Minoo Netervala, on far right, rides a carousel with friends, 1952.
The women are from the University of California Los Angeles, and the men are from the University of Southern California. The female student wearing the sari would have been rare in this period since most students from India were men.
On July 2, 1946, partly due to the assistance India provided to the Allied Forces in World War II, Congress passed the Luce-Celler Bill. This removed restrictions on Asian Indian immigration and gave India an annual immigration quota of one hundred. Asian Indian immigrants now had naturalization rights. Asian Indian men who had not seen their wives and children in over thirty years were now able to send for their families and build a new life in the United States.
Bengali New Year Festival, 1980. Messiah Lutheran Church, Minneapolis. Photographed by Elizabeth M. Hall.
Sikh taxi drivers gather at work in New York City. South Asian Americans drive more than half of all taxi cabs in the city.
The taxi industry is tied up in America’s botched history of South Asian racial classification. In 1984, when applying for licenses, drivers were asked to indicate their race/ethnicity. The choices given were: white, black, Indian, Asian, Hispanic. As a result, the The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) was surprised to find their drivers to be 34% white, 27% black, 15% Indian, 12% Asian, 11% Hispanic, because: “The Indian category, originally meant to refer to Native Americans, [was] selected by most drivers born in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, as well as some drivers born in northeastern Africa.” Recognizing the impossibility of a New York City workforce composed of 15% Native Americans, the questionnaire was amended in 1992 to include the category Asian Indian.
Subhash Tailor, one of the first Indian tailoring shops on Devon Avenue in Chicago, opened for business on May 20, 1986.
Subhash Arona’s wife Svarna (seated, left) adjusts Raj Wadhwa’s churidar (leggings) that accompany the tunics traditional in northern India as Rahana Mahmoud and Svarna’s daughters Priti and Tarun look on. As the community grew, families found opportunities to earn a living offering specialized Indian services such as tailoring, catering, and bridal makeup to the original immigrants as well as to their children. (Photo by Mukul Roy.)
A mixed group of Indians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis parade together in celebration of Indian Independence Day. They carry a sign that reads, “Join and work for communal harmony.” (RP/WR HS Lerner Newspapers collection.)
West Ridge, 10 miles north of the burgeoning city of Chicago, is home to one of the Midwest’s largest Jewish communities, a hub of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi culture, and a haven for newcomers from Russia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. “On Devon Avenue, Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis live, eat and work side by side, though they feel political and ethnic pressures back home,” said community leader Sadruddin Noorani. In West Ridge, much to the amazement of outsiders, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians coexist in remarkable contrast to the strife and conflict between these groups in the larger world.
Indian students in front of International House at the University of Chicago in June 1946. Since their visas did not permit them to reenter the U.S. once they left, some chose to forgo the opportunity to return home, and eventually became the very first Indian immigrants of the modern era. (Courtesy of C.K. Chandran.)
After World War II, students and academics arrived in small numbers. Most were on Indian government scholarships and were required to return upon completion of their studies. In the early 1960s, short-term visitors to the U.S. included some 45 Indian engineers who were brought to Inland Steel and U.S. Steel for training in running newly constructed steel mills in India. The selective nature of the 1965 immigration law gave initial preference to skilled professionals but once established, these professionals sponosred their relatives and the community became much more diverse.
1909 – Sikh Workers on the Pacific & Eastern Railroad in Oregon (Photo courtesy of the Southern Oregon Historical Society, Medford, Oregon)
Many Asian Indians were first employed as railroad workers. Seven hundred were reportedly involved in the construction of the Three-Mile Spring Garden Tunnel of the Western Pacific Railroad. Increasingly Asian Indians found themselves driven from employment in the railroad and lumber industries by violent white workers. They moved south, riding the Southern Pacific Railroad into California, where they found employment in agriculture. Takaki, R. (1998). Strangers from a different shore: A history of Asian Americans. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
The Luce-Cellar Act of 1946. President Harry Truman signs into law the Luce Cellar Act, granting naturalization rights to Filipinos and Asian Indians.
This Act effectively ended statutory discrimination against these two Asian American groups erstwhile deemed ‘unassimilable’ along with most other Asian Americans. Immigration rights were established as a token, allowing a meager 100 immigrants per year from India and 100 more from the Philippines.
Desi: South Asians in New York, 2000.
“Desi” is a Hindi word for “countryman” or “people of the soil,” but in America it has come to mean any member of the South Asian community, reflecting a growing sense of cultural unity among Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, and Nepalis living in this country. Numbering over 200,000, the members of this diaspora represent a wide variety of cultural and religious traditions—Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Syrian Christian, South Asian Jewish—and immigrant experiences.
In California, a small “Mexican-Hindu” community rose up in the early 20th century, as male immigrants from Punjab – mostly Sikh – married Hispanic women and started uniquely bicultural families. U.S. immigration laws restricted South Asian women from immigrating to America, while miscegenation laws forbid South Asian men from marrying white women. Marriages between South Asian men and Hispanic women – classified by law within the same racial category – resulted in bicultural children with names like “Maria Singh” and “Jose Rai.”
South Asian women fight for workplace rights at the Grunwick protest 1976. Picture courtesy of The TUC Collection. Note: After some more research, this actually took place in the UK. I’m leaving it up because they’re badass.