- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

EDISON, N.J. (AP) — The train-station billboards tell it all.

Local travel agents promise the best airfares from New York to Bombay. Shagun Fashions is selling dazzling Indian saris. And DirecTV offers “the six top Indian channels direct to you.”

Roughly every third person who lives Edison, a New York suburb, is of Asian Indian ancestry. Many are new immigrants who have come to work as physicians, engineers and high-tech specialists.

Here, they can “get their groceries and goods from home,” said Aruna Rao, a mental health counselor who lives in town.

Although a steady stream of Indians have settled in the United States since the 1960s, immigrants have poured into the country from 2000 to 2005 — arriving at a higher rate than any other Asian group.

Not only is the Indian community burgeoning, but it’s also maturing. Increasingly, after decades of quietly establishing themselves, Indians are becoming more vocal in the American conversation — about politics, ethnicity and many other topics.

“I’ve been studying the community for 20 years, and in the last four or five years, something different has been happening,” said Madhulika Khandelwal, president of the Asian American Center at Queens College in New York. “Indian-Americans are finally out there speaking for themselves.”

Roughly 2.3 million people of Indian ancestry, including immigrants and the American-born, call the United States home, according to 2005 census data. That’s up from 1.7 million in 2000.

They have big communities in New Jersey, New York, California and Texas, and their average yearly household income is more than $60,000 — 35 percent higher than the national average. Indian Americans, along with Indian expatriates worldwide, sent about $23 billion back to India in 2005, World Bank data show.

And so when Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, was caught on video in August calling an Indian-American man “macaca” — a type of monkey and an offensive term — the community quickly responded.

Within days after the reports emerged, Sanjay Puri, founder of the U.S. Indian Political Action Committee, and other Indian leaders in the Washington area requested and got a lengthy meeting with the senator, Mr. Puri said.

Mr. Allen publicly apologized.

But 10 years ago, “it would have been a lot harder,” Mr. Puri said. “But this is a prosperous and fast-growing community. People are beginning to understand that we are contributing politically, so that made a big difference.”

With rapid growth, the community is becoming more complex.

Layered atop the dizzying diversity of India itself — there are dozens of languages, and distinct regional differences in culture, politics and cuisine — are growing class differences among Indian-Americans.

About one-tenth live in poverty, and as many as 400,000 are undocumented, said Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow in Takoma Park.

“This is a community of contrasts,” Ms. Iyer said. “We hear so much about this highly educated and affluent group, but we also have segments that are not fluent in English and are battling immigration problems and hate crimes.”

Reema Desai, an immigration lawyer who has lived in New Jersey since she was 3, and said she sees many signs of positive change compared to a generation ago.

“We’ve made an impact in all sorts of things, and now, you even have people knowing about our holidays and our culture,” she said. “Things are different now. We’re more visible.”

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