Indian Immigrants in New York City
by Madhulika Khandelwal

Population Trends: Sizable numbers of Indians began to migrate to the U.S. during the early 1900s, and settled primarily on the West Coast. Migration has continued ever since, with a large increase in number since the 1960s when a 1965 immigration law brought immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. According to the 1980 Census, the largest concentration of Indians is in New York City, with 53% of the population living in Queens.

Indians in the U.S. comprise of descendants of early Indian migrants, a large number of overseas Indians who came from such areas as the Caribbean and Africa, and the recent immigrants from India who are the majority of the whole group. These immigrants come from the educated middle classes of urban areas. Since English commonly is used in the education system and official circles most Indian cities, most Indian immigrants are familiar with it. However, they come from regional subcultures in India where a variety of languages flourish.

Despite many Indians in New York, recent immigrants have not settled in any concentrated areas. New arrivals live in apartments in densely populated areas of New York together with Indians and other immigrants, while more established Indians tend to move to suburban areas.

Religion: Indians are mainly Hindus, and are also followers of Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism, Zorastrianism, Buddhism, and Judaism. After migrating to the U.S., they have shown no signs of converting to other religions and have established their own religious activities in New York.

Occupations: Many Indian immigrants have high educational and income levels, with a concentration of professional fields. However, from the late 1970s to the present, Indians are now employed in a wide range of occupations. Between 1975 and 1980, the percentage of immigrant professionals has declined. In New York an increasing number of Indians are moving into small businesses such as newsstands, candy stores, and gas stations. Numerous ethnic stores cater to New York's Indian population. Some are in clusters, creating Indian business districts such as in Jackson Heights and Flushing in Queens, and in downtown Manhattan, around 28th and 29th Streets and Lexington Avenue.

Organizations: Indians have some umbrella Indian organizations but their memberships are limited. Most Indians are affiliated with social and cultural groups based on regional and religious background, and only occasionally participate in larger organizations. In New York City, there are several hundred cultural groups. Political and social service associations are few in number.

The Indian population is permanently settling and growing in the United States, while its social and economic characteristics are becoming more diverse. This has raised new issues, often concerning the adaptation of Indians to American customs. Like other immigrants, establishing themselves is one of the priorities for Indians. At the same time, incidences of anti-Indians violence and discrimination, and life in a diverse ethnic population are raising questions about how Indians can participate in the civic and political life in New York.

Madhulika Khandelwal is a historian and Staff Researcher at the Asian/American Center.