Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America

Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America

Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America

Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America

Synopsis

America has long been a destination, then a launching pad, for newcomers seeking better lives. In recent years, immigration by South Asians to the United States has increased dramatically, doubling between the 1990 and 2000 censuses. Rather than settling in large cities, many are moving directly to the suburbs. S. Mitra Kalita focuses on three recent waves of immigration through the stories of three families: the Kotharis, Patels, and Sarmas. Readers learn why these families decided to leave India, experience the tensions they encountered upon their arrival here, and witness the realities of life in the United States for South Asians. Suburban Sahibs delves into how immigration has altered the American suburb, and how the suburb, in turn, has altered the immigrant. Middlesex County, New Jersey, is home to one of the largest Indian populations in the world outside India. Their mark on the region has been gradual but increasingly visible: auto-repair outlets named after "Deepa" and "Singh, " a thriving commercial strip of sari stores and sweet shops, valedictorians named Patel and Shah. The reception from long-time residents has not been entirely welcoming as Indian American shopkeepers regularly contend with vandalism. Yet, as Indians achieve economic success, their desire for political and social parity grows stronger and their acceptance is less a question and more a reality. Kalita began this book to shed light on the pursuit of the American dream for the estimated 1.7 million Indians living in the United States. What she found instead was that their experiences offer a window into what America has become: a nation of suburbs, a nation of immigrants.

Excerpt

My earliest childhood memory is of an immigrant navigating suburbia—literally. She was my mother, Nirmala Kalita. In 1978, my parents bought their first home in Massapequa, a working-class town on Long Island;the down payment was made with savings from her night shift at Burger King. My mother was left with no choice but to learn to drive. As she nervously steered our newly purchased yet secondhand orange Vega, I sat in the back, my two-year-old frame strapped into a car seat.

So my confession begins: I am a product of the very subject I write about on the pages that follow. My father emigrated from India to New York City in 1971, sent for my mother and elder brother the following year, and began to climb a corporate ladder from the bottom: a temp job at Citibank. Their move into a $40,000 split-level home on Long Island thrust my brother and me into a school system where we were the only nonwhites, as far as we could tell. We endured little blatant racism but plenty of . . .

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