla made news by being the first Sikh mayor of the New Jersey city of Hoboken, as well as one of the first public officials in the US to wear a turban. The occupational profile presented by the Asian Indian community today is one of increasing diversity. Although a large number of Asian Indians are professionals, others own small businesses or are employed as semi- or nonskilled workers.
Forbes wrote recently about the new additions to the Trump administration: “two Indian Americans, Raj Shah and Manisha Singh, the latest instance of a relatively new, larger trend: the growing participation — and success — of Indian Americans in public service.”
Trump appointed Raj Shah principal deputy press secretary — who also continues to hold his post as deputy assistant to the president. US assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, Manisha Singh, 45, is a noted lawyer from Florida.
As the chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission, accomplished attorney Ajit Pai works on a wide variety of regulatory and transactional matters involving the cable, internet, TV, radio and satellite industries.
A respected legal scholar, Neomi Rao is the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the White House. Seema Verma is the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Vishal Amin is Trump’s intellectual property enforcement coordinator. Neil Chatterjee is chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
While several Indian Americans are now key players in pushing the Trump White House’s conservative agenda, the Indian-American community in general has long leaned left. Politically, they are more Democratic leaning than any other group as a whole in the nation. A whopping 84 per cent Indian-Americans voted for President Barack Obama in the general election in 2012. Compared with other US Asian groups, Indian Americans are the most likely to identify with the Democratic Party; 65 percent are Democrats or lean to the Democrats, 18 percent are Republicans.
In the Obama era, they were recognized by the Democratic Party with important jobs in Washington, DC as never been before. “It is very exciting to serve in an Administration that has so many great Indian-Americans serving,” said Raj Shah, former Administrator of USIAD, the highest ranking Indian-American in the Obama Administration.
In 2012, a record 30 Indian Americans fought to win electoral battle with Republican Nikki Haley and Democrat Kamala Harris handily winning back their jobs as South Carolina governor and California’s attorney general respectively. Amiresh ‘Ami’ Bera, the lone Indian American in the US House of Representatives, repeated history by winning a tight California House race.
Dr. Vivek Verma won an uphill battle against the powerful Gun Lobby and won the majority support at the US Senate. President Barack Obama appointed Richard Rahul Verma as the first envoy from the NRI community to India. Nisha Desai Biswal was heading the State Department’s South Asia bureau. Puneet Talwar took over as assistant secretary for political-military affairs to serve as a bridge between the State and Defense departments, while Arun Madhavan Kumar became assistant secretary of commerce and director general of the US and Foreign Commercial Service.
Subra Suresh was inducted into the Institute of Medicine (IOM), making him the only university president to be elected to all three national academies, while Sujit Choudhry, a noted expert in comparative constitutional law, became the first Indian American dean of the University of California-Berkeley, School of Law, a top US law school. Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe won the Scripps National Spelling Bee contest after 52 years and for just the fourth time in the contest’s history. Indira Nooyi, another person of Indian origin has been leading as the CEO of Pepsi, one of the largest corporations.
Former US attorney Preet Bharara made history by going after small and big law breakers in the nation. Among many judges of Indian origin, Sri Srinivasan stole the headlines with his unanimous support from the US Senate to the US Federal Court in DC.
In the glamor world of the nation, Indian Americans are not far behind. Aziz Ansari, the Master of None star won the Golden Globe this year for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy. Several others have found leading roles in the highly competitive Hollywood movies and on TV.
Priyanka Chopra has been voted the “Sexiest Asian Woman” in the world in an annual UK poll released in London last week. From splashes of red and black to purple velvet, with models that defied tradition both in size and age, Indian-American fashion designers showed their metal at the New York Fashion Week that was held in New York City in February this year. They included Bibhu Mohapatra, Prabal Gurung, Misha Kaura, Naeem Khan, Sachin & Babi, and the MacDuggal brand.
Like all immigrant groups, Indians have found niches in America’s vast economy. Half of all motels are owned by Indians, mainly Gujaratis. Punjabis dominate the franchises for 7-Eleven stores and Subway sandwiches.
Ten richest of all Indian Americans have made it to the Forbes List 2018, The World’s Billionaires on March 6th. The richest Indian American on the list is Rakesh Gangwal, the co-founder of the airline Indigo and is worth $3.3 billion, after he made an extra $1.2 billion in the past year. Romesh T. Wadhwani, an IT entrepreneur and philanthropist, closely follows him, with a net worth of $3.1 billion, who ended up topping the list last year. Forbes list this year has a record of 2,208 members including two new Indian Americans, Niraj Shah who is worth $1.6 billion and Jayshree Ullal who is worth $1.3 billion. Shah is the CEO and co-founder of Wayfair while Ullal is the CEO of Arista Networks.
Again, quoting Pew Research, Indian Americans are the highest-income and best-educated people in the United States and the third largest among Asian Americans who have surpassed Latinos as the fastest-growing racial group, according to a new survey. Seven-in-ten (70 percent) Indian Americans ages 25 and older, have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree; this is higher than the Asian-American share (49 percent) and much higher than the national share (28 percent), the survey found.
Indian Americans generally are well-off. Median annual household income for Indian Americans in 2010 was $88,000, much higher than for all Asian Americans ($66,000) and all U.S. households ($49,800). In 2010, 28% of Indian American worked in science and engineering fields; according to the 2013 American Community Survey, more than two-thirds (69.3%) of Indian Americans 16 and older were in management, business, science and arts occupations.
They are the largest segment of any group that entered the country under the H1-B visa program, which allow highly skilled foreign workers in designated “specialty occupations” to work in the U.S. In 2011, for example, 72,438 Indians received H1-B visas, 56% of all such visas granted that year.
Indian Americans have quietly permeated many segments of the American economy and society while still retaining their Indian culture. Most Asian Indian families strive to preserve traditional Indian values and transmit these to their children. Offsprings are encouraged to marry within the community and maintain their Indian heritage.
Indian Americans stand out from most other US Asian groups in the personal importance they place on parenting; 78 percent of Indian Americans say being a good parent is one of the most important things to them personally. Indian Americans are among the most likely to say that the strength of family ties is better in their country of origin (69 percent) than in the US (8 percent).
Nearly nine-in-ten (87 percent) adult Indian Americans in the United States are foreign born, compared with about 74 percent of adult Asian Americans and 16 percent of the adult US population overall. More than half of Indian-American adults are US citizens (56 percent), lower than the share among overall adult Asian population (70 percent) as well as the national share (91 percent).
More than three-quarters of Indian Americans (76 percent) speak English proficiently, compared with 63 percent of all Asian Americans and 90 percent of the US population overall. The median age of adult Indian Americans is 37, lower than for adult Asian Americans (41) and the national median (45).
Although over four fifths of Indians belong to Hindu religion in India, only about half (51%) of Indian Americans are Hindu, while nearly all Asian-American Hindus (93%) trace their heritage to India. 18% of Indian Americans identified themselves as Christians; 10% said they were Muslim.
More than seven-in-ten (71 percent) adult Indian Americans are married, a share significantly higher than for all Asian Americans (59 percent) and for the nation (51 percent). The share of unmarried mothers was much lower among Indian Americans (2.3 percent) than among all Asian Americans (15 percent) and the population overall (37 percent).
The first Asian Indians or Indian Americans, as they are also known, arrived in America as early as the middle of the nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century, about 2,000 Indians, most of them Sikhs (a religious minority from India’s Punjab region), settled on the west coast of the United States, having come in search of economic opportunity. Other Asian Indians came as merchants and traders; many worked in lumber mills and logging camps in the western states of Oregon, Washington, and California, where they rented bunkhouses, acquired knowledge of English, and assumed Western dress.
Between 1910 and 1920, as agricultural work in California began to become more abundant and better paying, many Indian immigrants turned to the fields and orchards for employment. For many of the immigrants who had come from villages in rural India, farming was both familiar and preferable. Some Indians eventually settled permanently in the California valleys where they worked. Because there was virtually no immigration by Indian women during this time, it was not unheard of for Indian males to marry Mexican women and raise families.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 100 Indian students also studied in universities across America. A small group of Indian immigrants also came to America as political refugees from British rule. The immigration of Indians to America was tightly controlled by the American government during this time, and Indians applying for visas to travel to the United States were often rejected by U.S. diplomats in major Indian cities like Bombay and Calcutta. The Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL) was organized in 1907 to encourage the expulsion of Asian workers, including Indians.
In July 1946, Congress passed a bill allowing naturalization for Indians and, in 1957, the first Asian Indian Congressman, Dalip Saund, was elected to Congress. Like many early Indian immigrants, Saund came to the United States from Punjab and had worked in the fields and farms of California. He had also earned a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley. While more educated and professional Indians began to enter America, immigration restrictions and tight quotas ensured that only small numbers of Indians entered the country prior to 1965. Overall, approximately 6,000 Asian Indians immigrated to the United States between 1947 and 1965.
From 1965 onward, a wave of Indian immigration began, spurred by a change in U.S. immigration law that lifted prior quotas and restrictions and allowed significant numbers of Asians to immigrate. Between 1965 and 1974, Indian immigration to the United States increased at a rate greater than that from almost any other country.
This wave of immigrants was very different from the earliest Indian immigrants—Indians that emigrated after 1965 were overwhelmingly urban, professional, and highly educated and quickly engaged in gainful employment in many U.S. cities. Many had prior exposure to Western society and education and their transition to the United States was therefore relatively smooth. More than 100,000 such professionals and their families entered the U.S. in the decade after 1965.
Almost 40 percent of all Indian immigrants who entered the United States in the decades after 1965 arrived on student or exchange visitor visas, in some cases with their spouses and dependents. Most of the students pursued graduate degrees in a variety of disciplines. They were often able to find promising jobs and prosper economically, and many became permanent residents and then citizens.
The 1990 U.S. census reported 570,000 Asian Indians in America. In general, the Asian Indian community has preferred to settle in the larger American cities rather than smaller towns, especially in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. This appears to be a reflection of both the availability of jobs in larger cities, and the personal preference of being a part of an urban, ethnically diverse environment, one which is evocative of the Indian cities that many of the post-1965 immigrants came from.
Indian Americans are more evenly spread out than other Asian Americans. About 24 percent of adult Indian Americans live in the West, compared with 47 percent of Asian Americans and 23 percent of the US population overall. More than three-in-ten (31 percent) Indian Americans live in the Northeast, 29 percent live in the South, and the rest (17 percent) live in the Midwest.
Despite their successes, they have been also subjected to discrimination and racist attacks. According to a recent report called “Communities on Fire” by the Washington, DC-based group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), hate crimes against Indian Americans and other South Asian Americans surged 45% from November 8, 2016, to November 7, 2017. The group recorded 302 incidents during that period, 213 of them being direct physical or verbal assaults
The Indian American community continues to play an important role in shaping the relationship between India, the largest democracy and the US, the greatest democracy in the world. “The model minority stereotype stems from the “non-threatening nature” of the Indian immigrant — a label bestowed by the white counterpart. The Indian American community is seen as “successful” – a prototype to be followed by fellow minorities,” Huffington Post wrote.
 “Indian-Americans are tremendously important and we hope they would be increasingly visible not only in the government, but also in all parts of American life,” said Maya Kassandra Soetoro-Ng, maternal half-sister of Obama, adding that the President was very proud of the community. “It is certainly a reflection of how important India is and how important Indian-Americans are to the fabric of the nation. I would just like to celebrate all of the contribution artistic, political and so much more of the community. It is time we come to recognize fully the contribution of the Indian-American community here,” said Maya.

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