By Surekha Vijh
WASHINGTON: It is an exciting time in the United States of America as it is election time. Campaigns are on high swing. In this high power play, Indian Americans are making their presence felt, whether it is fundraising, as donors or working in the campaigns; they are a force in both the Democratic and the Republican parties.
It is not just in politics, a more recent trend, where Indian Americans have arrived but they are established in almost every important field. Over the years, Indians in America have become a name to reckon with, as Indian influence increases in economics, information technology, academics, science, medicine, banking, and even in media, multimedia and cinema.
Along with the most well known names in politics such as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley; Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Deepak Chopra in medicine and beyond; there are established names such as Zubin Mehta in music and Sonny Mehta in publishing. In NASA, Kalpana Chawla became the first Indian and woman astronaut to travel in space. Sunita Williams carries the torch lit by Chawla.
Indians are leaders in the IT sector, with pioneers like Narinder Singh Kapany, as the “father of fiber Optics”, Sabeer Bhatia, as the co-founder of Hotmail, Vinod Dham as the father of Intel’s “Pentium Chip”, Avtar Saini holding seven patents related to microprocessor design, Ajay Bhatt, co-inventor of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Chief Client Platform Architect at Intel, Krishna Bharat, principal scientist at Google, created Google News and Subrah Iyar, co-founder and CEO of Webex Communications.
The Nobel laureates, Indian American Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (Chemistry) joined the previous illustrious Nobel Prize winners, Subramanyan Chandrasekhar (Physics, 1983), Amartya Sen (Economic Sciences, 1998) and Har Gobind Khorana (Medicine, 1968).
The list of academicians, scientists and other professionals is very long, so were the struggle and tribulations of the first generation Indians in the US. It was after the Luce–Celler Act of 1946 that Indian Americans were restored naturalization rights in the United States. A number of Indian Americans came to the U.S. via Indian communities in other countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada, Mauritius Malaysia and Singapore, South Africa, Suriname, Guyana, Fiji, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Trinidad & Tobago, and Jamaica.
Sikhs have been in the US for more than 130 years. At the turn of the 19th century, the state of Punjab in British India was hit hard by British practices of mercantilism. Many Sikhs emigrated to the United States and began arriving to work on farms in California. They traveled via Hong Kong to Angel Island, California, the western counterpart to Ellis Island in New York Harbor.
Dalip Singh Saund began his journey not so easily in the US and yet became the first Asian and Indian American member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California from 1957 to 1963. The education, hard work and determination of the first generation Indians in the US have paid off.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Indian Americans had the highest household income of all ethnic groups in the United States. Among the about 3.18 million Indians in America, they comprise only one per cent of the population yet they make an impressive eleven per cent of the doctors in the US. There are more than 60,000 doctors of Indian origin in the US.
The American Community Survey of recent data reports that Indians in America make the country’s third largest self-reported Asian ancestral group after Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans. The U.S. Census Bureau uses the term Asian Indian to avoid confusion with the indigenous peoples of the Americas commonly referred to as American Indians or Native Americans.
All these wonderful Indian American success stories have a great impact on Indo-US relations as well. The relations between the two countries have improved tremendously over the past few years. After the cold war, India became an important ally and strategic partner with the US. The Nuclear deal treaty, signed in 2008, between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush, paved the way for dependable partners.
The Indian DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission)to the US, Arun K. Singh feels that the entire framework of India-US relations draws its strength from three key pillars: political; trade and economic; and the overarching aspect of people to people relationships.
Speaking recently at the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce Annual Gala on India-US Trade and Economic Partnership: Emerging Trends; Technology and Innovation, Singh said, “India and the US have declared a Strategic Partnership. Bilateral cooperation has entered new frontiers.”
President Obama, during his visit to India, said that the India-US partnership would be a defining partnership of the 21st century. The Indian Prime Minister had said that India-US relations are better today than ever before, but the best was yet to come. Earlier, for the first time in America’s history, Obama’s first state dinner as president was held for the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and not for Great Britain.
Over the past few months, there have been several high level visits from the US to India, including those of Secretary of Commerce Bryson, Secretary of State Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Panetta. The External Affairs Minister of India led the Indian delegation to the third meeting of the India-US Strategic Dialogue.
Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal headed the bilateral Education Dialogue; and Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad met with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss bilateral cooperation in the field of Health. “The trend of high level visits continues in the months ahead,” Singh added.
On the economic front, the Indo-US partnership reached a level of 100 billion US dollars last year, with capital investment flowing in both directions. Over the last five years, Indian companies have invested about 30 billion dollars in the US economy. The Indian IT sector has contributed 15 billion dollars in taxes here over the same period, and about 3 billion dollars in social security contributions.
Energy cooperation (both fossil fuels and renewable) has been emphasized as a priority area in ongoing India-US discussions. Earlier President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had established the Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center (JCERDC). The Center committed 25 million US dollars in funding by each side, with commitment for matching funds by consortia partners on both sides.
“We have already announced awards for three consortia projects, in the fields of advanced bio fuels, energy efficiency in buildings and solar energy,” Singh added.
Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), has opened an office here, and invested in acquiring its first shale gas assets in the US, by buying a 20 per cent stake in a US project. “We are also procuring 3.5 million tons of US natural gas on a long-term basis,’’ Singh said.
“Besides, there are about 100,000 Indian students in US universities which receive 3 billion dollars annually as tuition fees. About forty per cent of all hotel rooms are owned and managed by Indian Americans.”
Many India-US technology partnerships have been generated by people who went back from the US, having worked here for several years and set up establishments in India.
It is not only that the Indian Americans have the highest household income of all ethnic groups and bask in the new Indo-US strategic, economic and cultural partnership, but they enjoy a new status as the model minority from their disproportionate socioeconomic success in the US.
According to the census report on Asian Americans by the U.S. Census Bureau, 64 per cent of Indian Americans had a bachelor’s degree or higher, the highest for all national origin groups. In the same census, sixty per cent of Indian-Americans had management or professional jobs, compared with a national average of thirty three per cent Indian Americans, along with Japanese and Filipino Americans, have some of the lowest poverty rates for all communities, as well as one of the lowest rates of single parent households.
(Surekha Vijh is a Washington DC-based poet and journalist)