Their homeland has the second largest population in the world, yet in America they form one of our smallest minorities.
Americans were influenced by their beliefs long before the first immigrants arrived, and an important interchange of ideas has continued to the present day. Although many came to America as early as the turn of the century, they were denied citizenship until a congressional act granted it in 1946. Now they are students and teachers in our universities; they are artists and writers, musicians and scientists. Their contributions to industry, commerce, and agriculture have been valuable to America and to the world. Who are these people? They are the East Indians in America. Asian Indians have supplied innumerable contributions to the culture and well being of the United States; the majority of these contributions are geared notably to engineering and the sciences.
The reason for immigration in the period from 1830-1890 is quite clear. India was in a great shape. However when the British took over India, they depleted the country of all her wealth and gave her poor citizens no choice but to leave.
The main reason why everybody wants to go to the United States is because if they would go somewhere else, like France or Japan although they would get higher wages, there is much greater chance of getting harassed, arrested or deported in those countries as opposed to the United States (Takai 32). Here in the United States land remained plentiful and cheap. Jobs were abundant and labor was scarce. The United States, in the nineteenth century, remained a strong magnet to immigrants, with offers of jobs and land for farms (Hess 12). The Jews came for religious freedom, Italians and Asians came for work, and the Russians came to escape persecution.
America had jobs and religious freedom. Consequently, America was referred to in many countries as the “Land of Opportunity”. This is land is also often called the “melting Pot of the World”. This is because it is believed that people from all over the world come to the United States and loose their cultural identity and ‘melt’ into or assimilate into the American culture.
However, nowadays, the above is an unfair statement to make. Nowadays with the growing Chinese restaurants, Indian grocery stores, and European languages is school, etc., one can say that individual cultures are trying hard to voice their distinction amongst the overall “American culture”. One can therefore refer to the United States as the “Salad Bowl of the World” where every culture has its own flavor, just like in a salad, where every vegetable has its own taste even though it has a common dressing, the American culture. Amongst the Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, etc. and other immigrants, the East Indians represented a big group of those people who wanted to be part of the “American culture”. The East Indians, who came to America, were mostly spread out in little groups up and down the West Coast (Pavri 56).
Their story is an especially important part of the history of Asian Americans, for they were a new kind of immigrant. The large majorities of the first immigrants from India were Punjabis, from a region called the Punjab. Most of these immigrants were young men, between 16 and 35 years old (Daniels 33). Many of them were married; however, they did not bring their wives across the sea with them. Their family and community ties remained strong after they left home; they came to America in small groups of cousins and village neighbors, and these relationships formed a network of interconnections among them in the new country as they lived and worked together. They had many reasons for leaving their homeland. They were being repressed by the British rule and had no land to farm on.
To make matters worse, famine devastated India from 1899 to 1902. Thus, large-scale immigration began in 1906, when six hundred Asians applied to enter the United States (Millis 32). These families became the basis for the new East Indian communities. They had come to the United States with high hopes, expecting to make their fortunes, but they discovered that life in America was unexpectedly challenging. Some found it hard to get work.
Moreover, those who had jobs lived a life very different from the life they have known in India (Karitala 2). Instead of belonging to a settled community of families, they traveled from place to place with their work gangs. And although most of them had been farmers of farm laborers in the Punjab region of India, in America they often had to turn to other kinds of work (Dayes 22).
Many of them encountered prejudice, born of ignorance and fear. White sometimes associated the Asian Indian immigrants with blacks, Chinese, or Japanese (22). Often the Asian Indians were lumped together with other Asian peoples as “Asiatics,” whom prejudices whites considered unfit to be part of American society (22). Samuel L.
Gompers, a leader of the American Labor Movement, said, “Sixty years’ contact with the Chinese, and twenty-five years’ experience with the Japanese and two or three years’ acquaintance with Hindus should be sufficient to convince any ordinarily intelligent person that they have no standards(Brass 45)” The Asians were often blamed for the violence directed against them by whites, who knew nothing of Asian peoples and often misinterpreted their behavior. “In all cases, we may say the Oriental is at fault,” declared the Asiatic Exclusion League, an organization whose goal was to keep Asian immigrants out of western states (Pavri 24). The Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, traveled to North America.
When he applied for entry to the United States, Tagore encountered difficulties and when he finally made it to the country, he experienced racial prejudice in Los Angeles. Tagore canceled his tour and promptly returned to India, saying in disgust, “Jesus could not get into America because, first of all, He would not have the necessary money, and secondly, He would be an Asiatic. (Hundley 45)” Despite the difficulties they encountered, they felt that life in America had more to offer than they could expect in their homeland.
The definition of “American” is becoming broader and more multicultural. At the same time, however, a few people feeling threatened by the growing diversity that they see around them in streets, stores, and schools, have lashed out in hate crimes against people whose ethnic backgrounds are different from theirs. In recent years, Asian Indians have been among the victims of violence fueled by prejudice. (Hess 42) While many of these people have become self-employed entrepreneurs by choice, others have found themselves pushed into self-employment by discrimination.
Similarly, an Asian Indian engineer who had worked for a company for some twenty years told his friend, “They management never give you Asian Indians an executive position in the company. You can only go up so high and no more. (Brass 69)” Frustrated by limited opportunities to advance in their careers, many Asian Indian professionals have turned to opening their own businesses. Furthermore, their turbans and their dark skin brought the Sikhs taunts and verbal abuse from whites. They were called by insulting names such as “rag-heads” and treated as inferior beings (Hundley 38). One California Sikh recounted, “I used to go to Maryville every Saturday. One day a drunken white man came out of a bar and motioned to me saying, ‘Come here, slave!’ I said I was no slave man.
He told me that his race ruled India and America, too. (39)” Assimilation has been a powerful source in American life, particularly in policies and attitudes toward immigrants in the twentieth century (Dayes 23) Furthermore, members of American minorities had learned that assimilation is not an all-or-nothing process. To complete the process, the enterprising minority individual must jump through several hoops (23). Similarly, all immigrant groups have faced the question of whether they should cling to their cultural roots or try to become “American” as quickly as possible. Assimilation-blending into the larger society-has been more difficult for Asian immigrants than for European ones, for Asians can be identified by their physical appearance even when their clothing, speech, and actions have been completely Americanized (Pavri 74).
Those Asians who choose to follow traditional customs stand out even more readily. The earliest Asian Indian immigrants to North America were singled out as “strangers” because of their turbans. Today, the customs of Asian Indian Americans continue to make them vulnerable to racism. Since they were denied the right to own land until 1947, property ownership is a matter of pride to East Indians (Daniels 47).
In San Francisco East Indians own or lease more than 50 hotels, forming the second largest Indian community group in America. Most of the hotel owners from Gujarat, a state on the west coast of India (48). East Indians have been assimilated into their country and city surroundings. Their children are marrying Americans.
Their enthusiasms have transferred from cricket to baseball. In addition, East Indians are owners of machine shops, photo studios, restaurants, and many other successful businesses, including import-export firms and gift shops (Handlin 52). Some of the new comers were less prosperous and less educated than their fellow immigrants who were the professionals. Instead of entering law, medicine, or teaching, many of them turned to business. Beginning around 1980, North America saw the arrival of many Asian Indians who became self-employed and opened their own small business; some of these businesses, such as Indian restaurants and clothing shops, serve the needs of the growing ethnic community (54). Although the immigrants were often called “Hindus” or “Hindoos” in America, many of them were not followers of Hinduism, one of the major religions of India.
Some of them were Hindus and some were Muslims, followers of the Islamic faith, but most were Sikhs. Their religion was Sikhism, a blend of elements from Hinduism and Islam. Sikhs from the Punjab were highly regarded as soldiers by the British rulers of India. Sikh men had several distinctive characteristics. To demonstrate their religious commitment, they never shaved their religious commitment; they never shaved their beards or cut their hair. They wore turbans, for their faith required them to cover their heads in their temples. Many of them share the name Singh (lion), a sacred to Sikhs (Koritala 3).
In addition to appearance, many immigrants tried to retain their religious habits. The workers generally prepared their own food, and their diet depended upon their religion. Those who were Muslims did not eat pork. As a rule, they would not buy meat that had been prepared by other hands. The Hindus were vegetarians and usually had their own cooks in the camps.
The Sikhs ate mostly vegetables, fruit, and milk. In one of the camps, an Asian Indian told a woman visitor, “We eat no meat, this is, no beef-the cow is sacred.” The women snapped, “But you drink milk? And you cow gives you milk!” To which the man replied, “Yes, we drink our mother’s milk also, but we do not eat her! (Dayes 49)” India and America, though half a world apart, have for a long time exchanged concepts of a more perfect society for humankind. Immigrants from India feel quite at home in America’s climate of freedom and opportunity (Millis 33). Much of the conflict between old and new revolves around family life, the roles of women and children, and marriage-areas that in Indian culture are closely governed by tradition. Many young people aggravate at the rules imposed by their parents, who seem much stricter than other American parents do (38).
Perhaps the single most troublesome issue between parents and children in Asian Indian American families has been dating. In traditional Indian culture, dating is unheard of; boys and girls have very little contact with one another before marriage, which is arranged by their parents. Dating is completely foreign to traditional Indian ideas about the proper relationship between the sexes (40). The East Indian culture is one of the most diverse and traditional of the world.
Old and new customs conflict with one another in the realm of marriage. Among traditional Indians, marriages are arranged by families and are based upon such ideas as the social status and the wealth of the bride’s or groom’s family. In North America, on the other hand, marriage is regarded as a personal choice based on love. (Hess 103) In addition, the children of immigrants, who have grown up in two different worlds, face the special challenge of searching for their identity. Asian Indian children are no exception. At times, they feel confused, not knowing whether to think of themselves as Indians or as Americans.
At home, Indian values and customs remain strong-especially the tradition of unquestioning obedience to one’s father. Yet, at school and in the larger world, young people feel the pull of American culture and its values, which include questioning authority and making one’s own decisions. The result is frequent disagreement over how much freedom young Asian Indians should have. Asian Indian parents often try to raise their children in the traditional Indian manner, but young people increasingly feel the pull of Western styles. However, this attraction to the Western culture has made is easier for many Indians to understand and adapt to the Western world thus making significant contributions for its well being. For more than hundred years, America had enjoyed India’s written philosophies.
In 1893, Swami Vivekananda came to the United States from the Parliament of Religions (Dayes 76). His eloquence and enthusiasm made him one of the most popular speakers in the assembly of religious leaders from all around the world (76). Vivekananda was offered full professorship at both Harvard and Columbia Universities (76). His ideas and thoughts have influenced many American philosophers and historians such as Aldous Huxley, Will Durant, and Christopher Isherwood. Swami Vivekananda’s brilliant service to unity created a lasting link between India and America.
Furthermore, Gobindram Jhamandas was born in 1891 in Sind, an area that is now part of Pakistan (Hundley 45). He established the Watumull Foundation, which has built educational links between India and America. Today, This foundation brings highly qualified men and women to American universities for doctoral degrees or postgraduate work. India has bestowed several contributions to the United States in the field of science and medicine. Some of these significant people are Dr. Harbans L. Arora; a biologist from Rockefeller Institute, his work will tell us more about man’s brain, his memory systems, and his behavior (Handlin 73).
Dr. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar; the astrophysicist, his contributions enable us to study the internal constitution of the stars (74). Dr. Har Gobind Khorana; his scientific research work has contributed much to solving the mysteries of the genetic code, cancer, infectious diseases, and the aging process (75). Dr.
Narinder Singh Kapany; a graduate of the Watumall Foundation, was recently awarded honors for his invention of a laser instrument that performs an eye operation (75). These men have facilitated the study of science and have provided the society with valuable information. The East Indians have contributed in several other fields such as arts and education.
One of them is Zubin Mehta; the great music conductor and music director (Pavri 101). His romantic approach to conducting and his outstanding technical ability have been praised by critics and enjoyed by audiences in many nations. In addition, Ravi Shankar, one of India’s outstanding musicians has influenced American Jazz as well as popular music. He has popularized music of the sitar, a Hindu instrument resembling a guitar.
Mr. Shankar teaches sitar at the University of California’s Los Angeles Department of Ethno-Musicology (Pavri 102). Other Americans of East Indian descent have made important contributions in the field of education. Such as Santha Rama Rau; in the field of American literature and Dr. Chakravakti; professor of oriental religions and literature at Smith College in Massachusetts (Pavri 106). Today Indians are contributing in everything from the basic genetic code of the human body to the constitution of the stars.
Now, India is giving American scientists who are improving and prolonging our lives, and extending our environment from earth to space. Whether the Indians came initially thinking they would stay only temporarily, or whether they came as settlers seeking a new home, all of them found themselves changed by America as they built Sikh temples in the valleys of California, farmed the new land, practiced medicine, operated small businesses, and raised their children. The Asian Indian Americans have been changed by their experiences in the West, in the process they have also been changing America, making its society richer and more multicultural. Asian Indians have supplied innumerable contributions to the culture and well being of the US; the majority of these contributions are geared notably to engineering and the sciences. In addition, growing up in two cultures is a great challenge, yes, but not a problem. It is a difficult experience, but not one without its benefits.
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