Indian-Americans: Of rich coffers and ideas

By Supriya Jha | Updated: Sep 23, 2014, 19:01 PM IST

When US President Harry Truman signed into law the Luce-Celler Act of 1946, giving to Indian Americans the right to immigrate and naturalize, he might have had some faith in the Indian DNA, but little did he imagine that decades later, this ethnic group would evolve into one of the most diverse, well-educated and richest American communities.

The initial influx of Indians started in early 1900s, when most came as labourers from colonial India that was under the British rule. After India attained Independence, there started an emigration of elite professionals (particularly from 1960s), adorned with high education degrees – a phenomenon that Thomas Friedman described as ‘brain drain’ from India.

And since then, the Indians have not looked back, and have been outshining every other ethnic group, socially and economically, to rule the US Census statistics.

Today, Indian Americans have grown to become the third largest Asian community in the US, after people from China and the Philippines.

According to a report on demographics of the Asian-American population released by the Center for American Progress in 2012, the Indian-American population shot up by 76 percent to 3.34 million in the first 12 years of the 21st century.

It is noteworthy to find that, besides being the fastest growing race, the Indian Americans are also one of the most-educated and the richest ones

Compared to the US average household income of USD 49,800 in 2010, the Indian Americans had a median household income of USD 88,000 - the highest of any group, while the Asian Americans overall registered an average of USD 66,000.

The above-mentioned statistics were published in a report released by the Pew Research Center which took into account the details from its 2012 survey done on Asian Americans, 2010 American Community Survey and US Census Bureau data.

The Pew Research Centre report also highlighted how Indians stood out on academic front as well, with the highest percentage of them, having a bachelor’s degree or higher.

According to the report, in 2010, 70 percent Indian Americans aged 25 or above, were proud owners of a bachelor’s or higher degree as against a meagre 28 percent of Americans.

This piece of data might come as an eye-opener for those who think Indian Americans are only good at rote learning and cracking mentally taxing spellathons as reports say that since 1999, 73 percent of National Spelling Bee champions have been Indian Americans.

Also, what may come as enlightenment to those who think of Indians as only great spellers (secretly scoffing at their so-called rote learning system), is the fact that despite constituting a negligible chunk of US population (approximately 1 percent), the Indian-Americans form three percent of the nation’s engineers, seven percent of its IT workers and eight percent of its physicians and surgeons, says a report in Forbes.

Hailing the overrepresentation and success of Indians in these fields as “eye-catching”, the Forbes report has used the term “model minority” for Indian Americans, referring to their advance education and high earnings, and called them the “latest and the greatest model”.

Adding another feather to Indian hats is a recent report that says that Indian Americans were the best ones to have weathered the impacts of the Great Recession.

From taxi drivers to astronauts, from motel owners to CEOs, from being scholars to deans of prestigious colleges, Indian Americans have carved their own niche in every sphere.

The latest names to have sparkled in the headlines this year were Satya Nadella (who was named the CEO of Microsoft), Rakesh Khurana (appointed as the dean of Harvard college) and Nina Davuluri, who added more shine to her Indian origin when she was crowned Miss America 2014.

Other than making deep economic and social footprints on foreign soil, Indian Americans have also begun to take baby steps in the political arena with Bobby Jindal and Nikky Haley sitting pretty as the Governors of Louisiana and South Carolina respectively. Also, Bobby Jindal may be looking forward to his presidential ambitions in 2016.

Be it academics, space science, IT sector, medicine, literature, politics or showbiz, Indian Americans are being crowned with top laurels and honours.

At this point, it is natural to wonder what lies behind the sparkling success of Indian Americans in the US.

The answers are many, but for a while, the theories like - most Indians come to the US on education visas and are hence adequately elite and educated – can be brushed aside.

If one takes a deeper look at the ethos and values ingrained in the Indian gene, the mystery might seem to unravel.

According to a Pew Research Centre survey, Indian Americans constitute the highest percentage among all groups, who lay an exceptional emphasis on family values.

Compared to a mere 34 percent of general American population and 54 percent Asian Americans who think on the same lines, a much higher 64 percent Indian Americans attach high importance to having a successful married life. Also, while 78 percent Indian Americans think that being a good parent is one of the most important things in life, just 50 percent of all American adults agree.

And Indian Americans not just think on these lines, their lives are testament to their strong belief in family values as the Pew Research Centre survey adds that 71 percent of Indian Americans are married as against 51 percent Americans who have tied the knot.

All statistics figures and surveys aside, the Indians Americans are known to deftly assimilate into the fine elements of foreign cultures while at the same time keeping alive their own heritage and tradition.

Here are few of the successful Indian American names that have lit up the Indian constellation in the American sky:

Kalpana Chawla: An Indian-born American astronaut. In 2003, Chawla was the first Indian woman in space. Unfortunately, she was killed along with six other crew members in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.

Sunita Williams: Former American astronaut and a United States Navy officer, who also has some amazing records under her belt - like longest single space flight by a woman, total spacewalks by a woman, and most spacewalk time for a woman.

Hargobind Khorana: The Nobel laureate scientist who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Marshall W Nirenberg and Robert W Holley for discovering the mechanisms by which RNA codes for the synthesis of proteins

Subramanyan Chandrasekhar: An Indian astrophysicist who was awarded Nobel Prize for Physics (1983) for his mathematical theory on black holes.

Indra Nooyi: She is a Chennai-born naturalized American, business tycoon and the current Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo, the second largest food and beverage business in the world by net revenue.  Also, her name constantly features on the list of World's 100 Most Powerful Women.

Satya Nadella: CEO of Microsoft

Rajeev Suri: CEO of Nokia

Rajiv Gupta: General Manager of Hewlett Packard

Nikesh Arora: Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer of Google

Shantanu Narayen: CEO of Adobe Systems

Ajay Banga: President and CEO of Mastercard

Anshu Jain: Co-CEO of Deutsche Bank.

Sanjay Jha: CEO of Global Foundries & former CEO of Motorola Mobile Devices

Nitin Nohria: He was appointed as the 10th dean of the prestigious Harvard Business School in 2010.

Rakesh Khurana: He was appointed the Dean of Harvard College this year.

Nina Davuluri: The Indian-origin diva was crowned Miss America 2014.

Richard Verma: US ambassador to India

Sri Srinivasan: He has been confirmed as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

VA Shiva Ayyadurai: Inventor of e-mail and professor at MIT

Sabeer Bhatia: Co-founder of Hotmail