Published: Oct 09, 2012 03:50 PM
Modified: Oct 09, 2012 03:55 PM
MORRISVILLE - Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao arrived Sunday evening at the Hindu Society Temple of Morrisville from Washington wearing a bright pink sari. Sitting in the Temples educational center alongside a host of local politicians, she was treated to old-fashioned Southern hospitality.
Four members of the towns fire and police departments strode past the 100-plus people in attendance to present the colors. A man bringing up the back of the group wore a kilt and made a bagpipe blare while a red, white and blue U.S. flag was placed to the left of the stage and Indias flag of orange, white and green was placed to the stages right.
Swadesh Chatterjee is a longtime Cary resident and political activist who co-founded the U.S.-India Friendship Council. The council helped leaders from the two countries craft a nuclear deal allowing India to use nuclear energy for civilian purposes while limiting its military application.
Chatterjee helped arrange the ambassadors visit. In an interview, he described Indias rapid ascent on the international stage as one that has propelled the South Asian country from a place to be managed to a place to partner with.
He reiterated that to the crowd Sunday and said that our community now has an opportunity to make a true mark on the American society and our great state of North Carolina.
Rao agreed, and she said the relationship between the two countries is mutually beneficial.
In a state where Asians make up about 2 percent of the population, Asian-Americans, most from India, account for about 27 percent of Morrisville's residents, according to the 2010 census. Nearly all of them arrived in the past decade, helping make the town one of the fastest-growing in the Triangle.
The influx of South Asians to this part of Wake County is yet another way RTP has helped change the face of this corner of the South. Many of the newcomers are attracted by high-tech jobs in the park and by Wake's schools nearby. They've created an ethnic enclave that is both educated and relatively well-off. Morrisville's median household income tops the county's, and the poverty rate is about 1 percent.
You have the American dream here, and we have the Indian dream, Rao said. When we talk about partnerships between India and the U.S., Im not talking of an abstract concept. Im speaking of a living, pulsating partnership.
After Raos speech, Chatterjee opened the floor to questions, and Rao was pressed on issues that may sound similar to those following this years campaigns in the U.S.
One man wanted to know what could be done about government corruption. Another had trouble getting a response from the embassy about a passport problem, and a group from Bangladesh offered a letter intended for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, criticizing Indias immigration policy.
Rao batted away the claim of rampant corruption and said it was more stereotype than reality, but she did concede there is progress to be made on that front and others.
She compared Indias current place in history to that of the U.S. a century ago, when the country was expanding westward.
While the nation deals with its own struggles, Indians in the U.S., like Morrisville Councilman Steve Rao (no relation), have goals of their own.
A common concern is the so-called brain drain that pushes graduates of universities in the Triangle and around the country to leave the U.S. because of an immigration policy that makes it difficult even for those qualified for top-level jobs to get citizenship.
Theres probably no bigger issue for the community, said Steve Rao. Weve done so well in North Carolina and have been tremendous with innovation in science, technology and core industries. We need to keep the people were training.
Chatterjee agrees: We cant afford to let them go away, he said.
Ambassador Rao will tour North Carolina with state and federal politicians during her visit.
Reporting by staff writer Regina Wang contributde to this report