Second-generation immigrants appreciate their Indian heritage

By Aly McArdle and Andrew Finley

The differences in second- and first-generation Indian immigrants cause some family conflict, but most Indians in Henrico County grow to appreciate their heritage as they get older.

When the first generation of Indian immigrants came to the United States, and specifically Henrico County, they realized the American dream in many ways, said Archana Bhatt, a professor at the University of Richmond who is of Indian descent. Members of that first generation were able to establish themselves economically and provide their children with access to higher education.

After the first wave came to America, the following generations used that success as their reasoning in immigrating as well, she said.

Srimivas Tupurani, a Henrico resident, said, "Many of these immigrants were attracted to Henrico County because it is more rural, with a small community where everybody knows everybody."

The Richmond area is a big change after growing up in large cities in India and living in large cities such as Atlanta, but Tupurani said he enjoys living here.

Since 1995, many students have also come to America, Tupurani said. They were attracted to the Richmond area by the excellent colleges, most notably Virginia Commonwealth University, he said, although they tended to not participate as much with the local Hindu community.

Ruvi Vathalui came to America in 1995 to study at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. He completed his studies at Texas A&M before coming to Richmond to work and raise his family.

Vathalui and Tupurani said that most of the Indians in Henrico County have families. Richmond is a small city, with a close-knit community and Henrico offers excellent schools. The cost of living is also a big draw, Tupurani said. Most of Henrico's Indians come here directly from India, he said.

Today, the second generation of Indians has strong ties to its ethnic identity, Bhatt said, and are constantly seeking to learn about their cultural background.

Mahima Ratnaswami, a senior at the University of Richmond, said that her parents are much more religious than she is, but she enjoys being around the religious environment that they promote. Ratnaswami said her parents emigrated from India 25 years ago, so they have grown accustomed to some of the generational differences she grew up with in this country.

Ratnaswami said that education and work were very important to her parents, and that she was only starting to appreciate these things now. Also, she said her parents were much more liberal in their beliefs than her grandparents.

There is some conflict between older Indians and youth, but the "beauty of Indian generations is that they have been maintaining culture and traditions since they got here," at least 20 years ago, said Tupurani as he and Valatlui waited outside the Hindu Center of Virginia and chatted with friends while their children learned about Hindu tradition inside.

"While not all second-generation youth identify strongly with their ethnic heritage immediately, most seek these connections at some point in their lives," Bhatt said.

Youths of the second generation also desire and appreciate access to their homeland, she said. As a whole, she said, the local Indian community has relatively consistent movement between India and the United States.

Family finds ways to keep their traditions alive

By Caitlin Larwood and Ashley Nerz

On a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon, the Nair family left the Hindu Center of Virginia after a morning of worship to go to an authentic Indian movie at a small theater on Broad Street.

Asok and Geetha Nair have found ways to keep their native Indian traditions alive after moving to Henrico County in October 2004 with their 8-year-old son, Aadarsh. Asok left the state of Kerala in India in 1999 in pursuit of a steady job in Iowa, and once he was settled, the rest of the family followed in 2000.

After moving from Iowa to New Jersey, then to New Mexico, the family now calls Glen Allen home. Asok and Geetha both work as contractors for Capital One and Aadarsh attends Springfield Park Elementary School.

"It's a bit hard because you are accustomed to your life [in India]," said Geetha, who was dressed in an ornate maroon, gold and brown sari. "You come here and you have to start everything all over on your own."

The Nairs said that the hardest part of coming to America was leaving their family behind.

"In India, parents provide their children with everything," said Asok, clad in a Tommy Hilfiger polo and khaki cargo shorts. "You stay with your parents and they provide you with everything from education to marriage."

The Nair family recently returned from a two-month trip to visit their family in India. They try to return home about every two years.

Aadarsh circled his parents on roller shoes, chiming in with both the positive and negative aspects of living in both countries.

"There are so many mosquitoes in India and I don't like them," Aadarsh said, referring to this recent visit. "But I did like watching the cartoons."

Aadarsh said that he could understand and speak his native language of Malayalam, but he could not write or read it well. Right now, Aadarsh thinks that he wants to go back, but Asok said that he was concerned that his son would not want to leave as he got older.

"My friends tell me that when he grows up and reaches high school, all of his friends will be here and he will not want to go back," Asok said.

The family said that they observe Indian traditions daily by keeping a place for prayer in their house.

"This morning before coming here, we celebrated in honor of Saraswaathi, the goddess of learning and education, by reading books in our prayer place at home," Geetha said.

The family also said that they belonged to the Malayalam Association with more than 100 other families in the local community. The Association gets together to watch Indian movies, have picnics and celebrate Malayalam festivals and special days.
Another way the family incorporates Indian culture into their lives is by cooking traditional Indian food almost every day.

"The Indian restaurants here are good, but definitely Americanized," Geetha said. "The food is not nearly as spicy."

The family also enjoys Thai, Italian and Mexican food. Aadarsh said that his favorite American foods were hot dogs, and macaroni and cheese.

The family members said that they have adapted to the American lifestyle and find the Richmond community to be very friendly, but after seven years, they still miss home.

"I want to go back," Geetha said. "I think we will stay for a while, but I want to move back with my family."

Collegiate hopes to establish exchange program for students from India

By Patrick Hyde and Phuong Tran-Le

One local private school has taken a new approach to the increase of Indians in the Henrico and greater Richmond area.

David Colon, academic dean at Collegiate School, recently took a group of four juniors and another faculty member to India for a two-week conference. He hopes to set up an exchange program in May and a summer program in August for Collegiate students.

The idea for this program was a convergence of personal interest, the increasing Indian population at Collegiate, and the school officials desire to create an international education program, Colon said.

The Indian parents at Collegiate helped Colon make connections with other Indian Schools. Colon and Keith Evans, head of Collegiate School, made a trip to India during the summer to scout out possibilities. They eventually settled on the Community Development and Leadership Summit at the Modern School in New Delhi.

"The Community Development and Leadership Summit is a yearly event where students meet with students from around the world," Colon said. On top of that, "we met with the finance minister, mayor of New Delhi and the minister for women and families.

"The highlight was the interaction between students from the most trivial to the most profound differences in culture."

Colon said that students also discussed topics that varied from video games and pop culture to democracy and terrorism.

"Of the many things I took away from the conferences [and] one of the most valuable was learning about other countries' cultures and people," Collegiate junior Harrison Roday said.  "It is comforting to learn that many of them enjoy the same activities we do, and are also interested in changing the world."

The Collegiate students were also interviewed by The Times of India and a television station about their experiences at the conference.

Nurturing community keeps growing Indian populations in this area

By Clancey Denis, Katie Glover and Meg O'Connoll

Meera Bhatnager and Veena Ramnarain lived in the same apartment building, but they didn't know each other until they happened to be in the same Laundromat at the same time.  Bhatnager's son was crying because of the heat and Ramnarain invited the two up to her apartment to cool off.  Over a glass of cold water, the two women quickly became friends.  They have been close friends for 25 years now.

It is this sense of a nurturing community that keeps Henrico's  growing Indian population in the area, but they come for many different reasons.  Ramnarain and her husband came to the United States from India.  Both were architects; Ramnarain is now a real estate broker because it allows her to spend more time with her three kids.  They lived in Detroit originally, but moved to this area 24 years ago.

"I prefer this place because of the climate," she said. "And Virginia has a beautiful landscape."

Henrico and the Richmond area are also appealing, Ramnarain said, because it is close to New York and Washington, but the real estate is cheaper and "the cost of living is better.  You get more for your money."

Bhatnager moved here 25 years ago when her husband, a research scientist in the fields of plastics and fibers, got a job with Honeywell.

Like Bhatnager and Ramnarain, most people come to the Richmond area from India for the jobs.  Most get jobs in the computer industry.  Bina Mehda, who has lived in the United States for 20 years and in this area for the past 15 years, is a computer programmer. She said she came here because of the good business opportunities.

"It's a right size city where you can expose yourself pretty well," Mehda said.  "You can do everything like in bigger city."

The metro Richmond area is home to numerous Fortune-500 companies, including Philip Morris and Genworth Financial, has an international airport, and numerous non-profit organizations to support the growing Indian population. The Hindu Center of Virginia, which is off Springfield Road in Glen Allen, offers a place for the Hindu community to practice religious and cultural activities. The India Association of Virginia organizes cultural, social, humanitarian, educational and sports activities for people of Indian heritage.

The business opportunities are ample and others are involved in insurance, baking, real estate, medicine, research, teaching, tax preparation and the airline industry.

Hemal Desai, who moved here when he was in 9th grade 20 years ago, works for US Airways. He likes living in the United States, he said, because of the freedom.  He said that here, you could go into whatever field you wanted, and you could change your career after college.

The size of Richmond is appealing to many immigrants.  It allows them to maintain their cultural identity and is a good place to raise children.

Madhu, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said that the "mixing between Indian-Americans and local-Americans is very positive" in Richmond and that it is a great place to raise a family.

Alka Sappal, who runs a restaurant with her husband and works at Dumbarton Elementary School, has two sons, both born in Richmond.  Although she thinks it's a good place for her children to live, she does face some challenges raising them.

"It's a challenge for me to let them be as Americanized as they can be living in America, and yet teach them their Indian culture," she said.  "When they are with their American friends, they're Americanized and when they're with their Indian friends, they know their values."

Sappal loves Richmond, she says, because in most larger cities people "are running after just the material things, where in Richmond people are running to help the community."

Indians are having a strong impact in Henrico County

By Carly Gorga and Kim Holzinger

Ram Reddy left southern India almost 20 years ago to pursue an education in the United States and moved to Henrico County in 2002 to open an Indian restaurant.

Reddy, a pharmacist by profession, opened The Curry House on Broad Street and Cox Road.

The restaurant offers an environment for the non-Indian population of Henrico County to interact with Indians, Reddy said, citing examples such as Karaoke night and conversations held at the restaurant's bar.

"People who have never interacted with another culture come here and interact,” he said. "They learn about each other."

Patrons of Reddy's restaurant, 50 percent of whom are not Indian, are also learning about the intricacies of Indian food, he said, explaining that contrary to popular belief, curry is only a small part of Indian cuisine.

"The buffet is an opportunity to explore different food items from different regions in India," he said.

Restaurants are only one of the many business outlets attracting Indians in Henrico County, said Adish Jain, the Henrico County director of the Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce and president of the Hindu Center of Virginia.

The Indian population in Henrico increased by about 71 percent between 2000 and 2006, or from 2,560 to 4,369 people, according to the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Most of the Indians in Henrico are professional people, Jain said, including doctors, engineers, computer programmers and architects. Information technology has drawn many Indians, said Jain, who owns an information technology business, Leading Edge Systems, in Richmond.
Reddy agreed, saying that in the past five years there has been a large increase in the Indian population in Henrico because of information technology.

Jain said that there were many other areas of business that Indians pursued, including opening hotels, insurance businesses and Indian grocery stores, such as Laxmi Palace and Indo-Pak Super Store, both on Broad Street.

Shiva Pillai, who has lived in Henrico for six years, owns another Indian business in the area.

The Indian Cinema House, which Pillai opened 2 1/2 years ago, is the only video store of its kind in Henrico, Pillai said, explaining that sales of Indian movies are usually limited to small sections of grocery stores.  Instead, his video store is adjacent to the grocery store Laxmi Palace.

All of his customers are Indian, Pillai said, and membership has increased from 200 to 1,000 people since the store opened during 2005. Pillai hopes to reach out to the American population of Henrico County as well by opening an Indian bakery in the next few months.

Jain, Reddy and Pillai each said the increasing Indian population has economically benefited Henrico County.
Reddy said Indians had been spending money and purchasing homes, causing real estate values to rise. Jain said the hotels and motels owned by Indians generated revenue, and Indian businesses were adding tax dollars to the county.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the median household income for Indians was $58,958, compared with the Henrico media of $49,185.

Indians are contributing to the growing community of Henrico County, Jain said. Although Reddy also noted the financial effects of Indians, he did not recognize a significant cultural impact.

"Most families are very young so the impact hasn't been that dramatic," Reddy said. "In a few years down the line, local people will get more exposed to Indian people. A lot of children will go to public schools and cultures and families will interact."

Pillai has two children, ages 6 and 3, who attend school in Henrico. Like Reddy, he said that the Indian population had not had a dramatic cultural impact.

"My kid goes to school for two years and I can hardly speak to her in my native language," Pillai said. "The [Indian] kids blend into American culture."

Jain said the integration of the Indian and local Henrico population was a positive one, describing their efforts to unite the community with cultural programs such as the annual Festival of India held in Richmond.

"The community likes us, and we like the community," Jain said. "It's a great mix the way I see it."

Food is one way to preserve the culture of India, immigrants in Chesterfield say

By Amy Burlage and Ernie Siciliano

Veena Ramnarain makes a tasty cottage cheese and spinach dish, her husband Vijay says.  But, the meal means more than just mixing dairy and vegetables.

Veena and Vijay came to America in 1984 with their two children.  She grew up in Mumbai, India.  He is from Mauritius.  They now live in Chesterfield County but have cultural ties to Henrico.  For the Ramnarains, food is one way they can preserve their Indian culture while living in America.

They are part of a growing Indian community that has become a presence in the local food market.

"We are able to buy all the ingredients for authentic food here," said Meena Midha, another Indian immigrant to Henrico.

The Ramnarains have seen the growth first hand.  When they first came to America, there was just one Indian store in the Richmond area.  Now, they are able to choose from a variety of establishments, such as Taj Mahal Groceries, Indo-Pak Grocery, or restaurants like India K'Raja.

"In the United States, every time you go out it's Pizza Hut or McDonald's," Vijay said. "When you look at Indian food you go area to area, town to town.  It is different cuisine."

Nevertheless, the Ramnarains don't dismiss American food either. "[Our children] ate one meal at school, which was American, and they ate one meal at home, which was Indian," Veena said.

The Ramnarains said that they also made sure their kids watched Indian movies, also known as "Bollywood."

"My kids were watching TV seven days a week and were exposed to America, and it's harder to teach them a language if they don't hear it every day," Vijay said.

Indian movies have less sex and violence than their American counterparts and are more "song and dance," Veena said.

As Indian parents try to impart Indian culture, it is often Indian children who help teach their parents American culture.

Mona Narang, who left Mumbai in 1977, has two children who she refers to as her "brown American boys."    They taught her what clothes were acceptable fashions for them to buy her and colloquial expressions like "that's cool" and "it's the bomb."  Narang enrolled her boys in Indian dance classes at the Hindu Center of Virginia, but they stopped at the age of 15.  One of them is now a singer in Nashville.

The effort toward maintaining Indian culture has gotten easier as more Indian immigrants have moved to Richmond.  Veena Ramnarain said that in the 1980s, Indian immigrants were so few, that it was nearly impossible to transmit their culture. That has changed.

"With the larger community we are so many€¦and all speak the Indian language and it's nothing to be ashamed of," she said.

One thing that helped Narang was the many community organizations.  Narang volunteers at the Hindu Center of Virginia and is a member of the India Association and the American Asian Society of Central Virginia.  Narang called these organizations "reassuring," because she was able to speak in her native tongue and talk to parents who are raising Indian children in American, and who are also trying to instill an appreciation for American culture. "When you are totally new, in a familiar surrounding adjusting is much easier," she said.  "All of that makes you feel right at home."

In fact, Narang feels more at home living in Richmond's West End than in India.

"When I go back to India, I'm in for a culture shock," she said. "America is home."