Chindia in the South Bay

Interesting article posted on the news tab, Indian population diversifying Bay Area’s Asian population. Here’s an infographic which tells the tale:

20110512_062829_asianpop.jpg

To some extent the story is a recycling of an old American dynamic of the ethnic shift of neighborhoods and communities as they’re impacted by different waves of immigrants, in this case from Chinese to Indians. It focuses on the city of Cupertino, which as of 2010 is 63% Asian American, 31% non-Hispanic white, 4% Hispanic, and 1% black.But a personally interesting aspect is the direct migration of immigrants from India to full-service Indian American communities. This is a totally alien experience from my own. I know that many of the readers of this weblog of a certain age also probably have a hard time imagining this sort of fluid transition from India to “Little India.” Here’s a representative snapshot:

In a typical week, Buch shops for okra, tindora and surti pardi beans at an Indian market. She drops off her boys for cricket practice or tabla drum lessons in town. Over the weekend, she and her husband, Hemant, might dine with friends at one of Cupertino’s new Indian restaurants. There’s even a Tamil language academy held every weekend at the campus of De Anza College in Cupertino.

The Buchs moved from Gujurat, India, to San Jose in 1987, then moved to Cupertino in 2001, primarily for the schools. Cupertino’s elementary and high schools rank in the top 10 of California schools.

In contrast as a kid I recall a 5 hour drive to get basic ingredients for cooking brown food. I spent my high school years in a town where the only other brown people outside of my family was the family which owned the motel, an adopted kid from India, and a Cambodian family. That was it. Period. (you might wonder if a Cambodian family “counts,” but trust me, in that context it did count!)

38 thoughts on “Chindia in the South Bay

  1. Interesting article and comments, but I guess you can’t really have any commentary without a few scattered xenophobes and the inevitable desi chest thumpers.

    I’m curious, do you see any value in staying firmly entrenched within your comfort zone, without ever feeling the need to assimilate? While I understand it’s easy to move straight from the desh into a Little India or some such, it’s not the route I’d take. Then again, I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment given the small midwestern university town I’m studying in. Much as the lack of ‘brown’ amenities bothers me, I think I’ve gained some understanding of the American mindset (if there is such a thing), which could potentially prove valuable.

    I recall a chat I had a few years ago with Venki Ramakrishnan (an alumnus of my dept.) about the good old days in the early 70s when he was still a physicist, having arrived straight from the desh. It appears he managed the transition to small town American life quite well, although he did tire of the lack of food choices. When he and his friends wanted ‘ethnic’ food, they’d drive down to Columbus, OH to eat at the one Chinese restaurant there. His story is not at all unique, and the lack of choice forces a certain variety of flexibility.

    I see his general flexibility as being indicative of his risk taking mindset, the same mindset that made him switch fields and start from scratch in biology, only to become hugely successful at it. My assessment is obviously very unscientific and very anecdotal with lots of extrapolation, but I’d still put money on the fact that a small amount of discomfort is probably beneficial. I’m glad desis now have an (arguably?) easy route, I’m just not sure that choosing it is in their best interests over the longer term.

  2. Related: almost 6 years ago (Damn we’re old) Manish blogged about a WSJ article on Cupertino’s school’s and white flight. Then Cupertino was 41% Asian.

    speaking of old, i have white friends who are professionals in manhattan who admit that they keep close what on the % of asians and blacks in the schools their little kids end up going too. not too much of either. they like “balance” :-)

    1, i didn’t mind being a faculty brat in out of the way places. i do think it gives me somewhat more empathy for what are sometimes referred to here on the comments as “crackers” or “white trash.” i saw the structural social/economic circumstances from which the subculture and its pathologies (hostility, meth) arise. that’s important to do before you deny people their humanity and turn them into role players which serve as stand-ins (i.e., xenophobia).

  3. Given the natural desi tendency to insularity and ethnocentrism I predict a marked rise in endogamy and a return to a kind of cultural provincialism once these Little India’s taek hold.

    • Yes. We will see gangs, organized crime, xenophobia/”towny-ism”, and more white flight. On the other hand, we’ll see a vibrant hybridized culture develop from these inward looking townies. Maybe they’ll invent new forms of music, food, etc.?

  4. These parents are very silly to cluster this way, just b/c of some drum lessons. Or perhaps the parents are selfish and want the shops, and don’t care about the kids. It will be very difficult to get into the Ivies from Cupertino High School. Much smarter to be the desi applicant from a non-Asian area.

  5. Given the natural desi tendency to insularity and ethnocentrism

    certainly there’s a tendency. but isn’t ‘natural’ too strong of a word?

  6. These parents are very silly to cluster this way, just b/c of some drum lessons. Or perhaps the parents are selfish and want the shops, and don’t care about the kids. It will be *very* difficult to get into the Ivies from Cupertino High School. Much smarter to be the desi applicant from a non-Asian area.

    Hahaha idk if this was a tongue-in-cheek remark or a genuine moment of uber-desiness but I love it! :D

    certainly there’s a tendency. but isn’t ‘natural’ too strong of a word?

    I think every cultural group has a tendency to insularity, but goddamn do some brown folk seem hell bent on self-segregation, right down to the specific sub-ethnic groups….I was raised in a very white-bread town and was excited to see lots more Desi’s when I went to college, excited to finally hang out with people of my background other than family and a few family friends….nope, quickly realized the Guju’s would stick with their own and speak Gujurati with each other (same with Punjabi’s, Bengalis, etc) and that they regarded me as different to their culture as they would a White or Black person. I found this really surprisingly actually. But it makes sense once you realize that “South Asian” is a term used mostly by the North American diaspora, whereas actual South Asians often identify by ethnic group rather than this new(er) identity.

  7. But it makes sense once you realize that “South Asian” is a term used mostly by the North American diaspora, whereas actual South Asians often identify by ethnic group rather than this new(er) identity.

    right. this has been an issue since the beginning of the weblog. fwiw. i do identify more as a bengali than a south asian because i’m not part of the nascent pan-south asian culture developing in the USA which is a new development (e.g., people like vinod who are ethnically south indian and don’t speak hindi consume punjabi music).

  8. After “Ghandi” and “Poonjab”, is it now GujUrat’s turn to be textually or verbally massacred? It’s GujArat, folks.

    Also, as much as “South Asian” seems like a North American construct, it was also a reality I grew up in India with. The 80s was the era of the non-aligned movement, when present dictators like Mugabe used to get pride of place in India’s Republic Day festivities. It was also the age of SAARC – South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Every couple of years there used to be a SAARC summit in one of the 7 member countries and a SAARC Games. It was the one place where India got to show off its physical muscle ;)

    To many of us who grew up in India during those times, “South Asia” makes perfect sense. The addition of Afghanistan or Iran into the South Asia mix is what throws me off sometimes (sorry Alina!)

  9. Haha I’m sorry! I admit I’m guilty of “Ghandi” as well as “Gujurat”; I do pronounce them correctly however :)

    The addition of Afghanistan or Iran into the South Asia mix is what throws me off sometimes (sorry Alina!)

    I agree with you Iran isn’t S.Asian. I also think the Tajiks/Uzbeks/Hazara of Afghanistan are Central Asian, but I think most Desi’s would agree Pashtuns are undeniably South Asian; so many of us live in Pakistan/India as well. We have that ASI component Razib has blogged about too; we are related to Dravidians. Many of us were Hindus before converting to Islam too.

  10. I agree with you Iran isn’t S.Asian. I also think the Tajiks/Uzbeks/Hazara of Afghanistan are Central Asian, but I think most Desi’s would agree Pashtuns are undeniably South Asian; so many of us live in Pakistan/India as well. We have that ASI component Razib has blogged about too; we are related to Dravidians. Many of us were Hindus before converting to Islam too.

    right. what i have read is that pashtuns are part of the southern asian cultural sphere, while the tajiks are iranian-central asian (as they speak dari). i was frankly shocked to see this validated genetically. pashtuns share the genetic component which is localized to south asia, reaching highest frequencies in south india, to nearly the same degree as punjabis and sindhis. other iranian linguistic groups lack this.

  11. p.s. my shock was mostly because i assumed that iranian groups would cluster together against indo-aryan groups. the pashtuns break the pattern, having iranian speech, but a genetic makeup not too different from punjabi peasants.

    • This is amazing to me. I’ve always read that the Pashtunistan area represents a hybrid Indian-Iranian landmass where Iranian is the speach but culturally, it is quite Indic (northern Indian, Punjabi).

      Out of curiosity, has any genetic study been conducted to validate/disprove the amount of Macedonian/Greek/Persian genetics in these and Northern Punjab populations to account for Alexander’s invasion in ~300 BC? This maybe very difficult since most of his troops when he invaded N. Punjab were Persians.

  12. the pashtuns break the pattern, having iranian speech, but a genetic makeup not too different from punjabi peasants.

    Pashtuns have mixed with other Indian groups for sure over centuries; the culture is patriarchal, so men can marry outsiders and the kids are still considered part of the “tribe”; so we end up being an Eastern Iranian group with significant ASI, ANI, plus African, Central Asian, Persian, etc…basically mutts like everyone else in South Asia : ) our language is also closer to Dari than Urdu, i’d say (but my Dari sucks ass)

  13. I just find it cool that there’s a cricket academy there!

    Same – one of the commenters was like Why dontcha try a real Amurrrican sport, like baseball?! Lol…well cricket kind of is like baseball though.

    I wonder when ABD’s will start spreading out a bit and not clustering? We tend to cluster in Houston, NY, NJ, and Cali; when are we gonna start hitting the Midwest? East Asians have been here longer than us and they still kind of cluster though. Whatever, I’m not planning to move to Nebraska anytime soon so I can’t blame them.

  14. We tend to cluster in Houston, NY, NJ, and Cali; when are we gonna start hitting the Midwest?

    there’s a city in northern illinois on lake michigan. look it up :-)

  15. “I think every cultural group has a tendency to insularity, but goddamn do some brown folk seem hell bent on self-segregation, right down to the specific sub-ethnic groups….I was raised in a very white-bread town and was excited to see lots more Desi’s when I went to college, excited to finally hang out with people of my background other than family and a few family friends….nope, quickly realized the Guju’s would stick with their own and speak Gujurati with each other (same with Punjabi’s, Bengalis, etc) and that they regarded me as different to their culture as they would a White or Black person. I found this really surprisingly actually. But it makes sense once you realize that “South Asian” is a term used mostly by the North American diaspora, whereas actual South Asians often identify by ethnic group rather than this new(er) identity.”

    Should’ve went to a Canadian university. The ‘south asian’ community in general is much more cohesive. For the most part they have all come from certain areas of Canada (certain parts of certain cities to be more precise) and there’s a much more cohensive sense of ‘south asian’ identity vs. black, white, and east asian. Except for south indians, who tend to be recent immigrants or were parachuted into a small white community. Pretty much every uni has it’s own ‘south asian alliance’ or ‘south asian association’, whose executive is pretty much the elite of the local desi social scene. There are some sub-ethnic groups (there’s a (indian) punjabi association in almost every uni in Canada and a (sri lankan) tamil students’ association in every uni in ontario) but the level of overlap is huge. and few people will speak gujurati, punjabi, bengali, tamil to each other even when it’s mutually intelligible.

    it’s interesting to note the differences between a ‘south asian’ community which until recently, was fairly dispersed geographically (US) versus one where everyone is concentrated in certain areas.

  16. Out of curiosity, has any genetic study been conducted to validate/disprove the amount of Macedonian/Greek/Persian genetics in these and Northern Punjab populations to account for Alexander’s invasion in ~300 BC? This maybe very difficult since most of his troops when he invaded N. Punjab were Persians.

    nothing there. been looked at. at least not specifically greek/macedonian. as you note the demographics are difficult, as persians were much more numerous, and had a more long-lasting interaction with northern punjab (down to the sasssanid period).

  17. The United Nation’s geopolitical region scheme includes Iran as being a part of South Asia.

    Ok, but let’s be realistic: Iranians generally don’t regard themselves as South Asians. Culturally they’re not “Desi”; their culture is distinct from Indic culture. Here in the US, Iran is regarded as Middle Eastern and the Iranians I know would never describe themselves as “South Asians”. Hell, they’re even building a giant ass wall to keep us separate (not that I blame them): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran%E2%80%93Pakistan_barrier Fwiw I also know an Iranian family who identify as Caucasian (that’s what they check off on forms/surveys). The US Govt considers them “White” although I’m sure many feel uncomfortable identifying like that. It’s an arbitrary term.

    Groups like persians, tajiks, hazara, uzbeks, or malaysians, indonesians, etc have similarities to Indic culture…I can’t tell other people what to identify as. But I have never seen say, a Persian or Malaysian at a Desi cultural event (I don’t mean a Muslim or Hindu event).

  18. Iranians generally don’t regard themselves as South Asians

    if south asian = indian, exactly. it’s ridiculous on the face of it. also, 25% of iranian nationals are also ethnic turks. shouldn’t conflate iranian with persian (though at least the kurds, baloch, and other indo-european speaking groups have linguistic similarities to be classed together). the masjid my parents went to when i was a child was multiethnic. the south asians, from pakistan to bangladesh, clustered together based on commonalities. similarly, the turks hung with their own, so did the arabs, and so did the persians, and so did the southeast asians (mostly malaysian, but indonesians seemed to mix with them OK), and so did the black americans.

    • Interesting. It appears that the Iranian American community wants to fully integrate into the American fold or are they just afraid of being labelled Iranian or something?

      • There’s a big debate on whether it is “Iranian” or “Persian”; its related to what’s been happening post ’79. Lots of Iranians disassociated themselves from “Iran” for “Persian” but it was sensible in the context there’s numerous anecdotes how in the 80′s Iranians would walk on the other side of the street if they heard Persian, there was a culture of fear in the Diaspora (particularly London/Paris) where double agents of the regime were suspected. good story here (shappi khosrandi, maz jobrani and omid djalili seem to be the uber-prominent Iranian-diaspora comics)..

        Shappi was six years old when her father fled Tehran and the family settled permanently in England. Hadi (her father) started his own dissident magazine which quickly found wide circulation among the Iranian diaspora and as a result, in 1984 Hadi learned that the Iranian government had issued an order for his assassination. “I’ve called it a fatwa in the past and my dad has scolded me for that,” Khorsandi explains. “A fatwa is specifically for blasphemy, and for my father it was never about Islam, it was about the Islamic republic government. But he was on their death list and the assassins had been given orders to shoot him while he was taking me and my brother to school.” The family was given asylum and went into hiding under protection from Scotland Yard. Checking under the car for bombs became a regular part of the school run. “As a result, I did everything I could to become English,” she says, grinning. “I didn’t want anything to do with being Iranian because to me it was just bleak and scary. I didn’t even tell my friends about the assassination plot because I didn’t want to look like the nutter who made up lies to get attention.”

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/21/shappi-khorsandi-turmoil-tehran

  19. Oh heyy Bay Area whattup! I’m loving the representation, and the fact that this is all part of our normality. Cupertino is literally Brown Town, I used to go there for dance classes, food, and SAT prep courses.

  20. The hazaras, and uzbeks to a lesser extent, have visible mongoloid admixture but they also are a little bit desi genetically, as are the uighurs. Don’t know about the kyrgyz and kazakhs who look far more mongoloid.

    It seems that the pashtuns are the most retarded and backward thinking of Afghanistan’s ethnicities yet the most dominant historically. The Universities in Kabul today are increasingly filled by the Mongol Hazaras and if the country was a meritocracy it would end up with them on the top instead of the bottom.

  21. Interestingly, the Brahui people of Baluchistan (and small areas of Afghanistan and Iran) speak a Dravidian language. Don’t know if that’s of much relevance to genetics (it might, in small part) but it certainly had implications for the classification of the Indus language as possibly North Dravidian.

    Alina, you’re absolutely right in saying Pashto is very close to Dari. I have many issues with the tree (especially the dates, and the seeming linearity of the timelines), but it gets the message across nicely.

    Ananda, I’m not sure what you mean when you make a comment like that. Point taken about Hazara oppression, but to call Pashtuns retarded and backward thinking is a bit unwarranted. Often, ‘regressive’ cultural norms evolve as a survival aid in difficult geographies. There have been some evolutionary psychology studies on cultures of honor in the American south, highlands of Scotland, and the highlands of Italy. Common sense would tell me that this should also apply to the hilly regions that Pashtuns typically occupy. See this, or look up cultures of honor. I’ll dispense with my usual snobbery and quote from Wiki:

    “Cultures of honour will often arise when three conditions[5] exist: 1) a lack of resources; 2) where the benefit of theft and crime outweighs the risks; and 3) a lack of sufficient law enforcement (such as in geographically remote regions). Historically cultures of honour exist in places where the economy is dominated by herding animals. In this situation the geography is usually remote since the soil can not support extensive sustained farming and thus large populations; the benefit of stealing animals from other herds is high since it is main form of wealth; and there is no central law enforcement or rule of law.”

    Whether you belong to a ‘culture of law’ or a ‘culture of honor’ has larger implications for assimilation and integration anywhere.

  22. @ Alina M: Even outside of Chicago there are sizable South Asian communities, I think. At least in Urbana/Champaign there is. In part that’s due to the University, but there are a large number of South Asians here who are not associated with the University. Even a decent-sized Nepali community (at least considering the number of Nepalis in the US).

    @ Swati: Brahui-speakers may well have migrated from further South. What language the Indus Valley people spoke is very hard to determine. They could well have been Austroasiatic (Munda), or speakers of a language of an unrecorded family (going along with this is the fact that there is a large percentage of Hindi agricultural vocabulary which cannot be traced to Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, or Austroasiatic sources—and may well represent the vestiges of languages spoken in India even before Austroasiatic speakers entered the area).

    • Although the Brahuis are most likely indigenous to Baluchistan’s Swat Valley (and even in parts of Eastern Iran and Southern Afghanistan), there are some thinkers who believe that they are actually remnants of a Marathi Confederation of Kannadigas during Shivaji’s expansion. I don’t believe this.

      Razib Khan did a genetic study on the Brahvis and the non-Brahvi Baluchis (the Brahvis identify themselves as being a Baluchi), and genetically, they are indistinguishable.

  23. Razib Khan did a genetic study on the Brahvis and the non-Brahvi Baluchis (the Brahvis identify themselves as being a Baluchi), and genetically, they are indistinguishable.

    it’s not just me. the populations are in the HGDP data set. tons of people have analyzed them. and yeah, they’re the same basically.

  24. I find it interesting regarding lady fingers, tabla classes etc… (as someone who enjoys taking Kathak classes in the Boston area, I am very happy for the diversity around here!).

    I wonder what kind of effect these largely South and East Asian towns will have in relation to language. I know a lot of children born in the U.S. (or raised for the most part in the U.S.) who are now adults and maybe knew the language (be it Mayalayam, Hindi, Marathi, etc) as a child, or could understand it, but lost it as they grew up feeling it was “uncool” or not important, or just didn’t have enough opportunities to use it. Most of the friends I know as such express a lot of regret at losing the language (or not having been taught it in the first place), especially as they become adults and have more interest in learning about India and Indian culture– or returning to work/visit/go to school.

    This article doesn’t really mention it, but I wonder what kind of effect having such a large Indian population in a U.S. city would have on languages. I wonder if, for example, the high school started offering Hindi or other languages as an option for study, or if they are local language learning classes. Or, do they have more Indian channels on TV.

    Personally, I think the language piece would be a big deal. When I have a child/children, I really would love to make sure they learn and can speak Hindi/Bhojpuri and can maintain that connection with their Indian side (and be able to talk to their grandparents/cousins/etc in India!) I wonder if this possible language retention comes into play with the choice of where to live, and what families in Cupertino (etc) are doing regarding language.

    • lindsey, literacy is probably important for language maintenance. or, relevance to religious practice.

  25. Oh, neat! I wasn’t aware of the genetic study. As for the language itself, I’d go with Parpola’s guess as to its classification. He makes a great case for why he believes it to be North Dravidian, geographical proximity to the Brahuis being only one factor. Prob. not the best forum for a linguistic discussion, but I’d be happy to take this outside. Let’s just say I’m obsessed with all things Indus. :)