- Associated Press - Sunday, May 28, 2017

FORSYTH, Ill. (AP) - Urvashi Doshi and her family eventually gave in to the siren call of Forsyth.

Doshi and husband Nirav are immigrants from India, both engineers at Decatur’s Caterpillar Inc. plant and both had lived in Decatur for about 11 years. They had long had their eye on Forsyth, however, and moved there last year after finding a house that “just clicked with us,” said Doshi, 38.

Forsyth, a village of about 3,700, is close to where they work, has pretty neighborhoods with walking and bike trails and, for the couple’s children Tanish, 10, and 4-year-old Aadish, the family particularly liked the solid reputation of the Maroa-Forsyth School District.

“And then there are quite a few other Indian families already in Forsyth,” said Urvashi Doshi. “We are a family that is very socially connected to our community, and we had lots of friends already in Forsyth, too. It was another factor compared to moving to a place like Mount Zion.”

Forsyth’s Indian residents have increased steadily over the past 30 years, and Mayor Marilyn Johnson, who has lived in the village for 50 years, has been happy to watch the numbers of her overseas constituents rise.

“Having them here is an asset to our community and an asset to our school district,” said the mayor, who believes society at large and kids in school are enriched by having contact with people from different cultural backgrounds. Johnson, who loves to go walking, says she is always bumping into Indian families out on the walking trails and makes a point of introducing herself.

She said the Indian families enjoy the small-town lifestyle and are delighted with the trails, village park, library and other amenities Forsyth has invested in to improve quality of life.

“What we’ve done here has paid off for us,” she said. “Forsyth is a wonderful place.”

And while Indian families immerse themselves in American down home culture - the mayor said the annual village Easter Egg hunt is very popular - they don’t have to go far to encounter outposts of their ethnic heritage. Authentic cuisine is available right next to U.S. 51 at Forsyth’s Maharani Indian Kitchen, for example.

Adjoining the Phillips 66 gas station, customers just passing through the station’s convenience store area will be struck by the vast array of Indian grocery items butting up against familiar Midwest delicacies such as packets of Ding Dongs. Soon, however, the shelves give on to packets of Indian cooking essentials such as ginger, black cumin seeds and turmeric powder.

More than half of Indian immigrants in the United States obtain lawful permanent residence (also known as receiving a “green card”) through the employment-based preference, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Compared to the overall foreign- and native-born populations, Indian immigrants are significantly higher educated, more likely to be employed, and have a higher household income, the think tank has reported.

Among other MPI findings: Indian immigrants tend to have much higher educational attainment compared to both the foreign- and native-born populations. In 2013, 76 percent of Indian immigrants (ages 25 and over) had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 28 percent of all immigrants over 25 and 30 percent of native-born adults. Notably, among college-educated Indian immigrants, more than half had a graduate or professional degree.

Singh casually mentions that she holds a doctorate in physics and, before she got into the restaurant and gas station business (she and husband, Harjinder, own multiple stations) she worked in the field of semiconductors and specialized in improving stored memory capacity.

She said her education had given her a good job in India, too, but hard work in America offers bigger rewards.

Education wasn’t always the immigrants’ guiding star, however. According to MPI, Indian immigrants began arriving in the New World as early as 1820 and were largely uneducated farmers. Immigration was restricted by laws passed in the early 20th century but picked up again in the 1960s when more legal changes removed quotas linked to certain countries.

Later additions of more visa categories for skilled workers dramatically boosted an influx of highly skilled and educated Indians with strong English skills. Indian immigration jumped 10-fold between 1980 and 2013, the immigrant population here shooting from 206,000 to 2.04 million. And Indian migrants today receive the most H-1B skilled worker visas: of 316,000 such visas issued in fiscal year 2014, 70 percent went to Indian applicants.

India is also the second highest source (after China) of foreign students studying in American colleges and some 103,000 such students were registered in the 2013-14 academic year, according to MPI.

The big centers of Indian population stateside remain cities such as Chicago, but immigrants like gastroenterologist Dr. Sudhakar K. Sheth, say relatively quiet towns like Forsyth have their alluring charms.

“First of all, it’s a nice place, a quiet safe town, not much crime,” said Sheth, 67, who came to America 40 years ago. He settled in Chicago but moved to Forsyth 15 years ago, after he set up practice with Decatur Memorial Hospital.

“There is already an Indian community here you can socialize with, the mall is nearby along with restaurants, and the house prices are very reasonable compared to cities like Chicago or Cleveland,” he said.

The doctor also likes the nearby highways which he says can put him in Chicago rapidly if he drives like he means it. Sheth and his wife, Meena, have an adult son and daughter living in Chicago, plus family and friends, and make the trek north about 10 times a year.

“We can get there in 2½ hours,” he said.

But he has no plans to live in the Windy City again. “My wife loves it in Forsyth because it gives her time to read,” said Sheth, talking of the relaxed village atmosphere compared to Chicago’s hectic social whirl. “There is social activity here, but you don’t have to do too much socializing, and the people here, the local people, are very, very nice.”

The doctor is the current president of the Macon County Indian Association, a cultural group that arranges Indian cultural events.

About 75 families belong to the association, and one of the older established Forsyth families is the Patels: pediatric doctor Samir Patel, his wife Meghana and their children Raj, 21, and 16-year-old Ria, who has her heart set on becoming a dentist.

“It’s all very laid back, very laid back,” she said. “But we try to have at least four functions a year.” These mirror major festivals back home, such as “Diwali,” the festival of light, celebrated with elaborate rituals, decorations and food.

The Hindu religion of India man gods and manifestations of gods, and it’s hard to pin down a common theme for celebrating their faith. There is no Hindu temple in Forsyth, for example, although most Indian homes have an area set aside for religious devotion.

Patel said expatriate Indians are as diverse as the country they came from: “India has 29 states, more than 20 languages and 200 plus dialects,” she said. “So with every state you go to in India, they have a different way of speaking, a different way of presenting food, a different way of wearing clothing.”

What unites them all in America, however, is they see this as a land of opportunity.

Drawing a sharp contrast with the land of his ancestors, Dr. Samir Patel said high school students in India take a crucial test that decides their whole future.

“Let’s say you have to score 85 percent or higher to get into the field of medicine,” said Patel, who came to America when he was 8. “If I took the standardized test, and I got an 82 or an 83, no matter how much I want to go to school to study medicine, and however much I may love it, I can’t go. That’s it. The schools won’t let you in.”

Meanwhile, in America, he’s watched his children grow up in Maroa-Forsyth classrooms and knows for them, the opportunity to excel in college and career is real.

“As long as you can do the required courses, you can major in whatever you want,” he said with a broad smile. “The opportunities here are endless, and that is the great thing about America.”


Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/2pipKsY


Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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