Academic journal article Journal of International and Global Studies

Political Participation of the Indian Diaspora in the USA

Academic journal article Journal of International and Global Studies

Political Participation of the Indian Diaspora in the USA

Article excerpt


From the trials and tribulations of the pioneering Indians from the Punjab region, who traveled to the West Coast of the US in the late 19th to early 20th century, to the mobilizing of funds and votes to support candidates in the US presidential polls and attempts to influence congressional legislation, the Asian Indian community in the US has tried political participation with different levels of success. The socio-political situation in the US that influenced patterns of activism of Indian immigrants in the US may be broadly classified as (1) immigration reforms in the host land, which in turn acted as a critical component in achieving the required numerical strength for the community, which impinges upon its ability to organize, (2) reactions to politics in homeland, which, in the case of Asian Indians in the US, goes back to pre-independence years, (3) participation in host country electoral politics, and (4) attempts to influence the bilateral relationship between host country and homeland, which also includes reactions to regional politics in South Asia.

Indian Americans, US Exclusionary Laws and Immigration Reforms

Early 20th Century

In the initial years of their migration, Indians in the US were often the targets of racially motivated campaigns: students were hazed in universities, (1) while bunkhouses of Indian workers were attacked by white laborers. Protests against "Hindus" buying land for farming coincided with campaigns opposed to Asiatic immigration that described the Asians as the "Yellow Peril" and Indians as a "Tide of Turbans." Political parties and exclusivist organizations, along with a section of the media, seem to have fanned the fires of this hatred. Indians were described as people willing to take up jobs for cheap wages, thus taking away the work of local labor. Whites in Marysville, California drove out Indians from Live Oak. A mob attacked houses occupied by 70 Hindus who had been discharged from the Southern Pacific Transportation Company. (2) In Bellingham, Washington, violent white mobs expelled Sikhs in September 1907. The Asiatic Exclusion League, which emerged as the most significant organization aimed at preventing and opposing the entry of Asians into the US, directed some of its attacks at Indians. (3)

With strong lobbies working against Asian immigration, (4) it was only a matter of time before the Indians were also included as targets of exclusionary laws. The residents of Yuba City opposed Hindus buying property but found it difficult to stop them, as they were British subjects at that time. (5) In 1913, California passed the first Alien Land Law, primarily aimed at Chinese and Japanese migrants, who were arriving to the state in large numbers at that time. The law provided, inter alia, that "aliens not eligible for citizenship and corporations in which the majority of the stock was owned by ineligible aliens had to comply with the land ownership provisions of any treaty existing between the countries involved" (Okutsu, 1995, p. 16). California enacted another Alien Land Law in 1920, prohibiting the transfer of land to non-citizens by sale or lease. Aliens who were not eligible for citizenship could not hold land in guardianship for their children, who were citizens. If it was determined that land was purchased in one person's name with money from an Asian alien, the land would automatically become state property.

Indians had tried to circumvent earlier land laws, buying property in other peoples' names or in the name of their sons and daughters who were born in the US and, thus, were eligible for citizenship. It was even alleged that Indians married to secure land and that they used their wives and children to lease and own land for them. This trend was curbed by the 1920 law, after which many Indians began leasing out land through verbal agreements. The 1920 Alien Land Law was applied more stringently to Indians after the 1923 Thind citizenship case, discussed below. …

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