India Network Publications

Date:         Sun, 3 Dec 2000 15:38:36 -0500
Reply-To:     "K.V. Rao" <kvrao@INDNET.ORG>
From:         "K.V. Rao" <kvrao@INDNET.ORG>
Subject:      History - Indians in the USA & Canada
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII
Date: 28 NOV 1994 19:10:10 GMT From: Bobby Koritala <> Newsgroups:, soc.culture.indian Subject: Indians in the USA


My main source is : "Passage from India" by Joan Jensen. Yale Univ Press.

I have included dates occasionally. This is a brief, very compressed version. Please read the Jensen book and other related source for more detail.

Abbrevs: NA - North America

The Early Days: *************** The earliest recorded Indian in the USA was an Indian from Madras, who visited Massachusetts in 1790. A number of Indians were brought to the USA by seafaring Captains to serve in their households as servants. Records of this period contain references to bright turbaned Indians participating in Fourth of July parades. In the early and mid-1800's a number of scholars became interested in Indian culture, history and philosophy. They formed associations to discuss their interest in India. This is how the terms "Boston Brahmin" and "Pundit" came to be used in American literature.

The middle Years: "The trouble begins" ************************************** A number of Indians immigrated into Northwest USA and Canada. Most of them were from Punjab and were Sikhs. They worked in the lumberyards. A large number of them worked in laying the railroads in the western states of the USA as well. The main reason for their being in America was to save money and send it home to their families. Most of them had to relinquish their farm-lands to the British landlords in Punjab, because they couldn't afford to pay the taxes imposed on them by the British rulers. Droughts had destroyed their crops, but they were still expected to pay taxes to the British. If they didn't, their lands were confiscated. For most of these young men their only escape was as migrant laborers, because the British had blocked all attempts at gainful employment in India.

The lumber mill owners liked the migrant Indian workers because they worked long hours for lower wages (about half) than the European workers. The workers earned more than they could in India, so they worked hard and saved money. The US consular representative in India, discouraged Indian workers from going to the US. Indians were denied permission to immigrate and pressure was applied to the British to curb the flow. Mormon evangelists were dis-couraged from taking Indians back to the USA. The consul said to one of them, "the Indian is not fit for the American West".

In the meantime, the number of migrant European workers was growing in the Northwest. The migrant Indian workers were seen as "not really American" and a movement was started to ban them from working in the lumberyards. This was the beginning of the "Asian Exclusion League"(AEL). Consequently, a number of Indian workers moved down to northern California and worked on the farms. They were skilled farm workers because they came from the state of Punjab in India, which is mainly an agrarian state.

A number of the Indians had saved enough money to buy some land. They were sold land that was "unfit for the white man's inhabitation". However, they were able to become very successful farmers. The US government almost never allowed Indian women to immigrate to the US because that would mean that Indians could "put down roots" in the US by marrying and starting a family. The California state government passed a law which made it illegal for non-citizens or naturalized non-white citizens to own land. The Indians got around this by organizing co-operatives, which ceded ownership to some Indian children born in America. Some of the Indians entered into agreements with white persons who were given a profit share for saying they owned the land. But a large number of such relationships ended in the white partner claiming, at harvest time, that the whole crop was theirs.

The AEL gained popularity in Canada and the northwest US. Their meetings commonly featured songs such as "White Canada". The lumberyards were forced to lay off all Indian workers and were banned from hiring anymore. The living conditions of the Indians deteriorated drastically. They were forced into slums. A large number of these workers lived in Bellingham in Washington state. In Bellingham, the AEL triggered a riot in which a huge mob of around 500 white men attacked Indian dwellings and workplaces. While the police stood by and did nothing, six Indians were injured and had to be hospitalized, 410 Indians were held in the Belligham Jail for "Protective Custody". By the end of the day of the Bellingham riot, all Indian workers and businessmen had been forced out of Bellingham. The mayor of the city proudly announced in the railway station (where the Indians were herded onto trains to northern california or Canada) that Bellingham was free of Indians. This happened on September 5, 1907 and was followed by similar incidents on October 2 at the Canadian-Washington State border. A month later the "Hindoos" were expelled from Everett, Washington. Three years later the entire community (including the mayor, the Sherriff and the district attorney) in Saint John, Oregon (near Portland) conspired in the forced expulsion of all Indians.

Note: I have tried to be accurate. Pardon any mistakes I might have made. I strongly urge you to read more about Indian history in the US. It is largely not included in American school curricula and it is essential that we know everything about our history in the USA.

The modern years: ***************** A large number of Indians came from Hong Kong and other areas in Asia too. Some Indians came as students to universities such as the University of California at Berkeley. It was during this period that the British and the US government started cooperating to limit Indian immigration. This policy was tested when the British informed the US authorities that a ship called the "Komagatu Maru" was headed to the US from Hong Kong with about 375 Indians. When the Maru arrived at Angel Island (the port of entry which holds terrible memories for Asian immigrants) the AEL had organized a huge mob to prevent the offloading of any Indians. The persons on the ship were denied food and water for days and were prevented from landing. Finally, in exchange for food and water, they were turned away.

The Indian population in the US and Canada grew very slowly during this period. It consisted mostly of students coming to study at universities. These students organized themselves into a few associations. Some of them supported the cause of Indian freedom from the British while some were loyalists to the British. The British stationed a full time secret agent named Hopkinson to monitor their activities and to cajole the US government into deporting the freedom seekers. The deportees were usually prosecuted by the British in India.

Hopkinson developed an efficient network of spies and was very successful in deporting a number of Indian leaders on the pretext that they were planning a revolution in India. It was under these circumstances that the "Ghadhar party" was formed in the US to support Indian freedom. They published newspapers for distribution in India that openly called for a freedom struggle against the British. An ongoing battle of wits raged between these Indians and the British-American nexus. Hopkinson was assassinated in an American courtroom, when he was testifying against an Indian (for deportation).

A number of these Indian freedom groups associated themselves with the German government during the second world war because the Germans promised them help in gaining freedom from the British. Hopkinson exposed a number of these links and a large number of these people were imprisoned in the US. After the war, the first war collaborators to be tried and deported were these Indians. Even the German nazi collaborators in the US were tried after these Indians. (In a way it seems like the war provided a nice excuse for the US government to deport these Indians.)

During this period a large number of Indians started to apply for naturalization. At this point US law only allowed whites to become naturalized citizens. But most judges couldn't decide how to classify Indians and a large number of them granted Indians citizenship. A New Orleans judge wrote about how dis-concerting it was to see a "dark white man" - the Indian - before granting him citizenship. A number of southern Europeans looked like Indians as well, so Indians benefited from this similarity.

A number of Indians were also getting married in the US. A few of the farm workers in California married Hispanic women. However, most of these marriages ended in divorce because of the cultural and religious disparities. The children that these couples had constituted a small Indian-Hispanic population which was quickly integrated into the Hispanic community because the children usually stayed with the mother after divorce. A few Indians married white women as well.

At this point the movement to formalize the exclusion of Asians from America was gaining momentum. The Chinese had already been excluded through the Chinese exclusion act in the late 1800's. A senator from California mounted a very popular campaign to exclude Indians. However there was a problem because Indians were immigrating to the US, not just from the Indian mainland but from other countries in Asia as well. But the US government was determined to stop them. Congress passed the "Immigration Regional Restriction Act" in 1917 over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson. It basically drew a line around the areas in Asia from which Indians and Filipinos were immigrating and banned them. Of course there was a provision to allow Europeans born in this region to immigrate.

The exclusionists had achieved most of their goals by now. Asian and Indian immigration was virtually banned. However, this wasn't enough. A movement was mounted to deny citizenship to the Indians in the US, take away the citizenship from Indians who had already been granted citizenship and to apply the Regional Exclusion Act retroactively to deport all Indians in the US. It worked partially. A large number of Indians left. Many of them were denied citizenship, with the supreme court upholding one such decision that was challenged. On February 19, 1923, with Justice George Sutherland delivering the opinion, the Supreme court held that East Indians were not eligible for United States citizenship because they could not be considered white or caucasian. A few Indians lost their citizenship. One interesting case was that of an Indian lawyer in California who had married a white woman. Under the law, if a man lost his citizenship, his wife automatically lost hers too. He challenged in court that if his citizenship was revoked his wife would lose hers too and then she would have nowhere to go because she was a white American. He retained his citizenship.

The 1920's were the period of the most immigration to the USA. Virtually all immigrants came from Europe. A large number of Americans trace their ancestry to these immigrants. Asians however, were banned from immigrating by law.

Note: I have tried to be accurate. Pardon any mistakes I might have made. I strongly urge you to read more about Indian history in the US. It is largely not included in American school curricula and it is essential that we know everything about our history in the USA.

The new age: the "iron curtain" lifts: *************************************** Towards the end of second world war, President Roosevelt started to lift immigration restrictions on Asians. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. The Indian Regional Exclusion Act was however, stuck in the congressional committee web. Roosevelt had to send his personal envoy to the hill to lift the ban on Indians. However, Indian immigration didn't pick up until after the immigration reform act was passed, making immigration a little less racist and a little more equitable.

Indian immigration picked up considerably in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a number of Indian doctors immigrating to fill the shortage of doctors created by the Vietnam war. The momentum gained during this time has led to the continuing increase in Indian immigration through the 1980s and the 1990s. An Indian gentleman was elected to congress for two consecutive terms (from California) in the 1960s. Congressman Saund's eligibility to run for congress was challenged in court because he hadn't been an American citizen "long enough". However, the California Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that by January 3, 1957, when Saund would take office, he would have been a citizen for the requisite amount of time. The Indian congressman's (Dulip Singh Saund) term ended with his death. Currently, there are a few Indians running for Congress (Peter Mathews-leading in polls, Neil Dhillon - lost his primary due to very negative adverstising his opponent, Kumar Barve, Raj Uppulluri - lost his primary).

Most Indians currently immigrating to the US are either the family of US citizens or professionals. The Indian community in the US is currently the most well educated and prosperous one. Close to 89% of Indians in the US have completed high school, 65% have completed college and a stunning 40% have completed Masters or Doctorate degrees. Their per capita income is the highest in the USA. Their educational and income levels are higher than other Asian American groups, Whites, Hispanics and Blacks. (US Census figures).

Indians in the USA have ventured into almost every field and occupation, though most of them are professionals such as doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs and financial analysts. Indians have held positions such as the sheriff of a county in Maryland, a member of the coaching staff for the San Francisco 49ers, etc. Zubin Mehta, as a conductor of the New York Philharmonic, is one of the most renowned Indians in the US. Ismael Merchant is a well established movie producer. Freddie Mercury (alias Farhud Balsara) of the rock band Queen was part Indian. The founder of Gupta Technologies and the co-founder of Sun Microsystems are a few among a number of other pioneering Indian entrepreneurs. Close to 3000 Indian Americans work in the New York MTA, contributing to the management of the worlds largest transit system. Miss Teen USA for the year 1994 is Miss Ratna Kancherla an Indian American from Georgia. I could go on and on about the variety of professions and fields that Indian Americans have contributed to, but it should suffice to say that Indian Americans have consistently contributed a great deal to the economic, social and cultural prosperity of the United States of America.

As you have probably learned from this document about the history of Indians in the USA, Indians are not new to this country and have been an integral part of the American mosaic for a long time. Most of the historical facts stated here are almost never taught in American schools and are generally ignored by the media. Since the number of Indian americans is growing rapidly, it is essential that more of the American populace know this history. It can lead to more acceptance and integration of Indians into American society. A good understanding of this relationship between Indians and the USA may also serve as a foundation for better relations between India and the USA. It is about time two of the greatest democracies in the world started co-operating and working together. Perhaps with a better understanding of their past, Americans of Indian origin can contribute resolutely to developing friendly relations between the USA and India. The social, cultural and economic benefits to both countries could be immense.

Note: I have tried to be accurate. Pardon any mistakes I might have made. I strongly urge you to read more about Indian history in the US. It is largely not included in American school curricula and it is essential that we know everything about our history in the USA.

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