Indians in USA: Three Million Heroes
- Indians in USA....Bennett VoylesThree Million Heroes
To me, as a kid growing up in the western US in the 1970s, Indians were the guys in the moccasins who tried to sneak up behind John Wayne. We learnt in geography class that there were people we called Indian Indians, but India remained very far away (I donï¿½t think, for example, that I ever had a chance to try Indian food until well into college). I wasnï¿½t alone in my provincialism. Prasad Kaipa, an adviser to CEOs and executives who divides his time between Campbell, California, and the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, remembers when he first came to the US 32 years ago as a post-doctoral student in Salt Lake City, people thought of him as Mowgli, the boy in Disneyï¿½s Jungle Book.
Later, when the movie Gandhi came out in the ï¿½80s, they started thinking of him as Gandhi. In the ï¿½90s, they thought, ï¿½if you are from India, that must mean you are an engineer.ï¿½
To an extent, our myopia was understandable. Even in 1990, there were only 50,000 Indians living in the US. But thatï¿½s all changed: now, there are more than 2.8 million people of Indian origin in the United States, according to the US Census.
Most unusually, most of these new arrivals have not had to work their way up from the bottom, in the traditional way ï¿½ the hard-scrabble journey that tends to begin the way one Italian immigrant summed up his experience around the turn of the century: when he got off the boat, he was disappointed to find first, that the streets were not paved with gold. Second, that they were not paved at all. And third, that he was expected to pave them.
Yellow Brick RoadIndians, by contrast, have found themselves skipping up a yellow brick road, by and large. No immigrant group has achieved so much so quickly. Indians now enjoy the highest income of any ethnic group in the US ï¿½ more than $90,000 a year per household, according to US Census figures. By comparison, the average household takes home about $50,000.
In a number of skilled professions, Indians have excelled. Today there are close to 35,000 Indian physicians, according to the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin. There are hundreds of thousands of engineers as well ï¿½ many of Silicon Valleyï¿½s programmers are Indian: in all, 300,000-plus Indians work in IT.
Indian entrepreneurs abound as well, and not only in Silicon Valley. Almost half the countryï¿½s 47,000 hotels are now owned by Indians, and were worth nearly $129 billion in 2010, according to the Asian American Hotel Owners Association. By comparison, the National Association of Black Hotel Owners and Developers estimates that roughly 500 hotels are owned by African Americans. Even the business of educating people about business is increasingly Indian. The largest single ethnic group in business schools today are Indians: the deans of Harvard Business School, the University of Chicagoï¿½s Booth School of Business, Cornell University Business School, are all of Indian origin.
Brand NRI in PoliticsNot surprisingly, perhaps, in a political system where money talks clearly and distinctly, Brand NRI is now coming on strong in politics as well. Two of Americaï¿½s 50 governors are Indian.
Twelve Asians are running for Congress in this election cycle, and some are regarded as potential stars. One candidate, Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, was at 21 the youngest woman ever elected to her state legislature in 2002. If all 12 win, it means that of the 435 seats of Congress, 2.7% will be held by people of south Asian origin ï¿½ not too bad given that they will wield far more power they should have by demographic right, given that Indians make up less than 1% of the population of 315 million. All in all, the perception of Indian-Americans is now a long way from Mowgli the Man-Cub. Today, Kaipa says there is a kind of ï¿½grudging admiration of Indian accomplishmentsï¿½a certain sense of acceptance in western society, much more than there was beforeï¿½.