I recall the moment I first heard of the term “diaspora,” from it’s Greek root word meaning ‘to scatter’. As a member of the Indian diaspora–albeit born in Australia, but living in Southern California–it moved me to take the next step in discovering how diasporic research affects global movements. The research continues to show the growth and impact of the diaspora across the US, and the world.
The NextMove Project
While working with Frontier Ventures, I was part of The NextMove Project, focusing on collectively collating a wide range of diasporic research throughout the US, with a specific focus on global people movements. In my research, I was intrigued to learn that the Asian American diaspora is the fastest growing people group within the States, but interestingly enough, of the 4.3 million (and counting) South Asians within the country, the majority reside in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, according to a recent Pew Research Poll. Of this staggering number, over 75% of Indians in particular who live in the U.S. are born outside of the country.
For me, personally, to learn of this fact was greatly reassuring, as I myself was born outside of the States, but along with countless second-generation Indians, had made my way to the West Coast for higher education, eventually working and living in the US. But how, I asked myself, does this change things? Is the Indian diaspora simply a synonym for reproductive growth, or can it become a movement that impacts the nation? Could it be possible to measure such a movement?
Business Growth and the Diaspora
During my time with NextMove, I began to realize that members of the South Asian diaspora, particularly Indian Americans, were making strides to do just that. A large number of social enterprises, tech firms, nonprofits, small-to-medium sized enterprises, and international networks were birthed as a by-product of Indian innovators. In Chicago alone, one of the top three cities where Indian Americans reside, as mentioned earlier, 31% of small businesses are owned by Indian Americans, accounting for 41% of newly-created jobs, and over $1.5 million dollars (US) in Illinois alone, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners conducted in association with the South Asian American Policy and Research Institute.
As a marker of identity, the South Asian diaspora continues to grow and is fast becoming an unseen voice that is now gaining access to the public sphere, and certainly the national stage. In conjunction with the NextMove Project, I was responsible for making an informal partnership with the then-newly formed International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (iDea), under the Obama Administration.
In addition, an interactive tool to map the diaspora across the U.S. shows that India is in the top twenty largest diasporic groups in the country. Indeed, this continues to be the talk of the town well beyond the U.S. Census survey, right up until the present day, where Indian Americans continue to be a point of the political, social, and cultural conversation, for better or for worse.
An Emerging Opportunity
But despite the rapid changes, there is still an opportunity for Indian Americans to shift from being a suppressed majority to a more vocal movement. Projects like the NextMove initiative and others are focusing the beacon of opportunity onto diaspora movements such as our South Asian people groups, yet the generations that follow need to be aware of the historical roots of such a movement in order for the momentum to change.
This is where initiatives such as The First Days Project, the American India Foundation, and other pioneering networks can make an impact on the course of the growth of our own diaspora, and hopefully, to continue to make the change for others who will pave the way in the not-so-distant future.
God willing, the South Asian diaspora is here to stay.