Indian Americans or immigrants born in India have been in the news and the public eye. This includes Bobby Jindal,Governor of Lousiana; the WWF Wrestler ‘Khali’; Vikram Pandit; CEO of Citigroup and Indira Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico. Movie makers Meera Nair and Night Shyamalan have further raised the visibility of this hard working community. Actor Karl Penn who is on Barack Obama’s arts committee has helped Indian Americans become mainstream. Indian students in American colleges are one the largest block of international students in the country. Yet, there is another side to the Indian American story where immigrants do not feel at home in the U.S. and are leaving.
Second generations of Indi Americans find it hard to adjust to conservative traditional homes and upbringing, while dealing with American modern peer pressure. There is an acronym to describe them called ABCD or American Born Confused ‘Desi’ and Desi is slang in Hindi for Indian Americans among themselves. It literally means ‘local’.) India is a big outsourcing center and people vent anger on losing jobs to Indian Americans. Yet, Indian Americans are equally at risk of their jobs being outsourced. Indian Sikhs were racially attacked after September 11 because they look like Arabs with their turbans, even though ironically Indian Sikhism worked against Muslim oppression in pre-British India. India and the US as foreign policy partners face joint terror threats from jihadis hiding in Pakistan but have differed on approaches to handle this. Given their cultural traditions, Indian Americans have the highest median income levels and lowest per capita crime rates.
The United States has the best educational infrastructure and has the biggest market for goods and services. Indian companies aspiring to grow sales in these markets find it difficult to manage the cultural intricacies and subtle communication for negotiations. Thus Indian companies have hired an increasing number of American citizens to give that insight among marketing to that market. Similarly countries wanting to enter the Indian market are happy to hire Indian Americans who are aware of working in both cultures. This is also especially true in the outsourcing sector where Indian Americans who have returned are in great demand, because they have the expertise as well as the networking needed.
Salaries in India are lower, top executives can expect 100,000-150000 USD only. But because cost of living in India is so low, you can live in a big bungalow , have a ‘chauffeur’ driven car,have full time day care for your kids, and a full time butler. The savings that you pile up are also substantial as each dollar is worth 45 Indian rupees. Culturally, India has the largest English speaking population, so language is no barrier. They are friendly to foreigners because of the past colonial legacy (The British left in a peaceful transition thanks to Gandhian non violence). The food and local cuisine are the best, and for a returning expatriate the profile of job and responsibilities is more attractive because of explosive growth and thus faster opportunities without any stagnation for promotion.
Recently, the U.S. signed a deal to give India nuclear energy components so as to enable it to move to non carbon fuel sources. Indian economy has been booming at 7 % annually for past 6 years, and American companies have used them as good markets for selling produce. Culturally both countries are similar in terms of democracy: free press and a liking for Movies, Burgers and Music. India’s large English speaking population helps attract English and American tourists.
Given India’s economic rise and aging Indian Americans, many of them have thought of moving back to India. A saying goes you can take the Indian out of India, but cannot take the India out of the Indian. We took a sample of interviews with people who came back and are featuring two interviews
An interview with some people who have seen both sides of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean.
Jagjit Singh (name disguised) emigrated to USA 18 years with his doctor wife, and recently moved back with his two teenage sons to head an India enterprise taking advantage of India’s economic boom. Jagjit is an IVY league MBA graduate with bachelors in engineering. Here is his story
1) What were the reasons that made you leave India for America? Describe that journey.
The tremendous growth opportunity. Due to a variety of factors, the tide is rising in India and a new chapter of the India growth story is being written. In contrast the US is facing stagnation. So, the real action is in India
2) What were the reasons that made you leave America for India?
You can say the opposite was the case in India 18 years ago
3) Could you give some insights do’s and don’ts for people who want to come back, but keep on postponing it.
India is not a bed of roses, things are improving but not as fast as people could imagine. If you can reconcile some basic facts about comforts of living in India then the move will be less mentally straining. The other thing to keep in mind is that the family’s perspective on the move will be very different. You, the professional will see the upsides, they will see the downsides. So preparing the family is also very important Â (By doing what?)
4) How would you rate Indian and American education?
I cannot imagine Indian education being at par with American education, although the gap may be closing. The quality of the Indian students intellect though may be at par with anyone else in the world.
5) What are the pluses and minuses of being an Indian in America?
Plusses are all the material comforts that you are not likely to find as easily anywhere else in the world.
Minuses, it is not your culture, the upbringing of your kids for one could be challenging (Ajay – This is because of conservative Indian views towards teenage pre-marital sex and insistence to obedience to elders.This is one hidden reason so many Indians become engineers and doctors because they are told by their parents to study for that.)
6) Should young people in India aspire to go West? Why or Why not ?
Most definitely yes. See how certain things ought to be. (Ajay- Things like non-corrupt politicians, an efficient bureaucracy (even the IRS), the road infrastructure and the speed at which justice is dispensed in courts.) That will help bring about the necessary change in India faster
Amit Goel (Name Disguised) is an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology -there are six of them -Indian equivalents of top engineering schools like MIT and Georgia Tech )graduate and he did his MBA from an American University too. He worked for a decade in the United States including with the best investment banks, before heading back to India. His wife is also a doctor and Amit is currently leading an outsourcing team for equity research.
1) What were the reasons that made you leave India for America? Describe that journey-
At the time I left India, opportunities in India were very limited. The preferred options were IIMs (Indian Institute of Managements -There are seven of them – Indian equivalents of the IVY league business schools) or US universities. Only if one couldn’t pursue either of these two, he or she took up a job in India but would continue to pursue the first two options.
2) What were the reasons that made you leave America for India?
My reasons were purely personal. It certainly helped that there are real opportunities that one can pursue these days. Otherwise 10-15 years ago also people wanted to move back but would keep postponing their decision.
3) How would you rate Indian and American education?
Indian education prepares you well on theoretical or fundamental aspects while American education prepares you much better on the practical aspects. The other difference is that since people pay for education in the US, they take it very seriously especially at the post-graduate level.
4) What are the pluses and minuses of being an Indian in America?
There was a time that being Indian was a definite handicap. Now on the other hand, all Indians are perceived to be intelligent (even if one is just average), so at least in the large metropolitan areas, one feels completely at ease.
5) Should young people in India aspire to go the West? Why or Why not?
People should still go for the right reasons, e.g. higher education, work experience, exposure to different culture, etc. But one should be very thoughtful about whether he or she wants to settle down in the West for good or not.
These were some perspectives on this fast growing segment of people. This is not a generalization for a nation of one billion Indians or one million Indian Americans. Yet, it is a recent trend. Given that many Wall Street Banks like Lehman Brothers employed Indians in substantial numbers, the trend of Indian Americans leaving will likely increase, as will the number of Indian students. Perhaps personal interaction will help build bridges just as the Rhodes Scholarship helped America and Britain turn from adversaries to friends a century ago. Now if only Christopher Columbus had not turned left but right to find India, this story would be different. Had the French defeated Britain two centuries ago, this story would have been in French. Perhaps these India and America, these two great nations and people, were destined to come closer together.
Additional Section “Why do well settled young American Indians go back to India?”
Unlike relatively older middle aged Indian Americans, younger Indian Americans who are unmarried go back to India based on following reasons:
Health care of aging parents: Indians have close knit families and children and parents communicate lifelong unlike the West. Health of aging parents is the prime reason for which young students, or Indian Americans go back. Note this is based upon interviews of a few people and anecdotal evidence. Overall parental health, family ties and nostalgia is a big reason for people to leave cushier lifestyles in the United States.
Marriage: Eastern countries like India are conservative in the way women dress and behave, and there is sometimes a disconnect between how they are brought up and the way Indians see women behave. Unlike other countries, Indians come from democratic countries therefore they acknowledge everyone has the right to behave like this. Besides it can be very boring if all women behave conservatively. However when it comes to marriage, Indian Americans, even highly educated ones, prefer by about 60-80 % an arranged marriage in which their parent set up a blind date with someone who is from a similar background. Arranged marriages are not as strict now, there is usually a courtship period of six to ten months to check for compatibility.
Economic Crisis and India
The Indian stock market crashed just as the United States market did. The United States dollar however became stronger against the Indian rupee by 20 %, thus making exports from India (mostly software and services cheaper). Indian economy is a bit like United States economy. We export services like movies, software and music and we import a lot of oil (around 80 %). There have been many job cuts in India because of job cuts in America, as back offices generally support people in America. The overall feeling is optimistic though, as people believe that the new steps by both the United States federal reserve and India’s reserve bank (which also cut interest rates), make sense, that the worst of this crisis is over, and we have seen worst crisis like 9/11 economic crash and came out of it together.
Author’s Note- This article represents interviews conducted by me of Americans of Indian descent settled in America, who came back to India or stayed there. I hope it gave you some insight into this fast growing community which is quite low profile by habit and culture. Remember India and America have a connection going back from the days Columbus took a right turn (he thought he was going to India) and forgot to ask directions. In challenging times like today’s world, these two great people are doing good coming together.
Disclaimer- I traveled to Austin, Texas, and to Newark to collect some part of the America-based responses, while the India based responses were mostly Bangalore and Delhi based. Thus, there is an urban bias in this sample.
- Why Indian Americans Return to India – by Ajay Ohri - July 10, 2014