Indiaspora, a nonprofit “network of global Indian origin leaders,” hosted a virtual event July 29 to formally celebrate the launch of the book, “Kamala Harris and the Rise of Indian-Americans,” a perhaps first-of-its-kind anthology on the Indian American community in the US.
Published in India and available on Amazon around the world, the book, laid out in leisurely 341 pages, chronicles the progress and accomplishments of Indian Americans in 16 essays — from politics, entrepreneurship, technology, medicine, to science, business, entertainment, social activism, etc.
Several contributors to the book spoke at the event organized virtually and attended by hundreds of participants from India, the US and several other parts of the world. “Kamala Harris and the Rise of Indian Americans” (released July 15th) was inspired by the US Vice-President and evidences the progress and accomplishments of the Indian-American diaspora, according to an Indiaspora press release.
Rajiv L. Gupta, chairman of Aptiv PLC and Avantor Inc., and former executive with Rohm and Haas, (and even more well-known as the father of Vanita Gupta, the Associate Attorney General of the United States,) discussed the traits that make Indians natural business leaders.
Rangaswami, a tech entrepreneur — his original claim to fame — focused on the evolution of Indians’ success in Silicon Valley, and Maina Chawla Singh, wife of former Indian ambassador to the U.S. Arun K. Singh, chronicled the political trajectory of Indian Americans. Editor Basu, who ‘Zoom’ed in from India deferred to its time zone by guzzling what seemed like liters of morning tea, managed to speak about his decades-long association with and coverage of the Indian American community. “Success as it is defined and celebrated in the diasporic community of Indians in the US—economic and individualistic— is narrow and elitist.”
Other contributors who spoke included the venerable Deepak Raj, founder and managing director of Raj Associates, a private investment firm, and more importantly, chairman of Pratham USA, and Bijal Patel, the young chairman of the California Hotel & Lodging Association (CHLA).
Raj’s response to a question about how Indian Americans can inspire other minority communities to channel their philanthropic energies was spot on. He took the cue implied in the question and confessed that Indian Americans must also focus their charity efforts on marginalized communities here in the United States. As for Patel, while he admirably portrayed California’s Indian American hoteliers’ contributions during the pandemic — turning over their properties to house the Covid infected and the homeless — it was not lost on the audience that our enterprising hoteliers managed to profit even during the crisis. Who said, “never let a serious crisis go to waste,” again?
Among those who were not the featured speakers at the book launch were authors of a couple of essays that stood out in the book. Mayank Chhaya, an alumnus of India Abroad, wrote the informative chapter titled, “At the Center of Excellence: Seminal Contributions in the World of Science.” It was fascinating to learn about the scores of Indian American scientists who are involved in cutting-edge scientific research, particularly in frontier disciplines like space science. Some of them will certainly cross the bounds of the “Chandrasekhar Limit,” making the case for another anthology.
It would have also been interesting to hear from Vikrum Mathur who wrote the chapter “From Stereotypes to Household Names: A Cultural Shift and New Role Models,” about Indian Americans in entertainment who are making an impact on the cultural front. Their foray into arguably the most competitive arena in America has been truly remarkable. The acceptance of Indian faces in entertainment may be greater evidence of Indians blending into the great American melting pot.
The most interesting speaker at the launch, however, was Shamita Das Dasgupta, social activist and co-founder of Manavi, “the first organization of its kind that focuses on violence against South Asian women in the United States.” Her presence and presentation were as interesting and incongruous as was her essay in the book. Incongruous, by her admission in different words, is because she challenges the very notion of “success” that the Indian American community’s glory is premised on.
Her gentle demeanor and soft voice made no effort to hide the ‘contradiction’ in her definition of the community’s “rise” that is very different from that of the co-panelists and coauthors. She reiterates, but in kinder and gentler words, her central argument in her co-authored essay, which, incidentally, appears at the end of the tome — not as an afterthought, but probably as an involuntary admission.
The book includes a chapter on Indian American philanthropy, an area that has not evolved enough to write home about. Its inclusion must have been at the nudging of M.R. Rangaswami, the founder of Indiaspora and a philanthropist himself, who helped in corralling many of the book’s contributors. The panel discussions, moderated by Indiaspora’s executive director Sanjeev Joshipura and Indiaspora’s founder MR Rangaswami, was followed by Q&A.
Dasgupta writes “that success as it is defined and celebrated in the diasporic community of Indians in the US—economic and individualistic— is narrow and elitist. This limited version of success deliberately excludes activists and changemakers who work at the margins of the community. While individualistic successes have certainly brought fame and recognition to the community, they have not instigated internal changes or fundamental modifications to the community’s inequitable culture.” Boom.
While it cannot be said that the book has not looked beyond the surface littered with shiny objects, a chapter chronicling the remarkable work of Indian American activists would have been a testimony to how far the community has come from a racist portrayal of a ‘model minority to becoming consequential agents of social change. There are young Indian American idealists, activists, change makers in almost every field of human endeavor — not the ones who are in it to pad their resumes to get into top schools or corporations, but the real ones.
In the final analysis, however, what the book lacks in scholarship and academic rigor is adequately made up by anecdotal perspectives of worthy participant-observers, making the story of an ethnic community that is resplendently diverse and full of contradictions come to life. The title, notwithstanding.
The anthology, compiled by veteran editor Tarun Basu and published by award-winning Wisdom Tree, explores the story behind these advancements through 16 essays written by influential Indian Americans. From politics to the new administration, entrepreneurship to technology, medicine to hospitality, science to academia, business to entertainment, philanthropy to social activism, leaders from various arenas detail their own paths to success and offer their perspectives on diasporic progress.
These stories culminate in a larger narrative of the Indian-American community’s coming-of-age in the US. “A fascinating and inspiring story of how an immigrant population from a developing country, with low education levels, became the most educated, highest-earning ethnic community in the world’s most advanced nation in almost a single generation.” says editor Tarun Basu.
Tarun Basu, veteran editor, media commentator, policy analyst and head of the Society for Policy Studies, a think tank running the South Asia Monitor, and author of the chapter, “From Struggling Immigrants to Political Influencers: How a Community Came of Age” is the Chief Editor of the book.
“A fascinating and inspiring story of how an immigrant population from a developing country, with low education levels, became the most educated, highest-earning ethnic community in the world’s most advanced nation in almost a single generation,” says Basu.