When one thinks of immigrant populations, usually the groups that come to mind are the Irish, Chinese, Koreans, Hispanics, Italians, or even Cubans and Puerto Ricans, and rightly so because some of these groups are even among the very first settlers of the United States. One group that may not come to mind are the Indians. Until recently, very little was known about Indians. By Indians one does not mean Native Americans, rather a new population from India who has been increasingly immigrating to the United States.
There is much to be said about Indian involvement and integration into American culture beginning from their early immigration, jobs and education, and political involvement, as well as their religion and culture and how it has affected American culture, and finally the newly emerging second generation of Indian Americans. Prior to 1906, very few Indians came over to the West because they believed that the black water separating the East from West was dangerous. For this reason, most of the immigrants to cross over were young Christian men who were brought over as indentured servants or slaves through England, which ruled India at the time.
Between 1820 and 1898 only 523 Indians immigrated to North America. Most of these immigrants were unskilled workers or agricultural laborers who married and blended into the slave population. After the Civil War, Indian immigration was not favored by the US Consul because it was believed that, “Indians [were] of no value to the American West. ” Following 1898 until around 1913, close to seven thousand Indians came to the United States, some as students but more as railroad workers. To lessen confusion with the Native American population, Indians were referred to as Hindus, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Some American groups formed in response to the apparent threat of these new immigrants. One such group, the Asian Exclusion League, included Indians in its agenda to oppose Asian immigration. In their first report of the “Hindoo question,” the AEL warned that East Indians were “untrustworthy, immodest, unsanitary, insolent, and lustful. ” There was very little immigration activity between 1913 and 1965. This can be attributed to the tumultuous activities taking place in America at the time such as wars, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement.
After 1965 however, Congress implemented massive reforms that equalized immigrant quotas, especially for Asian countries. Due to these reforms, there has been a tremendous explosion in the Indian immigrant population since 1965. It is estimated that there are around 1. 7 million Indian Americans in North America today. This is roughly . 6 percent of the entire U. S. population. Indian Americans make up 16. 4 percent of the entire Asian American population. In 1990, the Indian American population was 815, 447 but jumped to 1,678,765 in 2000, an amazing leap of 863,318 immigrants in 10 years.
In fact, “The population of the Indian American community is nearly equal to the entire population of the State of Nebraska. ” The five most populous cities in terms of Indian Americans are New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington DC. Unlike most other immigrant groups, Indian Americans are amongst the wealthiest and best educated communities in the entire United States. The median household income for Indian Americans is $60,093 compared to $41,110 for non-Hispanic white families.
This is not to say that poverty within this group does not exist, for it does, especially among the elderly and single women households. This high income can be partially due to the fact that close to 20 percent of Indian American household have as many as three wage earners. Indian Americans have also excelled in education. More than sixty-seven percent of foreign born Indians have advanced degrees, compared to twenty-one percent of U. S. born Indian Americans. In addition to this high educational attainment, Indian Americans tend to have professional specialty occupations.
Around thirty percent of Indian Americans hold professional jobs compared to thirteen percent of the entire U. S. population. Despite all of these accomplishments, Indian Americans do not take part often in politics. Although there have been some political leaders from the Indian American population, very few participate in politics. Hardly any Indian Americans vote in general elections and most are not even registered to vote. Out of the seventy-five percent of foreign born citizens, only about one-third has become naturalized citizens, and among those remaining, about half are eligible for naturalization.
In terms of campaign contributions from Indian Americans, the numbers are even grimmer. Only around ten percent of Indian Americans contribute to a political party or candidate, although more than half of those contributions are under $100. Besides being leaders academically and economically, Americans have come to embrace more of the artistic and religious aspects of Indian culture. In more recent years, Indian culture has become more mainstream as more and more people have been introduced to Indian music and symbols through the mass media.
Everyone from the general public to celebrities has embraced Indian culture. Many designers have begun to produce clothing bearing Indian religious symbols such as the Ohm sign as well as shirts embroidered with Indian gods and goddesses such as Krishna or Gita. In several music videos played on the popular music channel, MTV, celebrities such as Madonna and Gwen Stefani from No Doubt have sported Indian clothing such as the salvar kamis (a pant and top suit) and the infamous bindi, the decorative dot worn by many Indian women.
Nowhere has Indian culture become more mainstream than in American music, especially the hip hop genre. Numerous musical artists, such as Missy Eliot and RedMan, have incorporated Indian music into their beats. The unfortunate thing however is that most of these artists use these Indian lyrics and beats because they simply like the sounds of them. Many do not understand the difference between Indian and Arab music. In fact, in many of the music videos some of these artists have belly dancers dancing to the Indian music and subtitles that are completely wrong.
Nonetheless, the general listening public has grown accustomed to these sounds, and has helped make these songs reach top ten lists across the country. Indian artists have even started becoming members of American bands such as Tony Kanal of No Doubt and Dave Baksh of Sum 41. Indian music has embraced the nightlife scene as well, especially in big cities such as New York City and Boston. Sunaina Marr Maira, in her book, “Desi in the House: Indian American Youth Culture in New York City”, talks about the subculture that second generation Indian Americans have created for themselves.