Their struggle as immigrant minority and major contributions to the American society Asian Indians come from an area with the second largest population in the world, but form only one of the smallest minorities in the United States. America was influenced by their religious and political beliefs long before the first immigrants arrived in the 19th century. The congressional act of 1947 granted them citizenship. Now, Asian Indians hold many important occupations (students, teachers, writers, musicians, scientists). Their most important contributions are geared toward engineering and the sciences.
India was in a great shape up until the end of 19th century. When British arrived, the country was depleted of its wealth and resources. The poor had no choice but to come to the United States (The Land of the Free and the Land of Opportunity). The United States, due to the abundance of jobs and scarcity of labor, became a “Mecca” for immigrants from all over the world. The United States, in the nineteenth century, remained a strong magnet to immigrants, with offers of jobs and land for farms. Asians and Italians came for work, Russians came to escape persecution, and Jews came for religious freedom.
Immigrants from all over the world including Europe, China, and Japan wanted to experience the freedom of improving your life and being able to take care for one’s family. East Indians represented a big group that wanted to take part in American culture. The large majorities from India were Punjabis, from a region called the Punjab. Most of these immigrants were young men, between 16 and 35 years old. They left their families in India, and came here in small groups of cousins and village neighbors. Thus, the family and community ties remained very strong. They had several reasons to come to America.
They were 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. They came here in hopes of changing their lives around. Unfortunately, they soon found out that life in America was very challenging. Many Indians were farmers back in India, but when they came to the United States they had to take jobs no one else would. They also encountered prejudice. Whites sometimes associated the Asian Indian immigrants with blacks, Chinese, or Japanese.
Very often, Asian Indians were blamed for the violence directed towards them. Whites did not want or try to understand Indian culture and traditions. The Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore (a winner of the Noble 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. He cancelled his tour and 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. Despite of everything they encountered, the immigrants still believed that the life they left behind was much worse than thy life they faced in America. Another major problem Asian Indians faced came from the white population. Many people felt threatened by the increasing multi-cultural population. Many Indians had limited opportunities to advance their careers due to prejudice. Frustrated because of their current situation, they opened their own businesses, which gave them a lot more freedom and control of their own lives. Furthermore, whites taunted the Indians because of the color of their skin and wearing of traditional turbans.
They were called by insulting names such as “rag-heads” and treated as inferior beings. A California Sikh who came from India at that time said, “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. ” Assimilation has always been an important part of American life. Furthermore, American immigrants found out that assimilation is not a one step process. They were forced to complete several steps on their way to being American.
It was especially difficult for Indians because of their appearance (skin color, clothing, and distinctive speech). In East India, property ownership is a matter of pride. Unfortunately Indians were denied that simple right until 1947. Presently, Asian Indians own upward of 40 percent of all the motels in America with rooms of 150 and less. Asian Indians are following in the tradition of other immigrants, entering occupations or businesses that involve the entire family, said Bruce Stave, chairman of the history department at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
No figure exists, he said, yet stereotypes persist because when high numbers of immigrants become employed in specific occupations, their visibility is obviously greater. Another reason why Asian Indians go into motel business is because it provides work for the entire family. Each family member can clean carpets, fix broken equipment, and paint if necessary. Shah, who has owned the Coronet Motel in Berlin for five years, is an assistant foreman for Advanced Products Co. in New Haven. His wife, Pretta Shah, runs the motel and takes care of the family.
Sometimes when she comes to the registration counter, her diaper-clad son trails behind her. Not all the new comers are professional and well educated. These people opened their own small businesses such as restaurants and clothing stores, which serve many ethnic communities. Many people are under an assumption that someone who is called a Hindu follows the religion of Hinduism, which is not true. Some immigrants were Hindus, others were Muslims, and yet others were Sikhs. They follow a religion of Sikhism, a blend of elements from Hinduism and Islam.
Back in their homeland Sikhs and Punjab were thought of a soldiers by the British government. To demonstrate 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. Many immigrants also tried to retain their diet based to religious beliefs. For example, Muslims don’t eat pork and Hindus are vegetarian. On the other hand, Sikhs eat mostly vegetables, fruit, and milk.
The major conflict between the old and the new is centered directly around the family life. The roles of husband, wife, and their children are strictly governed by their traditions. Many young people aggravate at the rules imposed by their parents, who seem much stricter than other American parents. One of the most difficult issues between the parents and their children has been the idea of dating. The idea of dating is unheard of in an Indian culture. Parents arrange the marriage between their children, and both kids have limited contact with each other until the wedding.
Women marry very young based on Western standards, and men have total control over their wives, which are considered to be property of their husbands. This idea of an arranged marriage helps Indian couples to stay within the Indian cast system, which means that you cannot marry someone below yourself. It also has to do with the wealth of the bride or groom’s family. Fortunately, Indian kids raised in the United States understand that love is a very important determining factor in marriage. They do not learn this in their family homes, but when they go to school, their ideas of authority and making one’s own decisions are questioned.
Asian Indians have greatly contributed to the Americas’ well being. For example, in 1893, Swami Vivekananda came to the United States. His eloquence and enthusiasm made him on of the most popular speakers in the assembly of religious leaders from all around the world. His ideas and thoughts have influenced many American Philosophers and historians such as Aldous Huxley, Will Durant, and Christopher Isherwood. The East Indians have had other contributions in the fields of art and education. One of them is Zubin Mehta; a very well known music conductor and music director.
His technical ability when conducting has made him famous around the world. 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. Boston is a very good example of a city that attracts immigrants of different nationalities. Boston universities attract many bright students from around the world, and the booming high-tech industry attracts a well-educated immigrant population.
Foreign-born residents – 13 percent of the state’s population of 6 million – say that software, the Internet, and biotechnology provide a discrimination-free arena in which they are judged, by what they can do. And they do a lot, either through tenacity or with advantages of being educated in school systems superior to the American system. Also many bright students, who were denied acceptance to prestigious Indian schools, come to America and are easily accepted to top-notch colleges, including Harvard.
Asian Indians contribute to our society in a variety of ways, ranging from deciphering our genetic code to observing the stars. Many Asian Indians work in the medical field improving the technology and prolonging our lives. 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. Many came to this country with hopes of some day returning to their homeland.
Fortunately, once they saw the opportunity for a better life America offered, they decided to stay. Asian Indians were significantly changed by this experience; especially the second generation (children). In a positive way, they also have been changing America. Because of them, America became richer and more multicultural. When they left their homes in India, they faced years of hardships and prejudice. Fortunately, this bold move was not without benefits for both Indians and Americans.