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Desi Migration and Biculturalism

This month represents many things for many groups; however, I would like to highlight two in particular... our Desi immigrant elders and those of us who identify as bicultural.

Let’s start with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Prior to this legislation, citizenship for “non-Aryan” individuals was fervently contested. In 1790, laws were put in place to restrict naturalized citizenship to “white persons” and giving preference to Northern and Western European migrants. Following this law were several xenophobic laws, such as; the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the 1917 Immigration Act (which tested the understanding of the English language as a gate keeping measure). To sum up the general vibe of US immigration laws at this time, we should be taking into consideration Adolf Hitler’s use of such legislation to shape his theories in Mein Kampf.

“The American Union categorically refuses the immigration of physically unhealthy elements, and simply excludes the immigration of certain races.” - Adolf Hitler

The Immigration and Nationality Act of1965 was signed on October 3, 1964 and opened the door for Indians to live the American dream. We can categorize this wave of immigration into three distinct categories. And within these categories, we can find our grandparents, parents, or maybe even ourselves. But first, let’s talk about the factors and layers of privilege which encouraged Indian immigration.

1. Education: Indians who were born in India are 9 times more educated than those in their home country and 3 times more educated than those in the US. Hence, the whole “Indians are smart” stereotype that many of us Indian Americans have grown up with.

2. Class and Caste: Individuals/families from higher classes and castes were more likely to be able to afford to migrate and more likely to have the privilege of education (education and schooling is mostly based on private pay in India, favoring students who have financial resources)

3. Profession: Engineering, IT, and Health Care jobs were difficult to fill with US born employees, Indians jumped on this trend.

Now let’s get to the 3 phases of migration:

1. Early movers (mid-1960s to the late 1970s): Highly educated wave of migrants with about 50% having a professional degree in a STEM field

2. The Families (1980s to mid-1990s): Indians in this wave were most likely families who were staying together as a unit or reunifying with loved ones in the United States

3. The IT Generation (current wave): This group migrated at a higher rate than any other wave and benefited from the huge demand the US had for IT and STEM professionals.

My dad circa mid 1980's. My family was apart of "The Family" wave of migration. This was his first car and we used to call it "Daddy's blue car". 4 year old me cried when he sold it.

There is a ton of pressure placed on many of us to understand, acknowledge, and embody our Indian origin; however, our migration story has been glossed over. Indians have been spreading roots all over the world for at least the past 300 years. Yet, how many of us have felt tested and judged around being "Indian enough"? It’s important for us to celebrate the history of the Indian Diaspora, so our community can fully accept, normalize, and integrate biculturalism into our Indian American societies.

Resources used in this blog post:

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