Hindi Language Blog

Part 1, Indians in America: An Action-Packed Saga from 1635 to the Present Posted by on Oct 10, 2016 in Hindi Language, Uncategorized

Welcome (आपका स्वागत है!/Aapka svaagat hai)! This is the first part of a three part series on Indians in America. I hope you enjoy this blog! (मुझे आशा है कि यह ब्लॉग आपको पसंद आयेगा!/Mujhe aasha hai ki yah blog aapko pasand aayega)!

Immigration to the United States from what we now call the Republic of India has a long, complex and fascinating history. Before the late 1800s, Indian immigration to the U.S. remained sparse, with only two documented examples: an Indian man who traveled to Jamestown, Virginia in 1635 and another man who journeyed from Madras to Massachusetts in 1790 to foster trade between the U.S. and his native region.

The first major wave of Indian immigration to America occurred from 1899 to 1914, when Sikh laborers and farmers traveled from the Punjab region of what was then British India to Angel Island, California. Here, some of them were required to pass through the Angel Island Immigration Station, which was established in 1910 to inspect and, in some cases, detain mostly Asian immigrants seeking access to the mainland U.S. Due to its inhumane treatment of immigrants and restrictive regulations on immigration, the Immigration Station at Angel Island is also known as “The Ellis Island of the West.” These Punjabi immigrants traveled via Hong Kong and later worked on farms and in lumber mills in California, Washington and Oregon.

Apart from these Punjabi immigrants, Indian traders began traveling to the U.S. in the 1880s to encourage the growth of trade connections. Although the number of Indians in the U.S. was small,

American fascination with Indian culture, especially Hinduism, grew immensely, especially in large cities. For example, the American philosophy of Transcendentalism is greatly influenced by the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, which are major Hindu texts.

In 1893, Swami Vivekananda, a Bengali Hindu monk (in Hindi: संयासी/Sanyaasi, masc. noun=ascetic), who was a disciple of the 19th-century mystic, Ramakrishna, gave a speech about India, Hinduism and his trademark credo of universal inter-faith tolerance at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago; a year later in New York, Swami Vivekananda established the Vedanta Society, which is centered on one of the six schools of orthodox Indian philosophy. Regarding Sikhism, the religion first took root in an organized way in America in 1912, when the first Gurudwara (गुरुद्वारा, masc. noun=Sikh place of worship) was built in Stockton, California.

Due to numerous racist legislation either barring or severely restricting Indian immigration to America as well as attainment of citizenship once here, until 1965 the number of Indians in the U.S. remained low. In fact, on September 4th, 1907, riots initiated by mobs of white men who were part of the “Asiatic Exclusion League” in Bellingham, Washington demonstrated the xenophobic and racist attitudes held by some white Americans against Indians and those they deemed to be Hindus (who were actually mostly Sikh).

Interestingly, in 1913, A. K. Mozumdar was the first person of Indian origin to attain citizenship in the U.S.; yet, the major reason that he was given this distinction was that he convinced a district judge in Washington state that he was white and thus eligible for citizenship. The judge made this decision according to a piece of 1790 legislation that stipulated that only members of the white race who were also “free” (i.e., not indentured servants) could be granted citizenship in the U.S. Unfortunately, in 1917, the Barred Zone Act banned all subsequent Asian immigration to the U.S. And, sadly, in 1923, Mozumdar’s citizenship was revoked due to a Supreme Court decision from the same year known as “United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind,” which specified that even high caste Hindus could not be considered white by law and were thus ineligible for citizenship. Ironically, the defendant in the case, Mr. Thind, became a citizen a few years later in New York.

Later on, the Luce-Celler Act of 1946 allowed for a quota of 100 Indians per year to immigrate to the U.S. and attain citizenship. This legislation resulted in another wave of Indian immigration in the 1950s, which consisted primarily of professionals and students. Finally, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished per-country quotas and opened up immigration relatively freely to people other than Northern Europeans and Germanic peoples. This legislation resulted in an influx of Indian immigrants predominantly in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, it was the Tech Boom of the 1990s that inspired the largest spike between 1995 and 2000 of Indian immigrants traveling to the U.S.

Now, American culture has been richly and indelibly shaped by the varied cultures of Indian immigrants, who make up one of the fastest growing and largest (second only to Chinese and Filipino Americans) ethnic groups in the U.S. Indian populations can be found in high concentrations in areas such as New York City (which contains the highest Indian population of any single city in North America), areas in New Jersey and Connecticut, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago and Houston.

In areas with high Indian populations, lovers of Indian culture can listen to Hindi and regional language radio stations, enjoy Bollywood and other Indian films in theaters, savor a myriad of Indian cuisines and shop for Indian merchandise, such as clothing, jewelry, movies and music, in Indian stores such as those that line the famous Hillcroft Avenue in Houston, Texas. Additionally, Indian dance forms such as the Gujarati “Dandiya-Raas/डंडिया रास” and “Garba/गरबा” (mentioned in last week’s blog), as well as the Punjabi dance form “Bhangra/भांगड़ा” and “a capella” groups such as the now-famous “Penn Masala” and instrumentally-accompanied music groups such as the Berklee College of Music’s “Berklee Indian Ensemble” have taken root on college campuses.

In this way, Indian-born and Indian American citizens have fused together aspects of Indian culture as well as aspects of American culture, in this case competitive sports and activities on college campuses, to create new art forms.  Moreover, at many college campuses with large South Asian student populations, Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Holi are celebrated each year. Lastly, Indians in America have earned bragging rights as the socioeconomically highest achieving and most well-educated minority ethnic group in the U.S.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, where I’ll talk about the many “Little Indias” in the U.S. and the different kinds of मज़ा (fun) that awaits you there!

 शब्दावली की सूची (Vocabulary List/Shabdavali ki Suchi): 

  1. इतिहास/Itihaas (masc. noun): history
  2. आप्रवासन/Aapravaasan (masc. noun, formal), परदेश में बसना/Pardesh me basnaa (can be used as noun and verb, informal): immigration
  3. आप्रवास करना/Aapravaas karnaa (verb, formal), परदेश में बसना/Pardesh me basnaa (verb, informal): to immigrate
  4. आप्रवासी/Aapravaasi (masc. and fem. noun, formal), परदेशवासी/Pardeshvaasi (masc. and fem. noun, informal): immigrant
  5. बाढ़/Baarh (fem. noun): wave (of immigration; that is, can be used with people or things), also means a flood (figurative and literal)
  6. क़ानून/Kaanuun (masc. noun): law
  7. संस्कृति/Sanskriti (fem. noun), सांस्कृतिक/Saanskritik (adjective): culture, cultural
  8. धर्म/Dharm (masc. noun), धार्मिक/Dhaarmik (adjective): religion, religious
  9. संगीत/Sangeet (masc. noun): music
  10. खाना/Khaanaa (masc. noun): food (this is also a verb)
  11. जातिवाद/Jaativaad (masc. noun), जातिवादी/Jaativaadi (adjective): rascism, racist
  12. शिक्षा/Shikshaa (fem. noun): education
  13. सहनशीलता/Sehensheeltaa (fem. noun): tolerance
  14. नागरिकता/Naagariktaa (fem. noun), नागरिक/Naagarik or निवासी/Nivaasi (masc. and fem. nouns): citizenship, citizen
  15. पीढ़ी/Peerhee (fem. noun): generation
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About the Author: Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!


  1. Narendra Singh:

    It’s nice article. Waiting for next part.

    • Rachael:

      @Narendra Singh I’m glad you enjoyed it! The second part will be about the many “Little Indias” in the U.S. 🙂