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Book Traces 'Stangers' in a Global World
By Nitish S. Rele

Arjin Singh began working for Henry Ford in 1924 and remained with the company for 42 years. He did everything for the carmaker. "I was never laid off," he says. "During the Depression, Mrs. Ford interceded and made sure that we had work. Mr. Ford stuck up for us. He told immigration authorities that we were in training: thus we could keep our student visas."

The Punjab native's story is a glaring example of the struggle the early immigrants to the United States faces as they slowly laid the foundation for the rest to follow in their footsteps. All these and many more such anecdotes and incidents are narrated quite eloquently by Arthur Helweg in his recent book "Strangers in a Not-So-Strange Land: Indian American Immigrants in the Global Age," published by Thomson-Wadsworth.

The Western Michigan University professor of anthropology has been researching and writing about India and her overseas communities for the last 30 years. "It is a fascinating story and one that needs to be told," he says. "The contributions and services Indian Americans are making to both India and North America are not common knowledge but they should be. I have a strong love add respect for the people of India. They have helped and supported me and I am grateful for their kind help."

Helweg points out that the Asian Indian community in the U.S., unheard of three decades ago, has the highest family income of any ethnic community in North America. "They are also making strong and positive contributions to both India, their land of origin and the States, their new abode in the fields of business administration, technology, especially computers, the sciences, engineering, and local, national and international politics," he says.

Arthur Helweg
The 163-page book, a quick read one must say, traces the beginning of the Indian Diaspora, whose backgrounds and families range from the exploited indentured laborers, innovative entrepreneurs who went out to make fortunes, the uneducated worker in the industrial heartland, and the highly-educated, well-trained professional. "They all have in common their Indian heritage, in varying degrees, and a quest for a better future," says the author.

According to Helweg, the Asian Indian community in the U.S. has excelled as a demographic group. He lists some interesting tidbits:

  • Five percent of all physicians in the U.S. obtained their primary degree from India.
  • The estimated annual buying power of Indian Americans is about $20 billion.
  • Indian Americans own 30 percent of all motels and hotels in the U.S.
  • The annual Indian American household income is $88,000, far more than the $51,000 American average.
  • Fifty-seven percent have college degrees, compared to 20 percent of the American public.

    "I hope the book creates a readable, relevant, informative and interesting presentation of the role and contribution India's overseas communities are making to both India, the land of origin and North America, their new abode," the professor says. "The people of Indian origin have much to be proud of - an understanding that I want this book to convey."

    Helweg is no stranger to studies on Asian Indian immigrants. He previously has written "Sikhs in England: An Immigrant Success Story" as well as "Ethnicity in Michigan: Issues and People."

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