South Asians in the US: India Abroad (2005)

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Achievements: Business, Entrepreneurship, and Philanthropy, Appointments, Awards, Government Involvement, Less Typical Successes
III. US-Policy and India: US-India Relations, Immigration and Visas, NRI Involvement in India, India
IV. Culture and Business: Religious Announcements, Current Affairs, Cultural Events and Festivals, News Announcements
V. Conferences and Organizations: Medical/Science Organizations, AAPI and its Annual Convention, Other Occupational Organizations, Religious Organizations, Ethnic/Cultural Organizations, Other Conferences and Organizations
VI. Being Indian in America: Discrimination
VII. Being Indian in America: Opinion Pieces: The TeenSpeak Column, Other Opinion Pieces
VIII. A Practical Matter: Addressing the Reality of Two Cultures: A Youthful Understanding of Indian American, The Trials of Old Age and Cultural Ties
IX. Conclusion
X. Endnotes
XI. Bibliography

Introduction

India Abroad , the oldest Indian publication in North America[1], is a weekly paper established in 1970 with a current circulation of 70,000.[2] The summer of 2005 brought many interesting achievements and current events to India Abroad’s pages. Through looking at individual awards, recognitions, business ventures, and achievements, we can see what the Indian American community is accomplishing. Articles discussing US-India relations, immigration, visas, Non-Resident Indian (NRI) involvement in India, and current events in India provide an idea of the topics that matter to South Asians in the US. Religious announcements, cultural events and festivals, and general news announcements portray the activity of the South Asian community in the US and vividly demonstrate the roots they have established here. A particularly large trend in India Abroad this summer was the string of conferences held by numerous Indian American organizations. Ranging from occupational to religious, the conferences addressed issues that are important to the communities they represent. India Abroad also published many opinion pieces on being Indian American and articles about the blending of cultures. In addition, news articles about discrimination and racial profiling appeared, although infrequently, along with articles about interactions with other cultural groups. Ultimately, what appears in India Abroad is a sampling of what the South Asian community is interested in and involved with in everyday life in the United States.

Achievements

Indian Americans have a reputation for being hard-working and successful. India Abroad frequently highlights the successes and achievements of South Asians in the US through articles detailing business ventures, appointments, and acts of philanthropy, as well as blurbs mentioning awards and accomplishments of individuals.

Business, Entrepreneurship, and Philanthropy

A sidenote in the July 15th issue of India Abroad stated that Indians in the United States earn more than natives. The average per capita income for Indians in the US is $60,093, while the US average is $38,885. This may be due to the high education levels of Indian Americans. Two examples of highly financially successful Indian Americans that were highlighted by this summer’s India Abroad are particularly noteworthy. Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, who is running in 2006 for Lt. Governor of Illinois and holds both an MD and an MBA, is teaming up with Canadian Arrow to start commercial flights to outer space. The flights will cost $250,000 and will include a 45-minute orbital flight that goes in a circle around the globe. Dr. Kathuria co-founded the company MirCorps with Russia; it sent the first space tourist in 2000.

In an act of philanthropy, Kiran Patel and his wife Pallavi donated $18.5 million to South Florida University to fund a center that will work towards solutions to ‘real human problems’ (India Abroad, page A6, June 3, 2005). This is “one of the largest single acts of philanthropy ever by an Indian American” (India Abroad, page A6, June 3, 2005). The June 10th issue published an interview with Dr. Patel, who said he likes to support projects that will have an impact on a lot of people. The Patel Center “will develop models that have local, national, and global applications” (India Abroad,page A28, June 10, 2005). It will involve practical application of research to see if theories work and will be both a think-tank and a “do-tank.”

Appointments

A few South Asians were also appointed to key positions over the summer. For example, Dr. Rajeev Venkayya, transitioning from clinical to governmental work, is now Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Biological and Chemical Defense at the White House Homeland Security Council. He will be in charge of policy development regarding bioterrorism, naturally occurring biological threats, and the medical consequences of weapons of mass destruction. Dr. Ashok G Kaveeshwar, nominated by President George W Bush, has been named the first administrator of the Department of Transportation’s new Research and Innovative Technology Administration. In addition, Damayanti Vasudevan, born in Gujarat, is now vice president of diversity and inclusion at RR Donnelley, the largest commercial printing company in North America. She works on promoting these values both within her company and in the US corporate world. Other appointments include Amish Mehta as chairman of Corel Corporation, a packaged software provider, and Sultan Ahamed as chairman of the Physician Insurers Association of America, which includes over fifty professional liability insurance companies that are owned by doctors and dentists.

Awards

Throughout the pages of India Abroad are countless mentions of the awards Indian Americans are winning. Spelling bees and various engineering awards come up often, but there are also many distinguished honors that stand out. Here is a select list of the awards Indian Americans received in the summer of 2005:

Government Involvement

In addition to these incredible achievements, the summer issues of India Abroad reflect that Indian Americans are becoming increasingly involved in US politics. Currently, Indian American Bobby Jindal serves as a vocal Republican Congressman for Louisiana; he appeared in numerous issues of India Abroad voicing his opinion on the relationship between the US and India. Dilip Paliath, also a Republican, plans to run from District 42 for a Maryland Senate seat in 2006. At a conference, Paliath spoke about Indian involvement in US politics, and, with New Jersey Democratic legislator Upendra Chivukula (who plans to run for the 6th District Congressional seat in New Jersey), emphasized the importance of South Asians being involved in local politics (i.e. local legislation, school boards, etc.), as this is where most of what affects them will take place. The two men pushed for an organization that would look specifically at policy advocacy to help South Asians achieve what they want and need in terms of American politics.

In Ohio, Subodh Chandra has plans to run for the state’s attorney general position, as announced in the June 17th issue. A Democrat, he has served as acting mayor in Cleveland in the place of Mayor Jane L. Campbell, and is a practitioner in residence at the Law School of Case Western Reserve University. Hoping that the Indian American community will support him, particularly financially, he plans to rid the Ohio government of corruption through focusing on the public interest of its citizens. Chandra has the support of former Ohio Governor Richard Celeste, former Congressman and current state Senator Eric Fingerhut, and Cleveland Mayor Jane L Campbell.

Less Typical Successes

With so much discussion of Indian Americans in more lucrative careers like medicine, engineering, business, and government, and achieving more expected honors like spelling bee champion or valedictorian, it is easy to forget that Indian Americans are involved in many other aspects of American life. India Abroad frequently highlights the lives of Indian Americans engaged in less typical career paths, demonstrating the breadth of their interests and involvement. In the June 3rd issue, Indian Americans mourned the death of Ismail Merchant, described as “the most visible Indian-American filmmaker” (India Abroad, page A11, June 3, 2005). Born in Bombay, Merchant got involved in many different arenas and made a lasting impact on both Indians and Americans. Many other Indian Americans are currently contributing to the arts in the US and Canada. Devika Mathur is one of the top 32 contestants on Canadian Idol; Naveen Andrews has been nominated for an Emmy for best supporting actor in Lost; Manu Narayan has received the 2005 Upakar Community Artist of the Year award[3] for his contributions as a saxophonist and performer, particularly as the lead in Broadway’s Bombay Dreams; and Deep Roy, a midget who appears in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is interviewed in the July 22nd issue, where he discusses playing 165 roles.

Beyond more traditional careers and the frequent mentions of Indian Americans in the arts, India Abroad also puts the spotlight on individuals venturing into field less frequently chosen by South Asians in the US. Amy Patel, a recent graduate of West Point, is happily serving the United States through military duty; her brother is currently at West Point. Mary Anne Mohanraj is an erotica writer of South Asian decent who “fell into” the career. She loves discussing something that is such a cultural taboo and feels it is extremely important to accurately portray sex. On how she came to look at her upbringing in relation to her career, she says, “Like many immigrants, my parents preserved an understanding of their culture and practices as they were when they left their home country—traditional and fairly conservative. It was clear to me growing up that my life was far more circumscribed than the lives of my [white] friends” (India Abroad, page M5, July 17, 2005). Aruna Jha, taking on a grave issue very rarely addressed in a public forum, launched the Asian American Suicide Prevention Initiative in early May in Chicago. It is intended to be a community of people to work towards preventing suicides.

The magazine of the June 3rd issue also highlighted Indian Americans who changed their careers to something more off the beaten path. Examples range from publicist to fitness classes instuctor, from lawyer to head of a non-profit, from dot.com-er to active advocate of the LGBTU (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Union) community, and from computer scientist to children’s book illustrator. The article noted that in the South Asian community, success is often measured in scientific terms, with doctors, engineers, and computer scientists considered the most successful. The author believed that this has something to do with the American Dream’s emphasis on money as a measure of success. However, this article articulates the diversity within the Indian American community and the alternative forms of success that are less obvious.

US Policy and India

Another large category in India Abroad is the relations between US and India. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US dominated the US-India relations arena, other major topics such as visa regulations, the immigration implications of the Real ID Act, NRI investment in India, and current events in India also proved to be important issues that appeared frequently in India Abroad.

US-India Relation

sThe largest topic regarding US-India relations for the summer was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s first official visit to the United States, which was also the first official visit by an Indian prime minister in five years. The visit spurred countless articles on US-India relations and US policy regarding India that led up to Singh’s visit. In the July 8th issue, it was announced that Singh would address a joint session of Congress, which the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans had been pressing for. President Bush held a state dinner with assorted government people, Congressional leaders, senior members of the Armed Forces, leading CEOs, and other important leaders of multinationals doing business in India. Others in attendance were Indian Americans who have started organizations in the US. Economics were predicted to dominate the discussions between the two leaders, although the energy demand, terrorism, and defense cooperation were other predicted topics. On a related matter, India Abroad ran a series of articles discussing the unlikelihood of the US supporting an added seat to the United Nations Security Council and India’s bid for it, a topic that was likely discussed during Singh’s visit.

President Bush’s strategies regarding India were also addressed throughout the summer in India Abroad. An article in the June 24th issue said that Bush’s goal of developing strong relationships with South Asian countries has been achieved. It also discussed the strength of the United States’ commitment to establishing strong ties with India on matters of politics, economics, commerce, and security. However, in a later issue, Aziz Haniffa, India Abroad’s National Affairs Editor, criticized President Bush’s strategy for dealing with India. The opinion piece took an extremely sarcastic and patronizing tone. Addressed to President Bush, it discussed how he interacts with the Prime Minister of India and what he is doing in terms of the US’s relationship with India. Haniffa specifically talked about India’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and the US’s support of Japan’s bid, despite India’s qualifications and positive potential (India Abroad, July 15, 2005).

Immigration and Visas

An important topic relevant to the lives of Indian Americans is the immigration aspect of the Real ID Act, which came up in many articles this summer in India Abroad. An article in the May 20th issue outlined the problems South Asian immigrants—particularly illegal ones—may have. According to the article, some representatives believe that stricter rules for getting a driver’s license will help prevent terrorism. Immigration claims and asylum claims can be denied, causing problems for legal immigrants as well. Deepa Iyer, executive director of the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, commented in the article, saying that the Real ID Act is based in neither practicality nor fairness (India Abroad, page A12, May 20,2005). Despite the downsides of the Real ID Act, the Health Improvement and Professionals Act now makes 50,000 new visas available for nurses and their families. This bill is intended to ensure the continuance of high quality healthcare in the United States.

Another substantial topic in India Abroad is visa regulation. At the Global IIT Alumni Conference in May, Harvard President Larry Summers talked about how the visa regulations for international students need to be less tight, especially because Indian and Chinese students are so important for the US and its schools. Other articles informed Indian Americans about where to get visas during this busy time of year; still others discussed the numbers of applications for different kinds of visas and evaluated the demand for them, such as one article that expressed surprise at the low demand so far for H1-B visas, or visas for temporary employment in specialty occupations, which have a cap of 65,000, and attributed the cause to employment outsourcing to India and China (India Abroad, July 15, 2005).

NRI Involvement in India

India Abroad also publishes articles targeted at Non-Resident Indians who are interested in supporting India financially. There are often pleas from India’s Ambassador to the United States, Ronen Sen, for NRIs to invest in India rather than giving charity. Sen’s speeches at the NFIAconference and the AAPI conference expressed this desire and were written about in India Abroad. In both speeches, Sen commended the achievements of Indian Americans and discussed India’s orientation toward the future as a reason for NRI investment.

Along these lines of investment rather than charity, a group of Indian American physicians wants to set up trauma care centers in Mumbai, and they have been approved in principle by the Maharashtra government, according to the July 15th issue of India Abroad. They plan to set up 24/7 emergency medical services to lower the number of deaths attributed to auto accidents, as India has the highest rates for deaths and injuries caused by auto accidents. They will be modeled after American EMS and trauma centers. Dr. Navin Shah, former president of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, hopes that these trauma centers will be extremely helpful and successful in Mumbai and says that other Indian cities will be able to learn from what happens there.

India

Every issue of India Abroad also contains at least one article that focuses on India and the issues that are relevant to South Asians living in the US. For example, an article in the June 24th issue highlighted the quality healthcare in India and discussed the benefits of going there for surgery instead of having it done in the US. Not only is it substantially cheaper, but the quality of care is just as good, if not better. Some US private health insurers cover costs in other countries. Often a package includes airfare, the surgery, the stay in the hospital, and a day of tourism. The industry is called “health tourism” (India Abroad, page A40, June 24, 2005).

Also of interest to Indian Americans is India’s new dual citizenship policy, which was followed through its stages until the final policy was announced in the July 8th issue. People of Indian Origin (PIO) anywhere except Pakistan and Bangladesh can now have Indian citizenship. This comes with the stipulation that their country of residence allows it. The PIOs who take advantage of this Citizenship (Amendment) Ordinance 2005 will be called Overseas Citizens of India. The application card can be submitted anywhere in the world. In addition, the article announced a new entry visa called the U Visa, which is for long-term use and will be given to all OCI. This visa allows them to enter India at any time and for any length of time.

Culture and BusinessIndia Abroad, in addition to covering individual achievements and news involving local and international politics and issues, also highlights religious and cultural events relevant to Indian Americans. Announcements and reviews of openings, gatherings, festivals, and news stories of interest to the readership grace the pages of India Abroad to inform the South Asian community of both local and national events.

Religious Announcements

Temple openings and anniversaries are frequently announced in India Abroad. Often the announcements are accompanied by invitations to celebratory events and festivals. Among the many openings this summer were Hindu temples in Orlando and Casselberry, Florida. The celebration in Casselberry lasted five days and over 7,500 people were served food. A particularly significant opening was that of the reconstructed Jain Center of America in Elmhurst, New York in July. Since 1982, the temple was in a residential building. The construction cost approximately $6 million, which was raised mostly by the diamond and colorstone industry (India Abroad, page C5, July 8, 2005). The temple, which has a mailing list of 1500 families, is unique because it is for multiple Jain sects, all under one roof. There are four floors with different themes/aspects for different sects; in addition, there is a reception room/senior center, a roof-top garden and dining hall, and a basement with a gallery of Jain art, student computers, and other technological equipment. Other communities celebrated anniversaries this summer. The Hindu Jain Temple of Greater Pittsburgh celebrated its 21st anniversary, while the Dawoodi Bohras in Queens celebrated the 94th birthday of the Syedna, who is the spiritual head of the 1.2 million Dawoodi Bohras Muslim sect worldwide.

Other religious events highlighted in India Abroad this summer were a Youth Night for Indian Christian youth leaders sponsored by the Federation of Indo-American Christians of Greater Chicago and a four-day convention held by the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, a Roman Catholic Church based in Kerala.

Cultural Events and Festivals

Beyond the religious events and current affairs, this summer brought many cultural gatherings for Indian Americans across the country. The Asian Pacific American Council of Georgia, an umbrella organization, held its 20th annual banquet in Atlanta, while the Coalition of India Organizations held its 19th Annual Folk and Movie Dance Competition in New Jersey. In July, the Rangoli Foundation for Art and Culture celebrated its 20th anniversary in Los Angeles with a dance festival that featured both traditional and new works. In addition, the Cleveland Cultural Gardens added an Indian cultural garden, marking their 23rd culture.

There were events for children as well, such as Robin Singh’s two-week coaching session on cricket in New Jersey. A cricket camp in Mississippi, however, outnumbered Singh’s session with an attendance of 225 children, making it the largest cricket camp in the nation. The camp was run by the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center.

Current Affairs

India Abroad also covered news stories about the interactions of religious groups and the responses organizations have to religion-related topics. One particularly large story was the the Hindu American Foundation’s July filing of the first Supreme Court amicus curiae (friend of court brief) that provided a non-Judeo-Christian perspective on the issue of the Ten Commandments verdict (India Abroad,, page A11, July 8, 2005). The brief had ten co-signatories in total. HAF agreed with the ruling regarding the Kentucky courthouses, because “the overtly Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments effectively promote a religion over other religious traditions” (India Abroad,, page A11, July 8, 2005), but was disappointed with the decision to allow the Ten Commandments monument to remain at the Texas Capitol. HAF said that the court’s decision to judge such issues on a case-by-case basis is a relief to Hindus. The Hindu American Foundation is also working on encouraging Americans, especially Hindu Americans, to see what is going on in Bangladesh and Pakistan and to hopefully get the US to do something about it. They are highlighting the human rights violations that occur there.

Another interesting story was the commotion at the Tulsa zoo. The zoo has a Ganesha figure in its elephant exhibit; the board maintains that Ganesha is in the zoo as a cultural, not a religious, symbol and is placed near the elephants to depict how Hindus perceive the elephant. Dan Hicks, however, a member of the Southern Plains Creation Society who is arguing for a creation exhibit involving the six days of creation from Genesis, cites the board’s and mayor’s approval of other religious items, like Ganesha, as reasons for the approval of his exhibit. As of June 8th, the exhibit is in the beginning stages of conditional approval, with the board assisting the zoo in creating “a new culture-based display that will encompass several widely held concepts on the origins of our world. This display will serve as an addition to the zoo’s ‘Time Gallery’ exhibit that shows a science-based description of the origins of the universe and planet, including the evolution view” (India Abroad, page A15, July 22, 2005).

Sikhs were particularly put in the spotlight this summer in India Abroad. The White House hosted a Sikh American Heritage Dinner, one of the largest Sikh gatherings at the White House. In June, a group of Sikh community leaders met with Jim Towey and Jennifer Sullivan of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to discuss receiving federal funding for some of the programs run by Sikh gurdwaras and community centers. In July, for the first time ever, Sikhs participated in Washington DC’s Fourth of July Parade, thanks to the Miri Piri Sikh Gatka Dal of Houston, Texas, which arranged the participation. In addition, the Punjabi American Heritage Society held their 11th annual Punjabi American Festival in Yuba City, California. The event drew 13,000 people. Many honors were given, both to Sikhs who experienced harassment or job discrimination and to white Americans who hired or supported Sikhs. Sikh community leaders were also honored. Sikhs also had an important presence at an international interfaith conference called “Critical Moment in Interreligious Dialogue,” which was held at the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Center in Geneva and focused on action. Dr. Tarunjit Singh, chair of the Interfaith Committee of World Sikh Council-America Region, moderated a session on taking action after dialogue and discussion.

News Announcements

This summer, India Abroad published articles on current events that are of particular interest to the South Asian community in the United States. For example, it was announced in the July 22nd issue that, beginning November 15th (although still subject to government approval), American Airlines will be running a daily flight from Chicago to Delhi. Many airlines are working on new flight routes since India and the United States signed an open skies agreement in January of 2005.

India Abroad also highlighted a few new stories from the art world. MTV launched a desi channel this summer that will be available with DirecTV’s HindiDirect residential package. While the channel is aimed at serving the needs of South Asians that are not addressed by the mainstream media, they are hoping that it will also draw the attention of other Americans and people of other cultures. Nusrat Durrani, General Manager and Senior Vice President of MTV World, said that, while music is a large component, it is also about telling the community’s stories (India Abroad,, page A25, July 22, 2005). As a further testament to Indian culture becoming more a part of the American pop culture scene, ArtWallah, which holds a summer arts festival every year, recently published a guide called Shabash! Version 2.0: The Hip Guide to All Things South Asian in North America. Further, Indo-American Films has created a series, Four Weeks in Bombay, which is currently being broadcast over the internet. Californian Phil Mikol, an average, 20-year old American college student who lives at home, is put in Mumbai with $20 for two weeks. The series follows his trials and adventures and will most likely be shown at colleges throughout the country.

In more academic news, the Hindu University of America in Orlando awarded its first doctorate on June 25th to Mona Khaitan, who earned a Doctor of Hindu Studies degree. “The Hindu University of America aims to provide learning, research, and training in a broad spectrum of topics related to Vedic/Hindu culture, including religions, philosophies, and practices” (India Abroad,, page C5, July 8, 2005). Meanwhile, Rutgers University in New Jersey recently launched a South Asian Studies program in response to student demand and faculty interest.

Another important news story of the summer was the death of Bhakti Tirtha Swami. The world’s first African-American Hindu guru died of melanoma cancer in Pennsylvania in June at the age of 55. Born John E Favors to an evangelical Baptist family in Cleveland, he took the vows of sanyasa (to become a celibate monk) in 1979. Among many achievements, Bhakti Tirtha Swami was the leader of ISKCON, was crowned as high chief in Nigeria for his outstanding work in Africa, traveled behind the Iron Curtain in the 1970s to meet with scholars in Eastern Europe, and spoke with world leaders like Nelson Mandela on contemporary issues and his spiritual perspective on them.

Conferences and Organizations

In addition to the bustle of religious and cultural events and assorted premieres, publications, and news stories, this summer saw a slew of conferences. Organizations with focuses ranging from occupational to religious held events that drew big-name speakers, large attendances, and media attention.

Medical/Science Organizations

Due to the large numbers of Indian Americans with careers in medicine, engineering, and other scientific fields, there are countless organizations representing these areas. Notably, the first South Asian American Health Conference was held at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey and was co-sponsored by AAPI and the South Asian Public Health Association. More than 200 people were in attendance. The Conference focused on diabetes and heart disease, which are rising problems in the Indian American and South Asian communities, especially in younger communities.

A particularly well-covered conference this summer was the Global Indian Institutes of Techonology Alumni Conference, held in the United States due to the large number of alumni who live and work here, despite the school’s location in India. The conference, which took place in Washington, DC in late May, was called “Technology Without Borders.” Harvard President Larry Summers spoke at the event on draconian visa regulations that make it difficult for international students to study in the US. Harris Miller spoke on a panel at the conference on US-India Business Collaboration and “turned on India,” accusing the country of making it difficult to successfully complete negotiations with the US (India Abroad, page A32, June 10, 2005).

In addition, the Association of Indian Physicians of Northern Ohio and BAPS Medical Services held their 6th annual health fair in Ohio in April at the BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Mandir in Brunswick (a suburb of Cleveland). The fair offered free medical services, including laboratory tests. At the Confederation of Indian Industry’s National Conference on HIV/AIDS, another medical event held in late May, Robert Blake spoke about how important it is to understand the impact of HIV/AIDS in India and how Indian Americans in the business community and the private sector can get involved in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in India. The National AIDS Council, National AIDS Control Organization, and the AIDS Prevention and Control Project all had representatives present. The Indian American Urology Association and the Association of Scientists of Indian Origin also held conferences over the summer.

AAPI and its Annual Convention

The organization (and its conference) that received the most coverage this summer was the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin. AAPI experienced a fair amount of election-related and embezzlement controversy in 2004 and 2005. Dr. Sampat Shivangi, who won the election for president of AAPI, stepped down and became vice president. Now he is filing for a temporary restraining order against AAPI, among other things, according to the June 24th issue of India Abroad. Dr. Shivangi maintains that he was pressured to withdraw from his position by Dr. Jagan Ailinani, who was serving as AAPI president, and the organization’s executive committee. Dr. Balasubramanium, another AAPI president, was also involved.

As a result of all this, many organizations that were under AAPI (which serves as an umbrella organization) have left or disassociated themselves from it. In addition, AAPI membership is particularly low. The new president, Dr. Vijay Koli, is working on reestablishing trust and then building back membership. In an interview that appeared in the July 8th issue of India Abroad, Dr. Vijay Koli talked about his role as AAPI President and what he needs to do to repair the organization. He talked about how he plans to “involve young physicians at a much higher level” in AAPI so that they could “take up leadership positions and ensure the survival of the organization as the leading Indian American professional organization” (India Abroad, page A16, July 8, 2005). His first task is to work on administrative effectiveness, then to address fiscal responsibility and accountability, and finally, to get younger physicians involved at a much higher level.

The AAPI Annual Convention held in Houston in mid-June was very well covered by India Abroad. The convention, titled “A Passage from India: A Legacy of Caring and Healing,” was inaugurated by Houston Mayor Bill White. Dr. Abraham Verghese, who spoke before DNC Chairman Howard Dean, the opening headliner of the convention, encouraged AAPI to start a medical school in the US. He talked about the good training Indian doctors have and how American medical school graduates rely too much on technology, whereas international medical school graduates have “a certain kind of knowledge, a certain kind of medicine, which has been particularly important in this technological age” (India Abroad, page A10, July 1, 2005). Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Pakistan and Pakistani-Americans, spoke about her admiration for Indian-Americans and discussed what she is doing in Congress to help the Indian American community. She particularly focused on Indian Americans’ contribution to healthcare in the US.

Ronen Sen, India’s Ambassador to the US, was the keynote speaker at the conference. He encouraged NRIs to invest in and share their expertise with India rather than giving charity. He also discussed India’s orientation toward the future. In addition to the well-respected speakers, entertainment, music, and “Bollywood” played an important role for the over 2,000 registered participants. AAPI’s membership is declining, probably due to competition with more specialized groups, so it tried especially hard this year to cater to the diverse entertainment and language needs of its members. The AAPI convention also included a Women’s Forum, organized by the Women’s Physician’s Committee.

Other Occupational Organizations

The South Asian Journalists Association held its annual convention at Columbia University in mid-June. Sreenath Srinivasan, co-founder of the association, will soon become Dean of Students at Columbia’s School of Journalism. The same weekend, the National South Asian Bar Association held its 2nd annual convention in DC and awarded Dalip Singh Saund the Attorney of the Year Award. Upakar also held its annual event in mid-June in Potomac, Maryland. It gave service awards to Indian Americans, including the 2005 Upakar Community Ambassador Award to medical student Chirag Patel and the Artist of the Year Award to Manu Narayan, a singer and saxophone player at the CMU College of Music.

The Asian American Convenience Store Association organized a convention in Florida in early July to address problems such as violence that convenience store owners face. There are 138,205 convenience stores in the US, 80,000 of which are owned by Indians, said the July 22nd issue of India Abroad. Topics discussed at the convention include security systems, employee training, liability insurance, and employee benefit packages, to help counter the large amounts of discrimination these Indian storeowners face. Indian grocery store owners were also invited to be part of the association and convention. Also in early July was a plumbing seminar organized by the New York Association of Indians in Construction Industry.

Religious Organizations

Many religious organizations also held conferences over the summer. While many of the conferences were aimed at people of a particular faith, there were at least two events that sought to attract a diverse attendance. Hofstra University held a seminar on Sikh mysticism during the first week of June called “Sikh Mysticism: Advanced Concepts in the Religious Philosophy of Sikhism.” It was attended by people from all over the US, Canada, England, and India, many of whom (though not all), were Sikhs. In addition, the International Center for Cultural Studies, USA organized a two-day conference in Antigua, Guatemala that focused on Hindu and Mayan elders sharing their belief systems. It aimed to look at both the similarities and differences between the cultures and traditions.

Many Hindu organizations held conferences for their particular sects. Brahman Samaj of North America held its annual conference in Virginia over the Fourth of July weekend with about 100 families in attendance. It involved discussions on health, the Vedas, religious scriptures, a cultural program, sessions on immigration and law, and opportunities for youth to discuss reincarnation, astronomy, ayurveda, and other topics. The theme was “Relevance of Brahmanatva in the 21st century.” 1500 attended the Kerala Hindus of North America convention in Vedic Nagar in Chicago. The spiritual event, also held over the Fourth of July weekend, introduced Swami Sathyananda Saraswathy’s plan for a “World Hindu Parliament.” For a younger group, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America held its 16th annual youth conference at the College of Staten Island in Staten Island, New York. Titled “Exploring Hindu Identity in Today’s Multi-Cultural Society,” the conference was entirely put together by people 18-25 years of age. Both youth and adults constituted the 300 people in attendance.

Possibly the oldest of the Hindu organizations celebrating anniversaries this summer, the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago hosted a three-day conference this summer in Ganges, Michigan, titled “Vedanta for the Global Village.” The conference was part of its year-long celebration of its 75th anniversary.

Other religious groups also met over the summer. The JAINA convention was held in Santa Clara over the Fourth of July weekend. Iowa Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a vegan and “follow[er] of the Jain way of life,” delivered the keynote address to the 3500 attendees (India Abroad, page C1, July 15, 2005). The JAINA conference, like many others, put a strong emphasis on youth, particularly on encouraging romantic relationships among Jain youth.

Ethnic/Cultural Organizations

Many organizations are aimed at Indian Americans from particular regions in India. A handful of these organizations sponsored conferences over the summer, many of which were held during the Fourth of July weekend. The Orissa Society of the Americas held its convention, titled “CaliJatra,” over the holiday weekend in Newport Beach, California. Its 600 attendees constituted a large attendance for them. Tamizhar Thiruvisha 2005, the convention of Tamils from around the world, expected 2000 people to attend its gathering in Texas over the Fourth of July weekend. With a budget of $200,000, it focused on Tamil unity everywhere and worked toward promoting the language and culture of Tamil. There were performers and a matchmaking bureau as well. In Atlanta, the Brihan Maharashtra Mandal 2005 convention began July 1st with a business conference. Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, director general of the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research, India, gave the keynote address. Over 3000 people attended the convention, which marked BMM’s 25th year.

One of the larger conferences of this category held over the summer was the Bengalis of North America celebration held in New York from July 1 to 3. The celebration marked the group’s 25th anniversary. With a budget of $3.8 million, the celebration kicked off its opening ceremony in Madison Square Garden. Before the event, they predicted attendance of over 12,000. It was the largest Indian regional convention held over the Fourth of July weekend in 2005. Speakers included the Indian Defense Minister and writer Taslima Nasrin, who gave an unexpected harsh criticism of US foreign policy.

TANA (Telugu Association of North America) also held a large conference the same weekend; its 15th conference took place in Detroit. The conference consisted of a lecture series, cultural events, presentations, and awards to various dignitaries. In addition, there was a business seminar that covered financial planning, investment strategy, risk management, tax strategy, estate planning, and other topics. The topic of retirement in India was also addressed. TANA has more than 10,000 members and is one of the largest Indo-American organizations, wrote India Abroad (India Abroad, page A20, July 1, 2005). The conference focused on villages and teaching children about where they come from. The budget for this convention was $1.5 million, and they expected an attendance of anywhere between eight and 10,000 people.

Other events included the 11th annual Punjabi American Festival, organized by the Punjabi American Heritage Society and held in Yuba City, California with an attendance of over 13,000, and the World Malayalee Council’s 10th anniversary celebration in Dallas, Texas. The goal of the World Malayalee Council’s event was to set the agenda for the next decade and review the progress made in the first decade.

Other Conferences and Organizations

Other organizations that were particularly active this summer were the Hindu Students Council, the Indian American Forum, and the National Federation of Indian Associations. The Hindu Students Council, which has 77 chapters in North America and a few chapters in other countries, held a Regional Meet in Maryland in May that included presentations on the Network of Hindu Minds, fundraisers for tsunami victims, and an overview of recent and upcoming events. Later in the summer, it held its 15th annual three-day national camp in the suburbs of Chicago. Activities included meditation sessions, morning yoga, seminars, discussions, satsangs, a cultural show, and a garba/bhangra program. 80 delegates attended. Speakers included Jeffrey Armstrong, who conducted sessions on astrology, issues in global Hindu dharma, and Vedic identity, and Harshavardhan Vellanki, the HSC leader, who discussed Hinduism in American classrooms.

In early summer, the Indian American Forum for Political Education held a conference called “Create an Engaged Community” in Lexington, Massachusetts. The conference marked the beginning of its 12th annual internship program and focused particularly on working toward changing the provisions of the Patriot Act that was enacted after September 11th. In late June, the Indian American Forum held its much-expanded Congressional reception, which included organizations such as NFIAA, AAPI, Association of Indians in America, Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, and the Indian Diamond and Colorstone Association. With all the groups together, they hope to have “maximum impact” (India Abroad, page A1, July 1, 2005). In an article that appeared in a later issue (India Abroad, July 15, 2005), everyone agreed that the coming together of so many organizations was very important and would help everyone make progress. New York Congressman Gary Ackerman called it, “a milestone, I believe, in the development of the Indian American community. It has evolved to a very important plateau and that is the plateau of putting aside the vying for attention—that my group is better than your group—because there is a greater purpose that we need to get together about and that is the greater good of the community here in the United States” (India Abroad, page A6, July 15, 2005). The ‘mother of Congressional receptions’ had an agenda to discuss not only US-India relations but also domestic issues that affect the South Asian community in the US. They are hoping to have a common political agenda and create a unified force to accomplish shared goals.

The National Federation of Indian Associations celebrated its 25th anniversary in New York in late May. One of the main goals of NFIA is to work with Congress, said NFIA President Rajen Anand, who spoke at the conference about how it is in the Indian-American community’s interest for the US to have good relations with India. Aziz Haniffa, a writer and editor for India Abroad, commented on the role of youth at the NFIA gathering. Youth are important because they are more “Indian America-centric than the first generation of Indian Americans, who are more ‘India-centric'” (India Abroad, page A12, June 10, 2005). He wrote about how community organizations with multiple generations need to be started; if the kids are not involved, the current organizations will disappear. New York Democrat and US Congressman Gregory Meeks gave the inaugural address at the NFIA celebration, at which he praised Indians and Indian Americans and said that the district he represents (6th District of New York) has the largest South Asian population. Dennis Kux, retired State Department South Asia specialist, also spoke at the event, where he discussed the changing relationship between the US and India.

Being Indian in America: DiscriminationDespite the excitement of gatherings for discussion and advancement, less positive realities are also discussed in India Abroad. While discrimination and racial profiling are tragedies that many Indian Americans face daily, articles about incidents do not appear frequently. However, some incidents were covered this summer. On April 25, two radio DJs in New Jersey made racist comments about Asians and Indians. Cingular and Hyundai have withdrawn their advertising and a loose group of organizations has come together under The Coalition Against Hate Media to respond to comments.

In another case in May, the American Civil Rights Union filed a lawsuit to allow Harpal Cheema, a Sikh, to wear his turban in jail. He was forced to remove the turban while in jail and to sign a promise to not wear it while he was there. Cheema, who was a human rights lawyer in India, was persecuted in his home country and came to the United States for asylum with his wife.

In June, Rakesh Sharma, a filmmaker, was detained and assaulted (physically and verbally) for three hours, after filming and photographing with a tourist-grade palmcorder in midtown Manhattan. An undercover detective approached Sharma after he had been shooting pictures of/near the MetLife building for half an hour, which the detective said was too long to be shooting a “sensitive building” (India Abroad, page A20, June 24, 2005). The National South Asian Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Committee has filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice about the incident.

Finally, on Thursday July 11th, a year to the day of when he was brutally attacked, businessman and priest Rajinder Singh Khalsa became the first Sikh to file a civil case for compensation from the people who attacked him. Khalsa was one of many victims of hate crimes against Sikhs after September 11th.

Being Indian in America: Opinion PiecesIndia Abroad, a newspaper specifically for Indians living in the US and Canada, often features personal anecdotes or opinion pieces on the blending of Indian and American cultures that occurs when South Asians establish lives in the US. These stories provide snapshot views of their personal experiences.

The TeenSpeak Column

TeenSpeak, a section of India Abroad’s magazine, publishes submissions from Indian American teens on growing up Indian and American. Their pieces create a picture of how children are growing up with both cultures and the challenges and joys they encounter.

In the May 20th magazine, Ramya Gopal, a 15-year old who grew up blending together two Indian languages (Tamil and Kannada) and also speaking English, reflects on the large range within Indian culture in terms of religious practices, language, and other dimensions but also on the ways it can inspire bonds within American society. She writes: “Despite the fact that some of us are from the South and some from the North, East, and West India, the larger cultural barriers between desis and Europeans supercede the smaller intercultural barriers of dates of festivals, foods, languages, and even religion. My friendship with my Muslim friends has no tensions. The diversity within the unity is something that few countries have, and I have learnt to relish it. It is something we flaunt at school. It has opened my mind to be more accepting…At the same time, I have not detached myself from my American friends, because I was brought up in the Indian community as well as in America. I am a Tamilian, a Kannadiga and an American” (India Abroad, page M8, May 20, 2005).

The June 24th TeenSpeak column ran the college essay of Priyanka Chablani, who is now a freshman at Columbia. After explaining how the Indian community she lives in is comprised of every Indian in the greater Pittsburgh area and functions as one large family, with every mom called Auntie and every dad called Uncle, Chablani depicts the role of the community: “Pittsburgh’s Indian community is about disparate people linked together by a common heritage. Besides merrymaking, the function of this Indian community is to give. Its people give not to receive but because they have received…Through activities such as these, I have discovered myself not in but amongst different worlds. Indeed, being a part of many cultures has made me a complete whole. I am Indian American and there is nothing confusing about that” (India Abroad, page M9, June 24, 2005).

Other Opinion Pieces

An opinion article in the June 3rd issue expressed one person’s view of Indian parents in American culture. Aarti Thakur encouraged Indian parents to adjust to American lifestyle when dealing with their children. Discussing the problems with Indian American parents, Thakur writes, “Instead of considering the American culture different, the parents label it as wrong. They want to bring India to America…Parents in India are becoming more open-minded about their children’s right to make their choices in life. But the parents who migrate out of India lock themselves in that timeframe—when they left India” (India Abroad, page M10, June 3, 2005). The article, entitled “Times They Are a Changin’,” tried to help parents see the children’s perspective.

Another piece that addresses combining Indian and American values is Manu Narayan’s 2005 Upakar Artist of the Year Award acceptance speech, published in India Abroad on July 15th. Narayan, who is a Broadway performer, talked about the expectations for South Asians in the United States and his experience growing up as an Indian American. “The New York Times had an interesting series of articles in May talking about class in America. The articles profiled people from ethnic groups and stratus of wealth and how they were able or not able to achieve their dreams of success. The findings were pretty startling to me. The gist was that the idea of achieving the America Dream is not as easy as it was. Because of economics and lower standards of education, opportunities for financial, personal, and professional successes are closed to more and more people who are not born into them. The American Dream is a concept that all of us understand. We are all brought up to believe that in this country no matter how little we start off with and how little education we have, we can be Bill Gates…When my parents came to this country in the late 1960s, like most of our South Asian immigrants, they came with a dream for a better life in America for themselves and their family. They came to build a life for themselves free of the hindrances associated with the caste system, free of educational quotas, and free of financial roadblocks that the former caused. They came to build a life where hard work and perseverance were the only criteria for success” (India Abroad, page A20, July 15, 2005). He talked about how his parents supported his musical interest even at a very young age, but when it came time for college they would only let him study music if he also studied engineering or did pre-med; they told their friends he would be a doctor by day and a singer by night. He concludes: “I am proud that audiences who came saw a brown face as a leading man. Hollywood and the Western media have not embraced our culture in that way yet” (India Abroad, page A20, July 15, 2005).

In another opinion piece, Sandip Roy ponders whether language can “rust.” Roy, who has trouble going from English to Bengali but not vice versa, reflects on the effects of constantly speaking a language other than one’s primary one. He says, “away from home, it acquires a different character. Suddenly language is the amber in which we must preserve the sense of who we were” (India Abroad, page M12, June 24, 2005).

A Practical Matter: Addressing the Reality of Two Cultures

Other articles in India Abroad serve to address the concerns of Indians living and growing in the US. Different from opinion pieces and personal anecdotes, these articles suggest practical solutions to problems Indian Americans face and discuss the concerns many South Asians living in the US find themselves dealing with.

A Youthful Understanding of Indian American

India Abroad’s July 1st magazine highlights eight Indian American children to demonstrate how they combine their heritage with growing up American. The introduction to the section reads: “On the occasion of America’s Independence Day, we peek into the lives and minds of 13 Indian-American children. Children who were born in the USA. Children who celebrate July 4 along with Diwali and Halloween. They are perfectly ordinary youngsters—almost as American as the kid next door. And perfectly extraordinary—they are super busy. They hop between cultures with ease. And the world is their oyster. Vignettes from their everyday life throw up interesting evidence of their Indian-ness and American-ness. Like what nine-year-old Naveen from New Jersey feels about Bollywood: ‘I don’t like the violence, and hitting people.’ Like what 12-year-old Divya from Pennsylvania feels about her American schoolmates: ‘They don’t understand me, who I am, and my culture. That barrier prevents them from relating to me.’ Like what five-year-old Ayushi from California tells her father when he scolds her: ‘Daddy, that’s not fair.’ Read on. This is the future talking” (India Abroad, page M2, July 1, 2005). The snapshots depict children who are learning to smoothly blend their two cultures and make their own decisions about how traditional they want to be.

The Trials of Old Age and Cultural Ties

One of these more matter-of-fact articles, which appeared as the cover story for the May 20th issue, talked about Indian Americans growing old in their adopted country. “The first generation of Indian Americans is getting old. Torn between the call of the homeland and the ties in the country they adopted in their prime, they are stepping into uncharted territory,” reads the blurb for the article (India Abroad, page M3, May 20, 2005). Indian American senior citizens are faced with the tough decision of whether to stay in the US or return to India. Dealing with being old is interesting for these Indians who have lived in America because the “joint family system” does not exist in the US; it is not usually an option to either move back to India or to move in with children, because the latter is not something that’s usually done here (India Abroad, page M3, May 20, 2005). This first generation has not seen their parents grow old, says one person who comments in the article, so they are unsure of how to handle it.

One option the article suggests is living in a community, which provides many activities and other people to talk to. Often times, though, Indians will be in the very small minority. This can be difficult for a variety of reasons, including a lack of anybody to relate to and difficulties being a vegetarian. People want the option of an Indian-American retirement community. Some Indian Americans have begun planning small retirement communities centered around temples. Indians are not used to retirement home culture; it is not typical to settle down with a bunch of other old people, but rather to remain close to your family. The article also mentions the Indian community centers throughout the country that have events, classes, discussions, etc. for seniors. Many of these centers have programs on creative writing, art, discussions on current affairs, yoga, meditation, internet classes, and other intellectually stimulating activities, since most of the seniors who utilize the centers are highly educated.

Another option is returning to India. Many Indians come to the US with the intention of returning to India in 15 or 20 years, but by that time it doesn’t seem as realistic, appealing, necessary, or even the best decision, as friends and family from India have moved, grown distant, or died, and new lives have been established in the US. This often causes Indian senior citizens to have a hard time deciding whether to permanently return to India, since they have ties with children and grandchildren who have established themselves in the US.

The article showed many people who split their time 50/50 between the US and India, but the traveling can be difficult for many senior citizens. It ended leaving the matter somewhat unresolved. A letter in response to this article appeared in the following issue. The writer, Sandip Roy, said that if centers specifically for Indian senior citizens could not be built, wings designated for Indians would be necessary at the very least to accommodate for their different needs. He wrote that this approach has worked in other countries.

Conclusion

The article about Indian American senior citizens, especially following the snapshots of Indian American children, serves as a fitting closing for this review—it revolves around the strengths and difficulties of a blending of cultures, reminds readers of the great intelligence and accomplishments of South Asians in the US (because of the community center offerings and the financial possibility of Indian Americans investing in their own private retirement communities), and points us in a very appropriate direction towards working on the issues that continue to arise and resolve within the Indian American community. This review serves as a depiction of the contents of one of oldest, most widely circulated, publications for this community, and, by extension, as a snapshot of the on-goings, the achievements, and the realities, both positive and otherwise, of one of the most successful and active immigrant communities in the US during the summer of 2005.


[1] Information from India Abroad’s FAQ section↩︎
[2] Information from “Ethnic media comes of age.”↩︎
[3] Follow the links on the Upakar website to Service Awards, Manu Narayan, then “Click here for Manu’s acceptance speech.”↩︎

Bibliography

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