September 28, 2006
Written by C.N.
National-level statistics consistently show that Asian Indians are one of, if not the most socioeconomicly successful of all immigrant or ethnic groups in the U.S. Does that make them the model immigrant group? A recent guest column published at BusinessWeek Magazine argues that yes, Indian Americans are the example that other ethnic/immigrant groups should follow:
Not only are they leaving their mark in the field of technology, but also in real estate, journalism, literature, and entertainment. They run some of the most successful small businesses and lead a few of the largest corporations. Valuable lessons can be learned from their various successes. According to the 2000 Census, the median household income of Indians was $70,708—far above the national median of $50,046.
An Asian-American hospitality industry advocacy group says that Indians own 50% of all economy lodging and 37% of all hotels in the U.S. AnnaLee Saxenian, a dean and professor at University of California, Berkeley, estimates that in the late 1990s, close to 10% of technology startups in Silicon Valley were headed by Indians.
The article goes on to cite twelve factors that account for the success of Indian Americans, including things such as education, upbringing, hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, social networks, and “integrating into U.S. society,” etc. First, I would like to acknowledge that yes, the statistics and empirical evidence do not lie — Indian Americans as a group have achieved high levels of socioeconomic success, for which they, Asian Americans in general, and American society at large should be proud of.
At the same time, I and other demographers would point out that Indian immigrants tend to have very selective characteristics. That is to say, an overwhelming proportion of Indians who immigrate to the U.S. already have a college degree, are already fluent in English, and have advanced job skills. That means that once they get to the U.S., they already have a head start in achieving socioeconomic success. In other words, much of the success of Indian Americans come from the advantages they’ve accumulated even before setting foot inside the U.S.
Of course, Indians still work very hard to apply their education and skills after arriving in the U.S. and like I said, in no way am I discounting or minimizing their success. My point is that they are able to build upon certain advantages that other Asian immigrant groups do not possess, for example southeast Asian refugees who had to flee their homeland at a moment’s notice. That helps to explain why some Asian ethnic groups have been able to achieve more success than others.
In other words, part of the equation is how hard they work once they get to the U.S. But another large part of it are the advantages they’ve accumulated even before their immigration. Therefore, there are some aspects of the Indian American success story that other immigrants can follow, but there are others that are largely beyond their control.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Indian Americans: Model Immigrants?" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/09/indian-americans-model-immigrants/> ().
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