Provocative commentaries on international issues, social development, and people and places by a veteran journalist
Joel Stein's Essay Stirs Passions
Published on July 2, 2010 By PranayGupte In Politics

Will Indians face a backlash in the United States?


By Pranay Gupte

(Published in The Hindu, India, July 2, 2010)


There’s been increasing angst and teeth-gnashing among Indians in the United States this week over a tongue-in-cheek essay by columnist Joel Stein in the international newsweekly, TIME. Mr. Stein ruefully talks about how his native Edison, a New Jersey community just across the Hudson River from New York City, has been transformed into a “Little India” – with the overpowering smells of Indian cuisine, the eclectic colors of Indian ethnicity, and the distinctive dialects of the Subcontinent dominating what was once a largely Italian-American town.


The blogosphere has been ricocheting with rants against the writer, accusing him of prejudice or worse. TIME’s editors subsequently said that the magazine – whose circulation is just under four million – did not intend to offend Indians. I know Mr. Stein, and he’s scarcely a racist; he has acknowledged that the presence of Indians had brought fresh prosperity and diversity to Edison. I’m pretty sure that his piece was intended to be satirical, even if it wasn’t especially felicitous. Columnists, after all, are paid to be provocative; engendering offense is sometimes one of those unintended consequences of the trade.


An Indian friend, who lives in East Asia, put a healthy perspective on Mr. Stein’s article after I’d e-mailed it to her. “I was aware somewhere that I ought to be insulted as this guy is saying mean things about my countrymen and culture – but the piece is written with so much humor and candor that I could not help but see his point,” she said. “I cannot help but see where he is coming from. It may not be balanced but brings out the feelings of so many. And somewhere along the line admits to being biased. I see why TIME ran it!”


My own feeling is that Indians – especially those living and prospering abroad – often tend to be bereft of irony and a self-deprecating sense of humor; they are given to being far too readily offended as a tribe. It may not quite be a “Masada Complex” – a feeling of being under siege – but there’s a cultural defensiveness that I’ve sensed among many Indians I’ve known since I first landed in the United States as a student.


Of course, there are now many more Indians in America since my initial arrival in 1967. When I visited the US – now my adopted country – not long ago for a major class reunion at Brandeis University near Boston and Cambridge, it struck me that just about every second person on the streets seemed to be of Indian origin. In my home city of New York, the situation was no less different.


Surely, I thought, America – a nation of 307 million – must profit substantially from the presence of these Indians, of whom there are now more than 2.5 million, a tenth of the global Indian Diaspora. As if by serendipity, I came across a study showing that indeed America does benefit handsomely through the contributions of Indians, including businessmen, physicians, and high-technology entrepreneurs.


This study was jointly prepared by the India-US World Affairs Institute of Washington, the Robert H. Smith School of Business of the University of Maryland, and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry; it revealed that Indians are not only the most affluent and most educated of the scores of ethnic communities in the melting pot that’s the US, they are also rapidly becoming among the most significant investors in the American economy.


According to the report, 90 Indian companies made 127 greenfield investments worth $5.5 billion between 2004 and 2009, and created 16,576 jobs in the United States. During the same period, 239 Indian companies made 372 acquisitions in the United States, creating more than 40,000 jobs. The total value of 267 (of the 372) acquisitions was $21 billion, or $78.7 million per acquisition. A “greenfield investment” is a form of foreign direct investment where a parent company starts a new venture in a foreign country by constructing new operational facilities from the ground up.


The study says that the five industrial sectors in the US that received the most greenfield investment were metals; software and information technology services; leisure and entertainment; industrial machinery, equipment and tools; and financial services. The sums poured into these sectors accounted for almost 80 percent of total greenfield investment. New Jersey – the state in which Edison is located – has been one of the top recipients of Indian investment.


New Jersey schools and colleges also have among the largest number of the Indian students who come to the US each year. Overall, there are an estimated 94,563 students from India whose net contribution to the US economy was $2.39 billion, according to the study. In fact, students of Indian origin constitute 10 to 12 percent of medical students entering US schools, the new study says. Furthermore, there are about 50,000 physicians (and 15,000 medical students) of Indian heritage in the American cities, and in rural areas.


New Jersey has its share of the so-called “Patel motels,” too. There are currently almost 10,000 Indian American owners of hotels/motels in the US, owning over 40 percent of all hotels in the country and 39 percent of all guest rooms; the study says that they own more than 21,000 hotels with 1.8 million guest rooms and property valued at $129 billion. These Indian-owned facilities employ 578,600 workers.


The US Census Bureau adds that there were 231,000 businesses owned by Indian Americans in 2002, which employed 615,000 workers and had revenues of over $89 billion. (The Census Bureau conducts the survey every five years, and the results of the 2007 survey will be available in a few days). A study led by Vivek Wadhwa for Duke University and the University of California, Berkeley, found that Indian immigrant entrepreneurs had founded more engineering and technology companies during 1995-2005 than immigrants from Britain, China, Japan, and Taiwan combined. Of all immigrant-founded companies, 26 percent had Indian founders.


Which brings us back to Joel Stein’s column and all the hullaballoo that it’s generated. Edison, New Jersey, may not be a precursor of things to come – in other words, Indians are hardly about to demographically dominate small towns all across America; the country’s immigration laws would work against that possibility. But Indians bring enterprise and energy to communities with their presence, and this works to everyone’s benefit. They are largely anchored in their homespun culture, but they are also respectful of American mores and morals, and laws as well. They make the American tapestry more colorful, richer, and culturally more alive. They are living the American Dream, but in their own special Indian way. What’s wrong with that?


(Pranay Gupte is a veteran international journalist and author. His forthcoming book is on India and the Middle East.)


Comments (Page 2)
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on Jul 04, 2010

Any individual of an ethnic minority who is, or agrees with, a Republican is, by the left's definition, stupid.  So none of us should expect any respect or praise for such individuals from that side of the aisle.  They're like the Friedan women's libbers - successful 'liberated' women with conservative views are despised.

Let's see what could the Democrats offer Indian immigrants?

They are not sneaking across the borders - can't offer them amnesty.

They (as a whole) have an outstanding work ethic - can't bribe them with entitlements.

They weren't brought here as slaves - can fan the fires of racism or play the victim card.

Sound like the usual tactics won't quite work on this minority. Better luck after a few Americanized generations come and go...fossil fuel hatred might be possible.

on Jul 04, 2010

Sounds like you suffer from either intermittent relapsing stupidity or stuttering stupidity, kb.  I'd be careful.  I don't think either is covered under Obamacare.

on Jul 04, 2010

Sounds like you suffer from either intermittent relapsing stupidity or stuttering stupidity, kb. I'd be careful. I don't think either is covered under Obamacare.

Touché Daiwa! You two should consider a comedy skit.

FYI he may be in a union and have a Cadillac plan.

on Jul 05, 2010

She's one smart, principled, tough, articulate and unflappable lady

There have been some salacious news reports about her and though I do not believe them, I do not quite think of her as "pricipled"

on Jul 05, 2010

There have been some salacious news reports about her and though I do not believe them, I do not quite think of her as "pricipled"

Odd conclusion to draw from false, if salacious, news.  But more to the OP's point, she won handily despite those reports, hardly supporting the notion of 'backlash'.

on Jul 06, 2010

I don't think either is covered under Obamacare.

pre-existing condition.

on Jul 06, 2010

pre-existing condition

Pre-existing conditions are now non-existent.  Non-covered pre-existing conditions are now non-covered non-existing conditions.

It's right there on pages 1,863 to 1,917.  It had to passed for us to know it, though.

on Jul 06, 2010

Pre-existing conditions are now non-existent.

gone! my post-early-onset senility is gone! 

on Jul 06, 2010

You can dream.  What's the harm?

on Jul 06, 2010

(i've a long-standing across-the-board policy of eschewing membership in any organization that would permit me to join),

Plagiarizing Groucho Marx now?

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