Significance: The Asian Indian diaspora followed three waves of immigration to the United States: The first wave occurred in the first decade of the twentieth century, the second during the 1970’s, and the third during the early twenty-first century, when the highest level of immigration fromIndia occurred. Accounting for more than 2.5 million people in 2007, Asian Indians constituted the thirdlargest Asian immigrant population in the United States.
Sikh immigrants to California posing for a group portrait in 1910. (California State Library)
Although most immigration from India to the United States occurred during the early twentyfirst century, the earliest signs of international migration from India occurred after 1830, when Indian merchants, sailors, and indentured workers traveled on East India Company ships to North America. The 1900 U.S. Census reported that 2,545 "Hindus” whose birthplace was listed as India had settled in the United States.
Between 1907 and 1917, thousands of Sikh landowners and peasants left the Punjab in northern India to search the western shores of North America for employment and higher wages. First immigrating to Vancouver, Canada, Punjabi Sikhs settled in Oregon,Washington, and Northern California to work on the Western Pacific Railroad. Legally prohibited from bringing their wives and families, some young, male Sikhs married Mexican women, creating a "Mexican Hindu” culture. The small Sikh immigrant community remained faithful to its religious and cultural practices, establishing temple settlements for other Asian Indian travelers.
Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status. Immigration records for 1820-1899 show a total of only 687 immigrants.
Leaving employment on the railroad and in the lumber mills, by 1910 Asian Indians began contracting for agricultural jobs in California, where there was a dire need for farmworkers. Comfortable and experienced working in the fields, Asian Indians moved from working as day laborers to tenant farmers.Transacting bank loans, Indians purchased acreage. By 1914, as prosperous landowners, the Asian Indian immigrants started moving inland to central California to establish independent ethnic agrarian communities. Hard-working and Englishspeaking, the Asian Indians posed little threat to the socioeconomic fiber of the region. However, by the 1920’s the hostilities toward the growing number of "Asiatics” escalated as the competition between Asian immigrants and white workers increased.
As early as 1905, an association known as the Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL) organized to oppose Asian immigration. It launched an anti-Asian crusade toward not only the Chinese and Japanese immigrant populations but also the three thousand new Asian Indian immigrants who had arrived in California at the end of the decade. After years of fighting for congressional legislation to limit immigration, the exclusionists were successful in adopting a series of laws that led to turning away hundreds of Asian immigrants. The Immigration Act of 1917 (also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act) restricted immigration from Asia. Soon afterward, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923) that Indians were not included under the "statutory category as white persons”; consequently, Indians were denied the right to naturalization, and previously naturalized Indians were stripped of U.S. citizenship.
Seven years later, the Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of new immigrants to 2 percent of the number of people from their country who were already living in the United States. Over the next twenty years, the number of Indians in the United States dwindled to fewer than 2,500. In 1946, the Luce-Celler Bill reinstated naturalization to Asian Indians and allowed an immigration quota for Indians and Filipinos; 6,000 Indians entered the United States between 1947 and 1965.
The tides turned under President Lyndon B. Johnson when he signed into law the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Celler Act), lifting the national-origin quotas system and issuing visas on the basis of preferred skills or family reunification. The initial post-1965 immigrants were professionals and their families; after the mid-1970’s, the Asian Indian immigrants moved into small business ownerships and selfemployment ventures in restaurants, travel agencies, and motels. Almost 40 percent of all Asian Indians who entered the United States after 1965 arrived on student or exchange visitor visas. By 1990, the Indian population had increased to 786,694.
With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990, preference was given to immigrants with high technology-based skills, advanced degrees, and exceptional professional talents. Contributing to the "brain drain” in India, colleges throughout the United States hosted a significant number of Indian students, making India one of the top five sending countries. By 2000, Asian Indians constituted the fourth-largest immigrant community in the United States.
|Country of origin||India|
|Primary languages||English, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, and others|
|Primary regions of U.S. settlement||California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois|
|Earliest significant arrivals||Early twentieth century|
|Peak immigration period||Early twenty-first century|
|Twenty-first century legal residents*||535,988 (66,998 per year)|
*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.
Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.
The Asian Indian immigrant population increased by 38 percent between 2000 and 2005, becoming the third-largest immigrant population in the United States. Asian Indians have attained the highest level of education and the highest median income among all national origin groups in the United States. More than 40 percent are medical professionals, scientists, or engineers concentrated in metropolitan areas across the United States.
Entering the United States English-knowing, highly educated, socially and professionally connected, and geographically mobile has made Asian Indian assimilation fairly smooth. Asian Indian immigrants tend to identify themselves not with the Indian national origin group but with their particular regional, linguistic, religious, or professional subgroups. After arrival, Bengalis, Punjabis, Marathis, and Tamils tend to maintain their languages, religious practices, foods, and dress.
Tamara M. Valentine
Bacon, Jean Leslie. Life Lines: Community, Family, and Assimilation Among Asian Indian Immigrants. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Examination of the Asian Indian experiences in Chicago.
Jensen, Joan M. Passage from India: Asian Indian Immigrants in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. Cultural history of the immigration patterns of Asian Indians to the United States.
Joshi, Khyati Y. New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground: Religion, Race, and Ethnicity in Indian America. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2006. Analysis of second-generation Indian Americans and their identities.
Leonard, Karen Isaksen. The South Asian Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Examination of the social, political, and cultural history of South Asian immigrant communities.
Sheth, Manju. "Asian Indian Americans.” In Asian Americans: Contemporary Trends and Issues, edited by Pyong Gap Min. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 2006. Sociohistorical look at the diverse Asian Indian communities that developed across the United States.
See also: Asian immigrants; Asiatic Barred Zone; Asiatic Exclusion League; Association of Indians in America; Bellingham incident; "Brain drain”; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; Lahiri, Jhumpa; Motel industry; Mukherjee, Bharati; Pakistani immigrants; United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind.Read the full story
Identification: Labor-activist organization
Date: Founded on May 1, 1992
Significance: The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was formed to address the workplace and community needs of a growing Asian and Pacific Islander population in the United States.
The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) convened for the first time on May Day, 1992, in Washington, D.C. That gathering drew five hundred Asian American and Pacific Islander labor and union activists from around the United States, including hotel and restaurant workers from Honolulu, longshore laborers from Seattle, garment factory workers from New York City, nurses from San Francisco, and supermarket workers from Los Angeles. The establishment of APALA was the culmination of several decades of Asian American labor activity.
After the mid-1970’s, Asian American labor organizers in California worked to strengthen unionization efforts by holding organizational meetings in the larger Asian American communities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Neighborhood-based organizations such as the Alliance of Asian Pacific Labor (AAPL) grew out of these efforts, forging stronger ties between labor and community and uniting Asian union staff members more closely with rank-and-file labor leaders. The creation of the AAPL was a successful local movement, but it soon became clear to AAPL administrators that to organize significant numbers of Asian American workers, a national organizing effort would be needed. Led by Art Takei, the AAPL solicited organizational aid from the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFLCIO).
AAPL vice president Kent Wong attended the 1989 national AFL-CIO convention in Washington, D.C., to lobby for the establishment of a national labor organization for Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland acknowledged Wong’s lobbying attempts by noting the local accomplishments of the AAPL in California and recognizing the organizing potential of the burgeoning Asian American workforce.
Two years after that AFL-CIO national convention, Kirkland appointed a national Asian Pacific American labor committee, comprising thirtyseven Asian American labor activists. The committee spent more than a year planning the founding meeting of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, finally releasing an invitation for Asian American and Pacific Islander unionists, labor activists, and workers to bridge the gap between the national labor movement and the Asian Pacific American community.
More than five hundred delegates attended the May, 1992, APALA convention to adopt a constitution and set up a governmental structure with a national headquarters inWashington, D.C., and local chapters throughout the United States. Organized in this way, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance could receive recognition and legitimacy from a national administration guided by the AFL-CIO, while still using its powerful techniques of community organizing at the local level.
During the convention, APALA organizers and delegates recognized and honored Asian Pacific American labor pioneers whose achievements they believed had melded national and local unionization efforts successfully or who had made significant contributions toward heightening the recognition of Asian American laborers. Honorees included Philip Villamin Vera Cruz of the United FarmWorkers union and Ah Quon McElrath of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
APALA conventioneers looked ahead to the organization’s role in continuing such activism and achievement. They drafted a commitment document calling for empowerment of all Asian American and Pacific Islander workers through unionization on a national level, as well as the provision of national support for local unionization efforts. APALA also promoted the formation of AFL-CIO legislation that would create jobs, ensure national health insurance, reform labor law, and channel financial resources toward education and job training for Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants. Toward that end, a revision of U.S. governmental policies toward immigration was called for. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance’s commitment document supported immigration legislation that would promote family unification and provide improved access to health, education, and social services for immigrants. Finally, the document promoted national government action to prevent workplace discrimination against immigrant laborers and strongly supported vigorous prosecution for perpetrators of racially motivated crimes. APALA delegates passed several resolutions, which they forwarded to the AFL-CIO leadership. These documents decried the exploitative employment practices and civil rights violations alleged against several U.S. companies.
Convention delegates also participated in workshops that focused on facilitating multicultural harmony and solidarity, enhancing Asian American participation in unions, and advancing a national agenda to support broadly based civil rights legislation and improved immigration policies and procedures. Fromthese APALA workshops, two national campaigns were launched. The first involved working with the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute to recruit a new generation of Asian Pacific American organizers. The second campaign involved building a civil and immigration rights agenda for Asian Pacific American workers that was based on APALA’s commitment document and its convention resolutions.
Through the legislative statement of its goals and by lobbying for their societal implementation, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was the first Asian American labor organization to achieve both national and local success. Although by the time of the 1992 Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance convention Asian Americans had been engaged in various forms of unionization activity for more than 150 years, the establishment of APALA within the ranks of the AFL-CIO provided it with more powerful organizational techniques. APALA was able to unite Asian Pacific workers, simultaneously integrating them into the larger American labor movement.
Cynthia Gwynne Yaudes
Aguilar-San Juan, Karin, ed. The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990’s. Boston: South End Press, 1994. Explores the connection between race, identity, and empowerment within the workplace and the community. Covers Euro- American, African American, and Asian American cultures.
Espiritu, Yen Le. Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Examines the Asian American labor experience from a gendered perspective, asking how the oppression of Asian American workers has structured gender relationships among them.
Friday, Chris. Organizing Asian American Labor. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994. Analyzes the positive impact of Asian Pacific immigration upon the formation of West Coast and Pacific Northwest industries between 1870 and 1942.
Rosier, Sharolyn. "Solidarity Starts Cycle for APALA.” AFL-CIO News 37, no. 10 (May 11, 1992): 11. Summarizes the AFL-CIO conference report on the establishment of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.
Wong, Kent, ed. Voices for Justice: Asian Pacific American Organizers and the New Labor Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Collection of interviews with Asian Pacific American labor organizers and workers.
See also: Asian American literature; Asian immigrants; Chinese immigrants; Civil Rights movement; Issei; Japanese American Citizens League; Japanese immigrants; Pacific Islander immigrants.Read the full story
Identification: National association of Asian Indians
Date: Founded on August 20, 1967
Significance: The association has provided a unified voice and sense of purpose for the nearly two million people of Asian Indian descent living in the United States, gathering them under the common bonds of Indian heritage and commitment to the United States.
In 1965, Congress passed a new Immigration and Nationality Act, repealing the Immigration Act of 1917 and opening the door to immigrants from India, who soon arrived in large numbers. Founded in 1967 and incorporated in 1971, the Association of Indians in America (AIA) is the oldest association of Asian Indians in the United States. The AIA has three goals: to support the social welfare of Asian Indians living in the United States and to ease their transition into the mainstream; to help members work for development in India; and to provide charitable, cultural, and educational means for Asian Indians to participate in American community life. The AIA is a grassroots organization with chapters throughout the United States. It has worked to gain political recognition of Asian Indians by the federal government, to lobby for the reunification of families, to promote scholarship in areas affecting public policy, to support voter registration, and to assemble resources to aid victims of natural disasters around the world.
Cynthia A. Bily
Bacon, Jean Leslie. Life Lines: Community, Family, and Assimilation Among Asian Indian Immigrants. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Das Gupta, Monisha. Unruly Immigrants: Rights, Activism, and Transnational South Asian Politics in the United States. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006.
Ng, Franklin, ed. The Asian American Encyclopedia. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.
See also: Asian immigrants; Asian Indian immigrants; Immigration Act of 1917; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; Motel industry.Read the full story