Cary’s Heritage

Cary’s Heritage: A history of Indian-American culture

November 18, 2013 

Dr. Vijaya Bapat, a retired pediatrician who lives in Cary, emigrated to the United States 50 years ago. Here, she talks about Indian-American history, community and culture.

Vijaya Bapat: In the mid-1850s following the gold rush, many Chinese men were brought to California to mine for gold and build the transcontinental railroad. By 1882, due to economic prejudices, the federal Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, prohibiting ethnic Chinese from entering the U.S., regardless of country of origin. Indians were classified as Chinese so they were shut out.

This act was repealed in 1943 when China became a U.S. ally against Japan in World War II. After that, little by little, Indians started coming.

In India, education has always been highly valued. The country has many medical schools. Women were encouraged to go to medical school because Indian women were reluctant to go to a male doctor.

In the early 1960s, America had a shortage of doctors. After President Kennedy visited India, he and Sen. (J. William) Fulbright started a Fulbright scholarship for middle-class Indians, at a time when our country was very poor. So Indian students started coming to the U.S.

When the Vietnam War started, the U.S. needed engineers, so the second wave came. The third wave was of the IT people. They came based on the needs of the U.S.

At one time, there was a belief here that Indians come with a begging bowl, that they are poor. But we who have emigrated to the U.S., by and large, are contributing to this country.

We have a responsibility to educate the people in our new home about who we are, and about our values. And our new community has a responsibility to understand the contributions Indian-Americans have made here.

Roughly one-third of the engineers in Silicon Valley are of Indian origin, and 7 percent of their high-tech firms are led by Indian CEOs. Compare how 28 percent of the entire U.S. population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, versus 71 percent of Indian-Americans.

There are 35,000 physicians of Indian origin in the U.S.

In 2002, Indian-owned firms employed 610,000 workers in America, and generated more than $88 billion.

In 2006, 1 percent of the U.S. population was of Indian origin but 10 percent of all U.S. patents were registered by Indian-Americans. These patents have generated a tremendous wealth in America. So immigrants of every origin have contributed a lot to this country.

Today, approximately 29 percent of the population of Morrisville and 8 percent of people in Cary are of Indian origin, so we have a distinct and growing community here.

We now have a language school for our children, an adult and children’s theater, a foreign language section in the West Regional Library, many Indian grocery stores and other shops, and two Indian radio stations.

We have a mosque for Indian Muslims, and the Indian Hindus have their temple.

So now, parts of Cary and Morrisville are getting to be a little India.

Cary’s Heritage is taken from the book, “Just a Horse-Stopping Place, an Oral History of Cary, North Carolina,” first published in August 2006. The book is a collection of oral history interviews conducted between local citizens and Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel.

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