By Raj Jayadev
It's official. Indian Americans are the fastest growing Asian group in the United States. The group surged by 105.9 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to the 2000 census. The population now stands close to two million.
Representing the greatest growth of any Asian group in decennial census history, Indian Americans have become the third largest Asian group in the U.S. behind Chinese and Filipino Americans.
"The economy definitely had something to do with this increase," Parag Khandhar, a policy associate and census coordinator at the American Federation Census Information Center told Indian online magazine rediff.com. "One obvious factor for the growth in the Indian-American community is the importing of hi-tech workers."
From 1987 through 1997, on average about 35,000 Indians immigrated permanently to the United States annually. This does not include those who obtained high-skilled H-1B visas to work in the United States for up to six years.
INS data for the period from May 1998 through July 1999 shows that of 134,000 new H-1B visas granted, nearly half, or 63,900, went to people from India. According to an estimate provided by the Immigration Support Network, a lobby group that works in the interests of H1-B workers, last year there were approximately 400,000 Asian Indian hi-tech visa holders in the U.S.
Indian-American community figures are hopeful that the census data will result in more leverage for the population. Shamina Singh, former Executive Director of the White House office on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, told New India Times, "This data shows the potential clout we wield as a community."
Sujata Warrier, who works in the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, believes the new data will help Indian Americans in positions of power make the argument that "this is an ethnic group that needs to be dealt with." AAFC's Khandar expressed similar views. He also expects the dramatic increase in Asian Indians to spawn a growing interest from the community in the mainstream political process.
Although the census certainly confirms that the Indian presence in the U.S. is substantial, it hides the diversity in and around Indian America. Because we all checked the same box on the census form, it does not mean we are a community yet.
The term "Indian-American" is as misleading and superficial a term as "Asian-American" in that it embraces unique cultures and histories which exist independently of the pan-ethnic identity. Indians in America still separate along lines of language, religion, class, regional background and generations.
Indeed, in response to the census, the Austin Statesman reported cultural differences among newer and older Indian-American immigrants in the Silicon Hills of Texas.
"When I first came here, I didn't know what to expect," said 26-year-old Rachakonda, a recent Indian immigrant who had steeled himself for a culture shock in his dealings with Americans without ties to India. "But it was the ABCDs (American Born Indians) who treated me differently, like FOBs (newer immigrants) are supposed to be these greasy people who don't have any style."