If you’re driving through Irving, a nearby suburb of Dallas, TX, you might pass by a neighborhood park known as Thomas Jefferson Park. At first glance, it’s like any small park you might see in suburban America. A grassy field. A small pond with ducks running around. A basketball court. A couple of benches in the shade. When you take a closer look though, you’ll notice something slightly different about this park – every single person walking, playing, or sitting in the park is Indian. In fact, the locals don’t even know it as Thomas Jefferson Park. It’s known as Gandhi Park. And the cricket matches there are no joke.
When I moved to Dallas in 1998 with my parents, such a concentration of Indian people would not have been possible. I went to an elementary school where I was one of two Indian kids in my grade, my parents and I only went to Pasand or Tajmahal Imports for Indian food, and there was only one Hindu temple to attend. In 18 years, the population of Indians in Dallas has pretty much exploded. Indian children going to school in Dallas suburbs face no shortage of other Indians in their grade (some have up to >50% Indians in a grade!!). Irving practically has an Indian restaurant on every block, and I can’t even count the number of different Hindu temples my family has visited.
The growth in the Indian community in Dallas is undeniably impressive, especially in Irving. But has it all been good? What does it mean to be an Indian-American when it’s so easy to just be Indian?
There’s certainly some good to this growth. Immediately, new immigrants have access to a sense of community and familiarity, akin to what other immigrant communities have had for years. Namely, we have our own Indiatown now around Irving1, just like all the Chinatowns, Koreatowns, etc. (interestingly, Microsoft Word recognizes Chinatown and Koreatown as words, but Indiatown gets the red squiggly line). This sense of community means we begin to have a more noticeable presence in Dallas. And not least of all, it means we have plenty of good food options to choose from.
But there are also some real drawbacks to the Indian population growth in Dallas. By bunching together in certain neighborhoods, we’re choosing to self-segregate. This belies the so-called “melting pot” that America is supposed to represent. And worse, it can create suspicion among others. It prevents Americans from learning about us. How many of the Trump supporters who’ve harangued Muslims over the past year have actually lived with regular, friendly Muslim neighbors? Self-segregation only reinforces the fact that we’re outsiders.
Also, part of living in America with a hyphenated identity is supposed to be the struggle with the hyphen. Is the hyphen long or short: Do my two identities have a large divide or could they coexist relatively easily? Is the hyphen weighted towards one side: If I had to choose just one, which one would it be? But many Indians around my age who move to Dallas now don’t have to face these same questions. You can ostensibly move here, work in the IT department of a company that is full of Indians, eat Indian food night and day, watch Indian entertainment, and in some cases not even have to speak much English.
If you tread that path, is there any point in moving here? (other than the dolla bills). Indians in Dallas need to be careful. We should certainly embrace our culture and the ease of finding each other in a place that is foreign to us in many ways. But if we don’t simultaneously embrace the learning opportunity of America, a land more heterogeneous than our own, we’re doing an injustice to ourselves. After all, immigration is one of the greatest learning experiences a person can have. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Gandhi Park, I’m just saying we should invite some non-Indians to come play cricket once in a while.
Note 1: Irving became a hotspot for Indian immigration due to a couple of reasons: A) Several companies located nearby had large IT needs in the 90’s and Indian immigrants to Dallas, who largely held technical degrees, were prime for filling those needs; B) Irving is centrally located in the greater DFW area and has relatively cheap rents with relatively great schools. It’s the practical Honda Accord of Dallas suburbs.