Majority Rules

Since the Indian restaurant next door to my apartment went out of business, I’ve been coming home to find unclaimed stacks of Little India magazine strewn all over the sidewalk.  While stepping over a copy the other day, I noticed the cover story:  “Only U.S. Town with an Indian Majority.”  Naturally, I was curious.  Where is this town?  In the Bay Area?  Jersey?  Or is it in the great state that brought us weather-forecasting groundhogs and chipped ham?  (The answer is #3.)

Millbourne is a tiny Pennsylvania borough with an estimated population of 994.  At the time of the 2000 Census, Indian-Americans constituted 40% of its population; current “Little India projections” bring that number up to 63%, compared with a national average of less than 0.6%.   

The 2000 Census outlines the broad contours of Millbourne’s Indian community. The gender breakdown is about even: 53 percent to 47 percent women. Five percent are mixed race. The median age of the Indian community is 32. Only 13 percent of the Indians are native-born. Almost two-thirds migrated to the United States within the previous decade. Like the other residents of the city, Indians in Millbourne are principally blue collar. The median household income for the 102 Indian households in the borough was $36,000, higher than the borough average, but substantially below the national median Indian household income of $64,000. However, only 7 percent of the Millbourne Indians were below the poverty line, as opposed to 9 percent of Indians nationally. Just 10 percent of Indians in the borough owned their home, which is less than a quarter of the home ownership rate among Indian Americans nationwide.

Millbourne lies adjacent to the city of Upper Darby, pop. 81,000, and is a 10-minute train ride from Philadelphia.  The town is so small (0.7 sq. miles) that it lacks its own school system, movie theater, or Starbucks, but it does boast a gurudwara, a Keralite church, and a small mosque.  Millbourne’s first Indian residents came from Kerala:

The earliest Indian immigrants to settle here were nurses from Kerala, who had been sponsored for jobs at area hospitals. Soon their husbands and children followed, establishing themselves in this small, very affordable town.

“This is true for majority of the cases where the wives first came to the country as nurses,” says John Kurichi, whose family was among the first Keralite family to settle in Millbourne in 1979; his wife has been a nurse for 27 years. He believes his was the first Indian family to move into the area; many other families with links to Kerala followed. The families are members of the Malayalee Association of Delaware and the community keeps connected through the St. Gregorios Malan Kara Orthodox Church, which has a pastor from Kerala.


p>Millbourne’s latest wave of Indian immigrants is predominantly Sikh:

The predominant subethnic group in Millbourne is, without a doubt, Sikh, accounting for, according to some, as much as 80 percent of the Indian population. It is home to the Sikh Gurudwara and the Philadelphia Sikh Society, which is the nucleus and the reason for the expanding community.

Millbourne experienced a population surge from New York after 9/11. Many Sikh families abandoned New York in the wake of the terror attacks and racial profiling and took refuge in this small community where the gurudwara was their beacon and anchor, and all around them were people of their color and beliefs.


p>Among other things, some of Millbourne’s residents may be responsible for your next airline meal:

Some four miles away is Jyoti Cuisine India, which manufactures Indian meals in Sharon Hill, as well as canned goods and ready to eat entrees that are sold in natural food stores like Whole Foods. The company has been producing natural vegetarian food since 1979 and currently provides the hot meals served on board Continental, British Airways, Emirates and US Airway flights. Their automated facilities require only 15 workers, but ten of them are Sikh women from Millbourne, who catch the bus daily to the plant.

According to Sunil Manchanda, business manager at Jyoti Foods: “Ours is basically Indian food and these women know what Indian food is all about. Some work on the cooking, making matri or gulab jamun or parathas and rotis for the airlines.  

Millbourne seems to have a lot going for it: low crime, good community relations, close proximity to the big city, and one selling point that seems too good to be true to this Bay Area resident:

ItÂ’s still possible to get a three-bedroom house with a patch of green for under $100,000.

With real estate prices like that, IÂ’m starting to think that MillbourneÂ’s next resident may be Sri Lankan.

19 thoughts on “Majority Rules

  1. wow, indeed. for a second i thought you were going to write about fremont, and i was thinking, “have i been away from CA for THAT long??”

    i’m extra fascinated by the mallu link. very cool, ads.

  2. Ive heard that the municipal limits of Elizabeth NJ, has more Indians than any other ethnicity. Going to OAK TREE ROAD, I wouldnt be surprised.

    Oak Tree Road is in Edison, not Elizabeth, and having lived in that area for some time, I can say that Indians definitely do not make up >20% of the population in either town.

  3. I’m still pretty sure I have read that Edison’s Indian population does not tip >20%. Edison’s municipality is a lot larger than Oak Tree Road, and Oak Tree itself can be misleading, since a lot of people drive from all over NJ and the Northeast to shop there.

  4. The print version of the article has a chart listing the Indian populations of various cities. I don’t have it with me right now, but I’m pretty sure that brimful is right; none of the other cities listed, including Fremont, Yuba City, Edison, and Iselin, top 20%. (I can check this later tonight…)

  5. i think the term keralite should be deprecated. it should be malayalee/malayali or mallu. keraliite just doesn’t have the rolling syllables and fluid intonations of malayalam.

  6. The Asian (Chinese, Korean, Filipino et. al.) population of Edison is significantly larger than the desi pop.

    I believe the new mayor is Korean-American

  7. wow

    I’m so proud to be Indian & Mallu. We are taking over every corner of this planet. I have not the foggiest idea where this mentioned place is, but its good to know that my people are there.

    We’ve done a darn fine job of colonising South Africa!

    As far as I know the largest indian immigrant population in the world is here in South Africa. I stand to be corrected though.

  8. For the record the section of Oak Tree Rd that everyone is talking about is in the town of Iselin, not Edison, although it is easy to confuse since they’re neighboring towns.

  9. Shok Pact, can you give me a figure? I know the UK South Asian population is about 2.5 million (off-hand, maybe wrong) but about half aren’t Indian.

    I stayed with an Indian friend in Durban. Grey Street (correct me if I’m wrong boss) is a major centre for Indian shops and so forth. I read in one guide book that Grey Street was an apt location for the Indians in SA as it described their position in South Africa through apartheid – not black, but not white.

    Going back to what ads said – it’s rather sad to read that a significant number of Sikhs fled NY. I didn’t know that.

  10. LoL.. I’ve got to say that 1/2 of my dad’s side of the family lives or used to live in Milbourne and I was born there. But then moved to Upper Darby right after, and lived there for 10 years and then finally 6 years ago, moved here into cozy old Bethlehem, PA. The gurdwara is pretty nice.

  11. Just to clear some things up, according to the 2000 Census, “Asian Indians” account for 17.3% of Edison’s population of about 100,000. I’ve spent most of my life in Edison and have seen the change in the social demographic and would not be at all surprised if the actual number (including those who didn’t respond, illegals, etc.) is around 20%. The rest of the Asian population (12%) is smaller than the Indian pop. according to the Census. And damn, Oak Tree Rd. is another world.

  12. browntowns are bizarre, you cease to feel special

    check toronto

    parts of brampton (north-west suburb)with a 37% south asian pop!

    Anyone from toronto know what that little spot in north-east downtown is? the one that’s 42% south asian?

  13. Shok Pact, can you give me a figure? I know the UK South Asian population is about 2.5 million (off-hand, maybe wrong) but about half aren’t Indian.

    Bong Breaker

    The indians make up 2.6% of the total SA population,(which is 45 Million).