October 3, 2007
Written by C.N.
Through the years, some scholars in Asian American Studies have occasionally described the cultural and socioeconomic similarities between Indian Americans and Jewish Americans. But as the New York Times reports, these connections are becoming much more common and socially significant in a lot of ways:
Indian-Americans, who now number 2.4 million in this country, are turning to American Jews as role models and partners in areas like establishing community centers, advocating on civil rights issues and lobbying Congress.
Indians often say they see a version of themselves and what they hope to be in the experience of Jews in American politics: a small minority that has succeeded in combating prejudice and building political clout. . . .
The American Jewish Committee, like some other Jewish groups, has worked with Indians on immigration and hate crimes legislation. It has taken three groups of Indian-Americans to Israel, where they have met Arabs and Palestinians, as well as Jews.
Many Indian-Americans, like the Godhwanis and others with the India Community Center in Milpitas, Calif., have taken an avowedly nonsectarian approach in creating institutions. But among Hindus, who are a majority in India and among Indian-Americans here, some assert that a vital bond they share with Jews is the threat to India and Israel from Muslim terrorists.
Most Jewish groups, however, have tried to avoid a sectarian cast to their work with Indian-Americans. Instead, Jews said they were struck by the parallels between the issues that Jews and Indians had faced.
“It echoes 30 years ago,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal center. “There is the same feeling of a growing community that says, ‘We want our voices to be represented, and how do we that?’”
As I’ve written about before and as my article on Socioeconomic Data and Demographics show, Indian Americans are in many ways, the most successful Asian ethnic group in the U.S. At the same time, there have been instances that demonstrate a rising wave of Indian nationalism in the U.S. as well.
As the article also discusses, these two developments represent a potentially thorny issue for Indian Americans. That is, on the one hand, they want to assert that they have fully integrated into the American mainstream and should be regarded as “full” citizens who achieved the American dream.
But on the other hand, many Indian Americans also want to assert a more nationalistic identity, which other Indian Americans and non-Indians say would only divide their community and shut out the American mainstream from their community.
In that sense, modeling themselves after the Jewish American community seems like a wise move, as Jewish Americans have plenty of experience in dealing with such complicated issues. They may not have all the answers, nor would they claim to have total unity among all Jewish Americans, but as a sociologist, I see many potentially positive aspects of these kinds of cross-cultural alliances.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Indian Americans Emulate Jewish Americans" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/10/indian-americans-emulate-jewish-americans/> ().
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