By Nimita Uberoi and Kalyan Venkatraj, Summer 2013 interns
Have you ever heard a piece of recorded music so clearly and vividly that you felt you were at a live concert? Chances are that this came about due to the refinement of speaker technologies by Indian American inventor Amar Gopal Bose. Bose (b. 1929) passed away on July 12, leaving behind a legacy that included a 40-year research and development career in acoustics technology at MIT and the widely-recognized Bose Corporation, whose non-voting shares he donated to the university to further research and education. Bose’s father, who campaigned for India’s independence from the British, arrived at Ellis Island in the 1920s with twenty dollars in his pocket, settling in Philadelphia with his mother, a schoolteacher of French-German ancestry. Bose recounts the racism his family endured there: “the prejudice was so bad in the United States at that time that a dark person with a white person would not be served in a restaurant.” (1)
At age 13, to supplement his family’s income, Bose enlisted school friends as co-workers in a home-based business repairing model trains and radios; thus began lifelong endeavors to better instrumental sound. A doctoral degree from MIT and subsequent professorships there supported the founding of Bose Corporation, “whose products can be found in Olympic stadiums, Broadway theatres, the Sistine Chapel, and the Space Shuttle (where his noise cancellation system protects the astronauts from permanent hearing damage).” (2) From changing the way we enjoy music to enhancing the safety of our vehicles, the corporation’s products mirror the maverick nature of its founder.
To learn more about other Indian American inventors, and their contributions to American history, visit the upcoming exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation towards the end of the year and through 2014 at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Nimita Uberoi, a rising junior at Brown University studying Political Science and Environmental Studies, and Kalyan Venkatraj, a rising senior at University of Texas-Austin studying Government and Ethnic Studies, are both interning with Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project this summer.
By Sara Schreck, Spring 2013 intern
The Indiaspora Inaugural Ball was a success and a chance to highlight Indian American accomplishments and presence in America under a long-deserved spotlight. Various VIPs glided along the red carpet and spoke into waiting microphones. It was a great debut party for Indian Americans, who—at 3 million strong—are becoming a political force in U.S. politics.
Among the VIP guests were Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate India Caucus; Congressman Joseph Crowley, co-chair at the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans; the Honorable Nirupama Rao, Indian Ambassador to the U.S.; and Congressman Ami Bera, a newly elected member from California. Indian Americans from all fields were represented such as technology, politics, government, academia, and business.
The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC) was asked by the founder of Indiaspora, M.R. Rangaswami, to promote another first for Indian Americans: the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project, an initiative about an American story yet to be told—that of Indian immigrants and their descendants. The Project is anchored by a groundbreaking exhibition, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation. This exhibition takes visitors beyond the spectacle of Bollywood cinema, which is globally popular. Exotic and romantic stereotypes of India are broken by a rich history of Indian immigration to the U.S. and numerous ways in which Indian Americans have shaped America. Beyond Bollywood will open at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in late 2013.
The President did not attend the ball, but his half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng (wife of Konrad Ng, APAC Director) made a surprise appearance. “It is certainly a reflection of how important India is and how important Indian Americans are to the fabric of this nation. I would just like to celebrate all of the contributions—artistic, political, and so much more of the community,” she remarked. A video clip of her response can be viewed here at 04:25.
APAC staff and interns were available at an information table to answer questions and introduce the exhibition to ball attendees. There was also an opportunity for attendees to enter a sweepstakes to win a private exhibition tour of Beyond Bollywood. A banner featuring an iconic photograph of the first Asian American Congressman, Dalip Singh Saund (with then Senators John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson) was near the table for guests to pose with. To see photographs from the evening, click here.
To learn more about the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project and Beyond Bollywood, please visit http://apa.si.edu/indianamerican
While federal funding is a mainstay of the Smithsonian, the Asian Pacific American Center receives no direct funds from Congress and relies on financial donations to fund its initiatives, including the Indian American Heritage Project. If you would like to make a donation to the Project, visit http://indianamerican.si.edu/donation.asp. It is fast, easy, and secure!
by Priya Chhaya
Being the first at anything is always a challenge, especially when it involves breaking glass ceilings.
This January when the new members of the House of Representatives are sworn into the 113th Congress there will be something new, when the first Buddhist in the Senate and the first Hindu in the House are sworn in. Neither Mazie Hirono or Tulsi Gabbard are of South Asian descent, but they are both part of integral religions in the South Asian culture.
I first heard about Tulsi Gabbard a few months ago during one of the local morning Indian television shows. At that time, I remembered thinking idly how nice it would be to have a representative that was a part of my faith—without actually analyzing my reasons for it.
And now I am asking myself the question: So what?
On one hand Gabbard and Hirono will be representing their state of Hawaii, while also voting on issues of importance to the whole country. On the other hand, like many of us in our day-to-day jobs, they wear different hats that are a part of their own individual identity. These hats, so to speak, influence how they look at issues and think about how citizens interact with one another.
I see it as further evidence that congressional make up will soon be just as diverse as the country that it represents. At a time when our political options seem to be limited having fresh voices, and individuals who come from varied backgrounds, can only help in our decision making processes.
But as an Indian American and a Hindu? Having Gabbard in Congress is one more way that my perspective is addressed more directly. And, being honest with myself, she becomes a spokesperson for one element of my culture that is beyond the now mainstream singing and dancing of Bollywood. She also represents looking beyond stereotypes. To see how someone can represent the issues of the South Asian community, share some of our belief systems, without actually being South Asian.
It’s a lot of pressure for one person to achieve the “first” moniker.
So I guess the answer to my “so what” question is this: as barriers are broken and individuals like Hirono and Gabbard take steps into august halls of the United States Congress they become a proverbial open door. Their success makes it clear that others from every corner of the nation can walk on through and be a part of the governing fabric.
Priya Chhaya is a public historian that works with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American (and Indian American) identity. http://priyachhaya.com/
Indian Americans finally have a presence in the US Congress – Ami Bera, MD, is the new Congressman-Elect from California’s 7th Congressional District. I had interviewed him some months back when he was running a hard-fought race against the incumbent Congressman Dan Lungren, who conceded today.
“Career politicians have lined their pockets with special interest money and turned their backs on the values that made our country great—and now we’re left to pay the price for their government malpractice,” says Dr. Ami Bera. “This is why I am taking a new oath, like the one I took to become a Doctor, to put people first.”
In fact, on his Bera For Congress site, the good doctor takes some unusual pledges: Not to take a Congressional pension until Medicare and Social Security are secure for all Americans; To sponsor No Budget, No Pay—a law that says if Congress doesn’t do their job and pass a responsible budget, they don’t get paid. And he puts his foot down on traveling first class on the taxpayers’ dollars.
For Ami Bera, serving people has been an important part of who he is, and he is ever conscious of the need to give back to a country which embraced his immigrant family. While he grew up in California, his father crossed the oceans from a farming family in Rajkot near Ahmedabad, Gujarat for a higher education in America. “My father was the first in his family to go to high school,” he says. “He got a master’s in engineering and my mother became a teacher.”
Like many immigrant families, theirs’ was a close-knit family with a lot of emphasis on education, hard work. His father ran a small commercial real estate business, and inculcated the values for a strong work ethic in his children. ”There was a strong family support and strong community support,” he recalls. “And also a keen appreciation of the opportunities America offered.”
India in America
The children were expected to pitch in and lend a hand. “Once we finished our school work often we’d spend our time going out and working hard,” he recalls. ” One summer, we paved the parking lot. It gave us the appreciation of how hard that labor is and how hard people work and it was an extreme motivator to continue to better ourselves. Like any small business family, we worked at this together.”
After going to excellent public schools and medical school, Bera went on to became Chief Medical Officer of Sacramento County. He also was Dean of Admissions and a clinical professor in UC Davis, teaching future physicians to deliver healthcare to the community.
He first ran for Congress in 2010, losing to his Republican opponent, incumbent Congressman Dan Lungren by a small margin. As The Wall Street Journal noted, “ This year, Mr. Bera is considered a serious opponent. While Mr. Lungren’s current district includes a huge swath of countryside and leans Republican, the redrawn congressional map puts him in a slightly Democratic-leaning district and gives Mr. Bera a shot at winning.”
Ask Bera why he is running for Congress and he cites the excellent education he received. “I’ve been fortunate in what this country has offered both me and my family. I’ve been blessed by good fortune and I think it is our obligation that the next generation has the same opportunities,” he says. “I’m making sure people have access to quality health care, making sure my daughter has the ability to find meaningful employment and support herself, making sure that the US continues to be an economy that continues to expand and build for the next generation.”
Indian American Community – A seat at the table
He feels involvement in political life is the natural progression for the Indian American community which now wants to give back to the US and have a seat at the table. Asked about his Indian heritage, Bera says it’s been an asset: ” I never run away from who I am, I actually run toward the values my family instilled in me.”
Bera’s campaign has been cited as the largest field organization for a Congressional race and is extremely well-run with lots of volunteers. “It’s how a campaign should be run – people talking to people, neighbors to neighbors.”
How is he perceived by the voters? “I think people see me as their neighbor. People are starved for authentic leadership, people are hungry for electing leaders who are going to put their interest first and work on their behalf. And that’s what I’ve always done as a doctor.”
Ami Bera’s wife Janine is also a physician and the two have been married for 21 years. They live in Elk Grove with their 14-year-old daughter who has also got involved in the political campaign, with her friends joining in to volunteer on the campaign trail.
Bera wants to nurture the relationship between India and America, especially the economic aspect. He says, “I would be looking to strengthen it in a way that is beneficial to both. India still has a lot of infrastructure needs and there is a real benefit for American companies to work with India to modernize its economy.”
For Bera, it is a special joy to work with the many young Indian Americans and Asians who volunteer in his campaign. “It is exciting to see the look in their eyes and if I can inspire them to run for office, for Congress, maybe even for President – then I think one can’t ask for any bigger legacy.”
Lavina Melwani is an award-winning journalist who has written for several international publications including: India Today, Newsday, The Week, WSJ, Travel Plus and The Hindu. She lives in New York. Her online magazine, Lassi with Lavina, is about Indian art and culture. Click here to visit her website, Lassi with Lavina.
Happy Diwali from the Indian American Heritage Project! Diwali is an auspicious and vibrant holiday for Indian Americans, marking the New Year and reminding us of the philosophical triumph of light over darkness. Here is a selection of images commemorating Diwali in the US. Some will be featured in our upcoming exhibition, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation.
— Masum Momaya
by Emily Vallerga, Fall 2012 Intern
As part of my research for the upcoming Indian American Heritage Project exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, I have been looking at how Indian Americans in the U.S. have been categorized and counted by the official U.S. Census. I started in 1890, when the first critical mass of Indian immigrants arrived in the U.S., and searched through the decades, ending in 2010.
Here is what I found:
From 1890-2010, the U.S. Census made different attempts to define “race”. In the early censuses, “color” was a category and nonwhites were further categorized by “race” or national origin. For example, Asian Indians, regardless of religious affiliation, were identified as Nonwhite “Hindu” between 1910-1930. Interestingly, from 1940-1970, Indian Americans were completely ignored. From 1980-2010, Asian Indian was created as a category.
1980 marked a turning point as Asian Indians were no longer considered “other.” The Census Bureau has long used nationality to create the categories of “race.” However, these categories are also created with specific attention to whether or not these “races” can be included in the “white” category. For example, Asian Indians are perceived as dark skinned, however they are not considered to be “black” or “African American.” In order to classify Asian Indians, the Census Bureau created an additional racial category, and thus they relied on the national origin, Asian Indian.
It is fascinating that some racial categories are based on color while others refer specifically to national origin. As our society’s understanding of race continues to evolve, will this continue to be the way we describe and track identity?
Emily Vallerga, a recent graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz, is an intern with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s Indian American Heritage Project this semester.
HomeSpun Curator Masum Momaya caught up with Indian American medal-winning gymnast Raj Bhavsar, four years from his Olympic experience.
MM: What got you started in gymnastics? Was your family supportive of your interests?
RB: I was an active kid, I climbed furniture and broke things in the house so my parents enrolled me in gymnastics at age 4. I fell in love. It was the perfect place for a monkey! My parents were supportive throughout my entire career, as long as school never suffered. I had to maintain the grades. My parents came to all my competitions, and I loved it.
MM: Were there moments when you faced doubts about continuing with gymnastics and achieving your goals? What kept you going in those moments?
RB: Yes, there were many doubts many times throughout my career. Sometimes an athlete goes into slumps when they are not performing well and everything seems wrong. I had those moments when I was young (at age 13). I also thought about quitting, especially after missing the 2004 Olympic Games. I was an alternate, and I took it hard. What brought me back every time was the love I had for doing gymnastics, not the scores.
MM: It’s been four years since your participation in the Olympics. Is there a particularly sweet memory that you carry with you from that experience?
RB: Yes, when Team USA was on high bar, we hit all our routines and stuck all three dismounts. The crowd went wild, and we had the entire arena chanting USA! USA! Even the Chinese people. I get chills thinking about it.
MM: You were the first Indian American male gymnast to win an Olympic medal. Have you found that your efforts and visibility inspired other Indian Americans to pursue competitive level gymnastics or athletics as a career?
RB: I’ve seen some Indians get into gymnastics, but I’m not sure it’s just me who is doing the inspiring. I like to think that ethnicity no longer causes doubt in a kid’s dreams. I am hoping gymnastics becomes a more popular choice of course, not just for Indian American kids, but Indians across the globe. I sometimes see videos of gymnastics in India, and it makes me smile.
MM: What have you been up to since the 2008 Olympic Games?
RB: Several things. I chunked life down into the three facets that interest me most: business, arts, and lifestyle. I have opportunities in all three. I have been blessed to speak to kids and companies all over the nation about my story and the power of human will. I spent some time performing with Cirque Du Soleil as well in the Los Angeles show IRIS.
MM: Is there a lesson or two from your experiences that you feel is important to share with young people?
RB: Dedicate yourself to the concept of accountability. Take 100% responsibility for everything in life. It will put you in the driver’s seat and will lead to integrity. The journey to self-improvement never stops.
The achievements of Raj Bhavsar and other Indian Americans will be featured in an exhibition on Indian American heritage that opens at the Smithsonian in September 2013.
The history, art, and culture of Sikh Americans are part our mission. Sikhism in the U.S. will be part of HomeSpun: Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program’s initiative to create an exhibition chronicling the story of immigrants from India and Indian Americans. While details continue to emerge, we remain profoundly saddened by the tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Sikhs are part of the fabric of this nation, and Sikh immigrant and citizenship stories, the ones that we seek to tell as part of HomeSpun, are the faces of the Asian Pacific American experience.