Asian Indian: Becoming Minnesotan

India, CIA World Factbook, 2010.

Map of Homeland

Asian Indian Stories

Quick Facts

Asian Indian Population:
U.S.: 2,602,676 (2009)
Minnesota: 29,700 (2009)
India: 1,173,108,018 (2010)

Major Religions in India: Hindu 80.5%, Muslim 13.4%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%,  Buddhist 0.8%, Jain 0.4% (2001 census)

Ethnic groups in India: Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, East Asian and other 3% (2000)

Major Languages in India: Hindi 41%, Bengali 8.1%, Telugu 7.2%, Marathi 7%, Tamil 5.9%, Urdu 5%, Gujarati 4.5%, Kannada 3.7%, Malayalam 3.2%, Oriya 3.2%, Punjabi 2.8%, Assamese 1.3%, Maithili 1.2%, other 5.9%.  Other official languages include Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Sanskrit.  English is a secondary official language but is the most important language for national, political, and commercial communication.  Hindustani is a popular variant of Hindi/Urdu spoken widely throughout northern India but is not an official language.

Current government of India: Federal republic.

Geography of India:  Dominates South Asian subcontinent; near important Indian Ocean trade routes; Kanchenjunga, third tallest mountain in the world, lies on the border with Nepal. Upland plain (Deccan Plateau) in south, flat to rolling plain along the Ganges, deserts in west, Himalayas in north.

Climate of India: Varies from tropical monsoon in south to temperate in north.

Source: CIA World Factbook 2010 and American Community Survey 2009.

Population Comparison

Asian Indian:





  • Introduction
  • Religion & Culture
  • History & Geography
  • Finding a New Home
  • Investigate Further


The United States has seen a large migration of immigrants from India throughout the last half of the 20th Century and early 21st Century.  Although India is a relatively large country (about 1/3 the size of the U.S.), with 1.2 billion citizens they have faced problems with overpopulation.  Population growth, paired with a rapidly rising education level, has led many Indian people to seek educational and job opportunities in the United States and other places around the world.  Asian Indians are one of the largest groups immigrating to the United States legally, and American businesses and universities have benefited from the talents of this group of people.

Religion & Culture


India is a large country that includes many different ethnic groups, languages, and religions.  In fact, there are 28 official state languages, 122 other languages, and hundreds of different dialects of those languages spoken in India.  Four major religions originated in India: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.  Other religions arrived in India during the 1st millennium and shaped the region’s diverse culture: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Today, about 80% of the people in India are Hinduism, followed by 13% who are Muslim. (India has the second largest Muslim population in the world.)  There is tension between these groups in India, and religious conflict has flared up several times since India’s independence in 1947.


India’s economy has often struggled over the past 100 years.  Under British rule, they lost much of their wealth as the British destroyed the local economy to fuel its Industrial revolution.  Even after gaining its independence from Great Britain in 1947, it took many years for India to build up its economy.  In the early years of independence the Indian government employed many of people, but jobs were still limited.  Because India is such a huge country with so many different ethnic groups, there has been a lot of competition for the few jobs that there are.  People sometimes have to move far away from family members in order to find a job.  Traveling home to visit is difficult so they end up not seeing family very often.  Gradually India has become more industrialized, and today the Indian economy is based on private businesses just like the American economy.  India’s economy has grown a lot in the past 20 years and there are many more job opportunities than there used to be.  Free public education has made a huge impact on the rapid development of the country.  At present, the Indian economy is one of the strongest economies in the world.  Despite the developing economy, many Indians are still moving to the U.S. and other countries for better educational or job opportunities.


India’s society has operated under a caste system for hundreds of years.  In a caste system, each person is born into a family that is part of a specific group that has certain expectations placed upon them and limits to what they have access to in society.  At the top is the Brahmin class (teachers and priests), the second highest is the Kshtriya (warriors and kings), the third is the Vaishay (traders, craftsmen, and farmers), and fourth is the Shudra (laborers and servants).  Below even this are the “untouchables”, now called Dalit, people traditionally kept separate from the rest of society.  Although the caste system is dying out in India, especially in cities, and caste-based discrimination is outlawed by the Indian constitution, a lower caste person will still not have the same opportunities to go to school and get jobs as a person of a higher caste will.  Many people of lower castes work as servants in other people’s homes, doing cooking, laundry, cleaning, driving, or other tasks. 


In India, extended families are normally very close.  In fact, it is common for grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins to all live together in the same house.  The children all grow up together more like brothers and sisters than cousins, and all of the adults work together to take care of all of the kids.  Family members support one another, and have a lot of respect for what it means to be part of the family.  Because of these tight-knit families, it is a very difficult decision to move away from important family support systems to come to the U.S.  In the United States most families live separately from their extended family, sometimes thousands of miles away from other family members.  Because they are so isolated, American parents have to care for their children on their own, or else hire someone to help.  Indian immigrants have had to adjust to these changes in family life, and have also worked hard to create their own communities that can provide support for one another.  Many Indians who have moved to the U.S. continue to be very connected to their extended family back in India and make frequent trips home to visit.


In India it is traditional for a young person to marry a spouse selected for them by their parents.  This is called an arranged marriage, and is still commonly practiced today.  Indian parents find and introduce suitable candidates to their son or daughter, who can then accept or reject each potential bride or groom.  Unlike “love marriages”, the type of marriage common in the Western world, the bride and groom in an arranged marriage usually do not know each other well and are married soon after they meet.  Sometimes, the arranged marriage is between an Indian person and an Indian-American.  If this is the case, then one partner will have to make the difficult move away from friends and family to be with his or her new partner on the other side of the world!  There are many different traditions that are part of an Indian wedding.  Many weddings are very elaborate and expensive.  Families will spend as much money as they can afford to provide a party for friends and relatives.  The women wear saris, a traditional garment consisting of a single length of cotton or silk, most often with one end wrapped around the waist to form a skirt, the other draped over the shoulder or head.  The bride wears a special sari, usually cream-colored, yellow, or red.  Before the wedding the other women in her family paint beautiful designs on her arms and hands using a dye called henna (this art is known as mehndi) and decorate her with jewelry.


India has a very good educational system.  The free public schools have offered opportunities for many young Indian men and women to earn college degrees and even advanced degrees, as well as gain advanced skills and better jobs.  Even though many schools are free in India, there are many other expenses like books, uniforms, and housing.  Thus, some families still have to make sacrifices to send one daughter or son on in school.  In the past, if a family could only afford to send one child to school, or to a more reputable school, it was usually the boys who got the better opportunities.  In India, many schools are run as boarding schools where students live in dorms during the school year and go home to visit their families only at certain times of the year.  There are different kinds of high schools, and English language high schools can provide students with better job opportunities after graduation.  For example, mastering English has allowed thousands of Indian students travel to the U.S. for college or graduate school.  They are granted a student visa for the years they are in school.  Beyond schools, there are limited learning opportunities in India; public libraries, for example, are not widely available.

History & Geography

The Republic of India is a country in South Asia.  It is the 7th largest country in the world by area and the 2nd most populous country in the world, with over 1.18 billion people.   It is a Federal Constitutional Republic with a Parliamentary Democracy, consisting of 28 states and 7 Union Territories, and is the largest democracy in the world.  Many cities in India have been renamed since independence in 1947, and may be known by both names.  These include: Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Chennai (formerly Madras), Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), and Pune (formerly Poona).


One of the world’s greatest ancient civilization flourished in India around 1000-3000 BC.  During the first millennium AD India enjoyed its golden period under the Mauryan and Gupta empires.  Over the centuries India has been invaded by Arabs, Turks, and Afghans from the northwest.  Under Mughal rulers, India saw the synthesis of Muslim religion, languages, and culture.  Vasco De Gama sailed to the Indian coast via the Southern tip of Africa in 1498, landing in Kerala.  After this, many Europeans became interested in the spices available in India and began trading with India through sea routes for spices and other goods. From the mid 1800s until the mid 1900s India was colonized and controlled by the British. Europe was experiencing an Industrial Revolution, and the European countries looked at their colonies as a wealth of natural resources that could be taken to help the mother country. 


In 1947, India won independence from Great Britain after a long struggle against British rule.  Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Patel were all Indian leaders who led a successful campaign of non-violent protests against the British. By refusing to fight back during confrontations, the Indian people showed the world the effect of non-violence as a weapon against the brutality and unfair treatment by the British.   At the time of independence the British Raj, or British Indian Empire, was divided into the mainly Hindu country of India, and the mainly Muslim country of Pakistan.  Many Muslims living in India migrated to Pakistan at this time, and almost all non-Muslims left Pakistan for India.

Finding a New Home

Many well-educated Indians have moved to the U.S. for specialized jobs that they cannot find in India.  It is common for Indian immigrants in the U.S., who are typically highly educated, to come to the U.S. on an H1-B work visa.  To get an H1-B work visa a person must have a specialized skill that is needed by a U.S. employer, which must sponsor the individual.  Eventually this person may apply for a Green Card and then citizenship.  Once a person has a Green Card, which represents permanent residency, he or she is no longer limited by employer sponsorship.  Other Indians come to the U.S. to attend college or graduate school.  Some students end up staying in the U.S. after graduation if they find work.  It is common for one working person to come to the U.S. alone and later apply to bring his or her spouse and/or the rest of the family.  This is a different kind of immigration visa that gives preference to those applicants who already have immediate family living there.

Many Indian immigrants feel it is important to connect with the larger Indian community in their area, to establish resources for struggling Indian immigrants, and to reach out to educate Minnesotans about Indian culture, too.  It is often difficult for immigrants to find resources to help them when they are so unfamiliar with this new place.  Since India is such a large and diverse country with many languages and religious and cultural traditions, many Indian immigrants participate in religious organizations or samaj and social clubs that bring together members of their individual cultural group.  These groups plan events to celebrate their traditional language, food, music, and other cultural practices from their home regions in India.  Indian immigrants are able to worship in traditional ways in the Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, and Sikh Gurdwaras that have been built in Minnesota.  However, they have also been creative about adapting their religious practices so they can continue them in this new place, even if they don’t have access to the temples or churches.  It is likely, though, that Indian immigrants to the U.S. will form friendships with others who came from different parts of India and may have slightly different traditions.  This is especially true in smaller cities and towns where the Asian Indian population may be quite small and isolated.

There has also been a lot of support in the Indian community to establish a more permanent place where children could go to learn the Indian languages, history, and culture.  Kids today think of India as poor and overcrowded, instead of knowing about the many wonderful things about Indian history and culture.  Asian Indian Minnesotans have developed the School of Indian Languages and Cultures (SILC) in the Twin Cities that offer classes for both Indian and non-Indian students. 


Many Indian immigrants struggle with their “dual identity”.  They still feel like Indians and work to keep up their Indian culture, religious traditions, and values.  However, they also must learn how to live in American society. 

It is often difficult for Indian parents to raise their children in what they consider to be a foreign culture.  Members of the older generation retain their memories of growing up in India, and many immigrants hope to someday go back to India.  They often form friendships with other Indian immigrants, and participate in Indian organizations.  Many Indians keep close ties with their relatives back home in India and return home to visit regularly.  This generation struggles more with the question of whether to become American citizens.  It is very important to these first generation immigrants that they work to maintain the language, food, music, and other cultural practices from their home in India - and they want their children to keep up with these traditions.

It can also be difficult for young Indian-Americans to grow up in a place that their parents don’t fully understand.  This younger generation can feel more “American” than “Indian”.  They grow up surrounded by friends and classmates who are not Indian, and become influenced by these different cultures.  They feel less guilty about living independently of their family in India, and are eager to pursue the additional opportunities in the U.S. that they may not have had in India.  Some see it as a positive that they are able to have two cultures!  They can continue the Indian cultural practices of their parents, but also operate like any other American in this society.  However, these second generation children often clash with their parents when they decide to forego certain Indian traditions.

Even adults become more Americanized as they are in the U.S. longer, and begin to adapt their way of thinking and their cultural traditions.  For example, it is becoming more common for younger Indian-Americans to choose their own partner, instead of having their parents select a partner for them through an arranged marriage. All immigrants face the tough challenge of finding balance between maintaining their home culture and adopting certain aspects of American culture that will allow them to be more successful in the U.S.

Many ideas from India have also worked their way into American culture over the past 50 years.  Now you can find Indian restaurants and yoga studios all over Minnesota, both in cities and in small towns.  Many Americans practice meditation of some kind.  Hindu temples have been built in places like Maple Grove and Rochester, Minnesota.  Immigrants not only adapt to American culture, contribute new ideas and activities to American culture as well!

Investigate Further


India Association of Minnesota (IAM):
This organization builds community among Asian Indians in Minnesota and serves as a representative body for them.

School for Indian Languages and Culture (SILC), St. Paul:
Community organization that teaches Indian languages, dance, music, history, and culture for children and adults.

Hindu Temple of Minnesota, Maple Grove:
Information about the Hindu temple in Minnesota includes photos and video podcasts.

Indian Music Society of Minnesota (IMSOM):
IMSOM promotes Indian music in Minnesota, mainly by bringing concerts to the area.

Cultural India:
General information the history and culture of India.


Kalita, S. Mitra.  Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003.
Chronicles the lives of three Asian Indian families living in New Jersey.  Non-fiction.

Kamdar, Mira.  Motiba's Tattoos: A Granddaughter's Journey into Her Indian Family's Past.  New York: PublicAffairs, c.2000.
An American woman relates the history of her Indian family in India and their journey to the United States.  Non-fiction.

Perkins, Mitali.  The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen.  New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2005.
Sunita, an Indian American eighth grader, feels caught between two cultures in this humorous novel. Fiction, good for grades 4-8.

Sheth, Kashmira.  Blue Jasmine.  New York: Hyperion, 2004.
12-year-old Seema struggles to fit in when her family moves from India to Iowa. Fiction, good for grades 4-8.

Vijayaraghavan, Vineeta.  Motherland.  New York: Soho Press, 2001.
An Indian American teenager learns about her heritage when she is sent to live with family in Kerala, India. Fiction, high school/adult.

Viswanath, R.  Teenage Refugees and Immigrants from India Speak Out.  New York: Rosen, 1997.
Each chapter features the story of one teen, who describes how life is different for them in India and America. Non-fiction, good for grades 3-6.


State Capitol Grounds, St. Paul, MN
Dancing, music, food, and arts and crafts celebrate the culture of India.

Citation Sources

Cultural India website, 22 August 2010.

Gada, Neena, Community Focus Group Representative. Meetings and email correspondence with Kate Stower, May- September, 2010.

Hindu Temple of Minnesota website, 22 August 2010. 

India Association of Minnesota (IAM) website, 24 August 2010. 

School for Indian Languages and Culture (SILC) website, 23 August 2010. 

 Wikipedia website, 25 August 2010.

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