Amy Bhatt, Ph.D. is a writer, educator, and content creator. She received her B.A. in Political Science and Women’s Studies from Emory University and her Ph.D. in Feminist Studies from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA.
She is the author of High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration (University of Washington Press, 2018) and co-author of Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington Press, 2013) with Dr. Nalini Iyer.
As a public historian, she coordinated the South Asian Oral History Project at UW and currently serves on the South Asian American Digital Archive’s Board of Directors. She was a researcher and guest curator at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) from 2018-2021, where she co-curated the traveling Smithsonian exhibit Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation (2019-20)
Currently, she and her writing partner, Shiwani Srivastava, have an animated feature film in development with ReelFX and a television pilot in development with Gunpowder & Sky.
In today's conversation, we talk about:
Dr. Amy Bhatt: So, Indians are often seen as good workers. They're hard workers, but they're not seen as creatives. They're not seen as people who can think innovatively. That is another place where people began to feel discrimination or hit glass ceilings where they were recruited. They're valued for their skills, but they're not seen as having the right soft skills with the right attributes to progress in American society.
Raj: Hey, everyone. I'm your host, Raj Sundar, a family physician and community organizer. Welcome to the healthcare for humans podcast. The show is dedicated to exploring the history and culture of Washington's diverse communities. So, clinicians are equipped with the right knowledge to care for all patients.
I'm excited to bring you the series on India today. There are many, many Indians in Washington State. There are over 200,000 Indians in Washington State, and it's one of the top five countries of origin for all immigrants here. We have two parts with two guests. One is Dr. Amy Bhatt, author and historian to talk about the history of Indians in Washington. The second guest will be Dr. Avantika, Waring endocrinologist and the Chief Medical Officer of 9 am health. So, today's episode is a little longer than our previous episodes, and we'll just be focusing on the history of Indians in Washington State. My goal with this podcast has always been to make sure that we do our best to translate knowledge into practical tips. You'll have seen that in the Somali and Hawaii episodes, where we talked about specific questions you can ask in a clinical visit. But for example, in the Pacific Islander episode, we spoke of these larger societal forces that have affected the Pacific Islander community as a population that may have been less clear. So today, I want to spend a few minutes talking about the value of just awareness, even if you don't know what to do with it right away. We'll be talking about the history of Indians in Washington State. And we'll talk about the laws and policies that either promoted immigration or deterred immigration. Knowing this will help ground all our episodes on the immigrant communities in Washington State. You'll also learn how part of the story of immigration in our country and our state is wanting and needing the labor of immigrants and allowing them to come to our state. But then, discriminating against those same immigrants, we're helping build this country. We've always been taught empathy and compassion are essential in our interactions. But sometimes, they can come off as superficial because we don't know the context of their lives, past, and what brought them here. And specifically for immigrant communities, it understands why people came here from their origin countries, what they faced when they came here, and what they have done to carve out a community for themselves to thrive. I believe knowing this can help you connect with authenticity. And even if the suffering they've experienced in the past can't be undone, or you can't help undo it. You can be present with them. And after that, you may be able to be a better advocate for that community with the power you hold. To talk to us about the history of Indians in Washington. We have Dr. Amy Bhatt with us. She's the author of multiple books, including high tech housewives, Indian IT workers, gendered labor and trans migration, published in 2018, and roots and reflections South Asians in the Pacific Northwest, published in 2013. She's a historian and a guest curator. She coordinated the South Asian Oral History Project at the University of Washington and helped curate Seattle's Museum of History and industries traveling Smithsonian exhibit Beyond Bollywood, Indian Americans shape the nation. And right now, she's working on an animated feature film that's in development and also a television pilot.
In this episode, we define what we mean by India and explore castes. And I do my best to summarize the history of India. Believe it or not, I will do it in a few minutes. And then, we talk about the history of Indians in Washington and the four waves of immigration. You have heard this a few times, but I think it's worth stating it now: the first wave was from the 1800s to the 1920s, which involved Sikh and Punjabi immigrants. The second wave was from 1965 to 1980, which included higher educated and higher-income immigrants. The third Wave was from 1980 to the 1990s, which diversified the Indian immigrants here in Washington State. You'll hear how this happened. And the fourth wave of the 1990s to now Indian immigrants came because of the tech industry. Then we end the episode talking about prejudice and discrimination. For example, the case of Bhagat Din and his argument for whiteness to escape prejudice, and then speak about model minority and how the coexistence of cultural, historical, economic, and social advantage can contribute to the model minority myth. A few terms that we mentioned in this episode that I wasn't sure if we thoroughly explained Sikh and Jain, or Indian religions. The East India Company was an English and later British joint stock company founded in 1600. It was formed to trade in the Indian Ocean region, eventually taking over many countries. The Asiatic barred zone is part of the Immigration Act of 1917. These United States act aimed to restrict immigration by imposing literacy tests. But a significant factor was barring immigration from the Asia Pacific zone. Okay, here's Dr. Bhatt. Welcome to the show, Dr. Bhatt.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: And it's such a pleasure to be here with you.
Raj: Yeah. Before we start, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Sure. So, I was born in Philadelphia. My parents migrated from India, specifically from Mumbai and Maharashtra, in 1972. Although we are ethnically Gujrati, I grew up speaking Gujrati in the home. We talked and ate Gujrati food, but my parents had spent time in Mumbai or Bombay. My siblings and I were born in the United States. So, we are the second generation. I went on to college in Atlanta and then pursued my Ph.D. at the University of Washington, where I specialized in Gender, Women, and sensuality studies with an emphasis on South Asian American culture and history.
Before entering high school, I thought I would pursue pelvic health and work for women's reproductive rights organizations. I came to U DUB to do my MPH Master's in Public Health at the same time as my Ph.D. But as I started to get involved in the research and the community here. One of the things that stuck out to me was that, unlike the east coast, where I had grown up, which has 1000s of Indians and lots of communities and temples and restaurants, it was a very visible population. One of the things that I found very interesting in the Pacific Northwest was that there always seemed to be two separate communities. And those communities didn't have that much interaction with each other. So, there were the folks that had come earlier, starting from the 1950s 60s onwards. And then there were the newer folks that had come as part of the high-tech migration as we saw the expansion of Microsoft and other tech companies here. As I began to dig in a little bit, I became interested in this issue or the topic of what was going on in these communities and how they differed. What was the history here? So that led me to work on my first project, which resulted in the book Woodson reflection South Asians in the Pacific Northwest, and my later dissertation work, which was called aid in my book, high tech housewives. And that was looking at newer immigration patterns. In the intervening years, I ended up going on and getting a job at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where I earned tenure in 2017. In 2020, we ended up moving. I left my position at the University. And we returned my husband, daughter, and I to the Pacific Northwest. And we have been here ever since. And since then, I've been doing a variety of projects. I work with little Hi downtown, the Museum of History industry. I teach classes occasionally at the University of Washington. I also have two screenplays in production right now. One is an animated feature film, and one is a television pilot. And then I also work as a writer for various politicians in the area.
Raj: I could do a whole episode just unpacking what you told me, but it's always nice to just talk about all the facets of the Indian community. Because I think when I first reached out to you, I told you about, I believe, general perception, oh, Indians, there are the people that work at Microsoft and Boeing. And, there's a group of people that do. Still, our history is complicated, our migration patterns are complex, and our place within the community is pretty diverse. Trying to find that for ourselves in many ways is okay. So, I think I would like to start with defining the community because it is so diverse. How do you start out defining it? How would you try to categorize all the different ways Indians are diverse?
Dr. Amy Bhatt: it is difficult to characterize because of our history as a relatively nation. India only Dean independence from the British Empire in 1947. Before that, from 1857 until 1947, which was nearly 100 years, India was considered a colony under the British crown and, at the time, encompassed a much larger geographic area. Read it then what we think of this today as in the US.. Nepal has always had a separate history, but sections of Nepal and the Borderlands in Northwest India have also been considered parts of India at different points. These are why it's so difficult to wrap our arms around defining India because the definition of India has changed over time. And who is Indian? History is flush with the old regarding diversity, and the various empires reigned over India's regions. Thinking about the Mughals, which brought on the flourishing renaissance of Islamic thought, art, and education in India, made it into a very multicultural society. Then you have the kingdoms flourishing in the South that come from visiting traditions, which have completely different languages and language structures than North India, where you have concentration and power in another place. I think that what we talk about and think about today is a post-1947 independent, sovereign nation-state of India. But really, our history as a people is much more complex and layered and geographically Messier than I think that definition would suggest.
Raj: yeah. Let's go through some stats to get our listeners to anchor onto something as we move through this complex topic. So here are the stats that I have. So, India has the second most people in the world. It's going to be higher than China, I think, in the next few years. It has two major language families that you just mentioned. And there are 22 languages in India. The official language of the government is Hindi, which many people think of as the national language of India, but it technically isn't. But English is widespread, especially in the well-educated population, and is often used for business. Religion. One statistic that I saw was 80% of people in India are Hindus. But 15% of the people are Muslims, 2% Christians, 1% Sikh, and something around 0.51% Jain, and they're all important parts of the community. And then caste also comes up when people think of India because it has seeped into common knowledge about what it means to be Indian. And there are thousands of castes. And historically, they're related to occupations. But how would you talk about caste?
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Yeah, that is an incredibly important, complex, and controversial component of Indian society. And it's something that also leads into our lives as the diaspora. The one statistic that I would add to that excellent recap is that we're the second-largest diasporic population in the world, which means that we are the second-largest proportion of individuals living outside of our home country after the Chinese. And the estimates of the Diaspora alone go into the 10s of millions. I think there is something that I had read that there's not a single continent or single country on Earth that doesn't have an Indian resident it
Raj: A common joke with my parents. They'll say “Numba alla” like our people wherever we go. They're like, hey, look, our people.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: like dad, you know, he's passed away since, but when my mom had trouble, his feeling was, why not get Indian food wherever we go? We can always find an Indian. Because of that, this idea of caste has also traveled within the diaspora and has been shaped differently. So, at its core, as you mentioned, caste is a concept considered to be inherited and tied to your family status and occupation. It became much more formalized under the British Empire as a way of screening and taxonomy of this society that many of the British colonists and, before that, traders were encountering. And was often more fluid depending on where you were in India, but it became slightly rigid. A little bit more of a taxonomy of ways of saying people belong to certain castes, and then certain castes say, if you're on the top of Brahman, you're more likely to have access to education. They were considered the teachers that also became the category of folks that were tapped into becoming civil servants or being selected to learn English. This created a hierarchy that was, on some level, already established underneath India's various histories but also became much more rigid as the British colonization process unfolded. And caste is also interesting because caste isn't necessarily just tied to Hinduism. It also appears some forms of Islam also appear in Buddhism and even within Sikhism. Caste also transcends the religious element, although it is the most closely tied to Hindu culture and religion. Today, caste is something that we are struggling with. I think as Well, as a community, as folks that carry the inheritance and the privileges of what it means to come from certain castes or others, how certain opportunities have been denied because of your family's background in history. We're grappling today regarding how we undo some of the damage of having those rigid castes in place, which meant that certain people had access to education and government jobs or even ranking in the military because of their family background, whereas others were denied that.
Raj: Yeah, I'd like to get people to self-reflect even if they don't identify with the Indian community, how sometimes we can arbitrarily create these categories. Like you selectively choose one group of people for education or select jobs. And then as it becomes more and more entrenched, like, obviously, Brahmins are more educated so that they're the chosen ones, and then it can be hard to undo that.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Absolutely. And we'll get into this a little bit and talk about immigration. There's also been very specific policies have been put in place both in India and the United States that have encouraged the same sort of self-selection that ended up creating the kinds of communities that we see in the United States today.
Raj: Yeah, thanks for that overview. So next, I want to cover the history of India. As I said, you're going to laugh at me because you've done this so much, or we can't do that. But between 1500 BC to 1200, there weren't this large, vast empire ruling large parts of the land. But it became consolidated around all those six fish till 1526, with the Delhi Sultanate, and it was technically an Islamic empire. But people didn't call it that back in the day. They didn't say these people were Muslims and Hindus; they just called it an empire. Depending on their background, it could be Turkish or something like that. After 1526, the Mughal dynasty was the prevailing dynasty. It wasn't consolidated into what we think of India right now. But from 1526 to 1857, the Mughal dynasty was in charge of large parts of the land. And to give people some context to that dynasty. In 1700, it was the wealthiest empire in the world with the largest military and had 24% of the world's economy, and ruled 23% of the world's population. Just think about one in four people being part of this dynasty. During that time, the East India Company came into India and started exercising military power and assuming some administrative functions in India. It began to become more and more powerful until the Mughal dynasty eventually fell. But then the British Raj took over in 1858, until 1947. it wasn't technically a colony. The power was transferred to the Crown of Queen Victoria, the Empress of India. So, between 1858 and 1947, we call what we know is currently India's British Raj. And in 1947, India gained independence. So, a lot of things there. But I wanted to spend more on two parts of this history. One is the East India Company and the British Raj. And then, in 1947, the independence around the partition act. These there are topics people have written essays and books about. But specifically, around the East India Company and the British Raj. I just wanted to discuss how that influenced India, especially what we think of India now.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Yeah, so that's a great sustained summary. So very good.
Raj: Thank you.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: the East India Company opened trade between India and the West. And as you mentioned, though, the trade routes had been well established under the Mughal empire. And we know about Silk Road, and we know about the spice roots. There have been centuries of documented interactions going back to Alexander the Great in between what we think of as India and the last. But we began to see a more formalized relationship mainly centered in England under the British crown. And even though you're right, India wasn't considered a colony in a traditional sense. There was an extractive relationship between the seat of power and India's natural resources and labor power.
Meaning that we see the extraction in cotton and other kinds of resources, salt, for instance, become significant resources that it begins to provide to the west. And one of the other things that come out of that is labor. And labor, both in terms of staffing other colonies. Now, the United Kingdom we're beginning to develop, sending indentured servants and laborers over to colonies Fiji and Trinidad West Indies. One of how the results were released and got to the company, and eventually, she burned the Raj itself, creating this smaller world by having to begin to work in the navies and then work as seamen. And while in India, there was this push towards what we might call development, the establishment of the National Railways; this was done through the establishment of certain types of educational institutions and the spread of English and Christian missionaries across the land. But you also have this other effect where you've gotten that Indians were going all over the globe and settling differently. And one of the places that they end up settling is here in North America. And we see that, in particular, Sikh communities were tapped. Islands having this reputation as being particularly martial in their training and very strong, coming from the farmlands as well. They were tapped to be part of the British Navy and act as British soldiers. This led some of these Navy men to come to Canada and eventually settle, most often in Vancouver and then along the west coast of the United States. But really, the kind of history of seafaring and Indians moving around the world through these seafaring routes. It was broader than that, and we have evidence that there are Bengalis, sailors that came to New York much earlier than we had anticipated. Some people were traveling to all kinds of places. Still, I think the influence of the British Raj and East India Company was really to create an English-based language and education system in India that has polished certain types of infrastructure. It also made this mechanism for people to use new foods to go into other parts of the world.
Raj: Yeah, I grew up in Tamil Nadu, where I spoke Tamil, and I was taught English in school. But I didn't know Hindi. And when I was in college, I studied abroad as an Indian. I went to North India, and it was a whole trip. I took Hindi. I forgot everything because none of my family speaks Hindi. So, I never get to use it. But one thing that happened was we would go to these different places. And I'll be traveling with white folks, Americans, and there's this deference to white people that I didn't realize with that group, as we went to a Sikh, Gurdwara. And we were all sitting together. They made space for all the white people. And they tried to push me out of the way. And I was like, wait; I'm like, we're standing right here. But I think there's a sense of respect for what's new. It's hard to state a principle across India because it's diverse. But I think there's always been a sense of America representing something new or Great Britain, something new and advanced. I don't know if you feel like that's part of the story, too.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Absolutely. And I think it's a really important part of the story that translates into what happens in the world. Because again, I feel that we are talking and trying to grapple with just how diverse it is because that still plays out in national politics today. And, in how people identify themselves, even within that large category of India, there are huge differences. And you point out quite nicely that you studied abroad in India as an Indian. Learning Hindi is entirely different than learning Tamil, and there are different language structures. The script is completely different. There's minimal overlap in terms of their histories and linguistics.
Raj: Thanks for acknowledging how hard it was.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: I spent some time in Northern Bangalore, and I have to say that the Hindi I studied for years did not help. So, there's also just a lot of discrimination within the country between the North and the South. And some of that was also inculcated by the seat of the British Raj being moved to Delhi. Before that, it was in Kolkata. And again, these are northern sees. These kinds of ghostly legacies of colonialism, I think, still inform how Indian see each other, whether or not they see themselves as a unifying people, how they see themselves in the hierarchy that, yes, might be related externally to the west, but also internally. It's not that different. I think it's always from thinking about the United States, the idea of being a Yankee versus a southerner, and having very different loyalties and beliefs of what it means to be an American.
Raj: yeah. And the next big piece of history I wanted to cover was the 1947 partition act. I wanted to highlight here when the separation of Pakistan and India happened. I also felt that Muslims and Hindus are very different. It was a culmination of events that led to that. But it wasn't always like that. And I just wanted to get your sense of how you would interpret two countries that were created because they felt like they could have lived together.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Yeah, so that's, again, more of the podcasters are discovering that. But in its simplest form, the partition was an idea that was one of many in terms of how to transfer power peacefully to an independent state, whether it was going to be called India, whether it was Hindustan, whatever that means. Still, it was something that was architected quickly. And mainly by folks that were using outdated maps in England. We often think of Lord Mound Batten, the viceroy of India at that time, as one of the chief architects of what ultimately became one of the most bloody, divisive, and painful chapters, not just in India but in world history. We saw a massive displacement of people as these two nations were formed almost overnight and led up to this as we have figures that we might recognize Mohandas Gandhi, who was an advocate for self-rule and non-violence. And really, he had a vision for a unified India.
Gandhi's legacy is extremely complicated. We don't have space to go into that. But he also had other leaders at the time, including Jinnah, who became the first leader in Pakistan. They were also advocating for fair representation of a Muslim population in this new kind of government that would be formed after the British had transitioned power away from being in power in India. What ended up happening was the worst of all. Where there were these new countries created based on old population maps without a lot of input from local communities or leaders; as I mentioned, facilities master outdated, so lines were being cut through one person's far. Suddenly you wake up, and your farm has been split in half; half is in India, and half is in Pakistan. Then, you've got this other East and West Pakistan division, with India in the middle. And that was based on the geographic concentration of Muslims in what we now know as Bangladesh. They also have a completely different language and cultural history and very little cultural connection to West Pakistan, with just where the sea of the paddle was located, and that's where the capital cities were located. And so, there was just an amount of turmoil and huge displacement of people as suddenly; you lent some mixed communities where people had lived together for generations; indeed, there were problems and hierarchies too. But they weren't seen as being now, foreign countrymen in the same village; there was a sphere too that we are of the wrong religion, then we will have our rights taken away, and we won't be able to practice our religion freely, but our lands will be taken away. And so, one way that puts up with it with literally, trains are just going by and crisscrossing the subcontinent to end up in the so-called correct country. The aftermath of partition, I think we're still living with the legacy of that today in terms of some of the animosities, some of the border disputes that we continue to see between India and Pakistan, and it had a massively disruptive effect on this new nation.
Raj: Yeah, thanks for covering that. I know it's complicated. And as you said, we could talk about it for a while. But I want people to understand what it means to be Muslim in India or a Muslim in America but still Indian. That complicated identity people hold and this history hasn't been resolved. We still hear about it in the news, about the conflict between Pakistan and India. Still, I think the perception of India as a Hindu nation undervalues the diversity of religions there. And the Muslims have continued to live there and have struggled because of that partition and probably have lost a lot of family members.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Absolutely. And I also think, in shaping Indian culture, when he's talking about contributions, value art, so much of that is tied to Islamic cultures. And we can't talk about it without thinking about all those pieces being woven together.
Raj: yeah, exactly. Okay, now let's connect to Washington State. And this is where you've spent a lot of time and written books about it. I read about two waves, and then I thought it was three waves. But before this podcast, you told me you think of it as four waves. So, in your words, how would you define these four waves into Washington state from India?
Dr. Amy Bhatt: I think of the first wave of migration being the late 1800s, up until the outbreak of World War One. So up until about the 1920s. “World War I” starts a little before that, but we'll say 1917. That ways of migration were very much still tied to some of the migration I was talking about before, Sikh migrants coming to work. Originally, it was part of the British war, maybe some of them jumping ship in Canada and then staying on other finding jobs, becoming farmers, and establishing themselves in the Canadian colonies and the United States along the west coast. So that period of migration is considered to be what we think of as the first wave. We see what the students often talk about as the dead zone of immigration starting from 1917. That goes until the 1950s, too, specifically here in Washington State. And until that period in 1952, with the Magnuson Apwell Lisa, these all was a real attempt to try to curtail immigration from what were the Asiatic barred countries, which included India. Still, it also included other nations as well across Asia. And it was after “World War II” that we began to see some of the loosenings and opening up, and not until 1932 that we saw some real change in immigration policies that allowed more people to come from those areas. And then, in 1965, we see what we often talk about as the second big wave of migration. It came with 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as the Alfred seller Act. It radically changed how Indians do immigration in the United States, where we move from having a country-based quota itself to having a need-based immigration system that's tied to education, labor needs in the United States, and family reunification. The third wave, we think about it, started in 1980, and went on until the 1990s. And that was when we saw certain things happen in India that pushed a lot of migration. one was the Golden Temple massacre in Amritsar and Punjab. It pushed many Sikh migrants out of India because of the discrimination they were experiencing. We also saw changes in the refugee war at that time. And we see people coming from other parts of South Asia to the United States as refugees, including from Nepal, and also some armed conflict that started escalating in Sri Lanka. And then, I also think and talk about us living in a forced wave of migration, which came from the 1990s. But it ticked up real steam and then 2000. And that has been tied very heavily to global migration for work and short-term labor that has been used specifically in finance, education, and healthcare tech industries. And that has been tied specifically to what we talked about as the H1B visa program. So, we've got these kinds of four waves of immigration. Washington State is often seen as one of the first ports of entry, starting from those 1890s immigrants that were coming here and establishing themselves as part of the industries already here in the United States. During this period, we found that they had mostly men who were coming as laborers to the United States to work in industries in Washington here, like tanning, lumber, and working in the seaport industries working to help build the railroads. These early Indian immigrants were very much a part of the population that built the West Coast expansion of the railroads here. They were coming in a period where there was a lot of racial animosity and discrimination and fear that these were new immigrants and that they were immigrants that were going to change the United States culture, which is just a theme that we continue to see over and over again. But one of the things that happened in this period of time was the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which started in 1882. And Indians were very much impacted by this because the Chinese Exclusion Act was a series of passed laws intended to limit the immigration and the settlement of Asian immigrants. So, things were put in place like saying that women couldn't migrate, or if they were migrating, they couldn't stay on here, because there was a fear from the federal government that if you had let women come, then people would establish families here, and then they stay. There were also other limits put into place regarding what kinds of industries people could live in. what kind of land they could own, and what kind of businesses they could work in. There were components of it that were tied to miscegenation, saying that it was illegal to have intimate relations or marry somebody from the white communities that were here. This led to some interesting fight of phenomena. So, one of the things more in California than here that we see as the establishment of these ancient Mexican Punjabi communities where you have Punjabi men that, because of these limitations, and who they could marry, ended up becoming very closely connected and integrated into Mexican Foreign working communities. In Washington State, we had this kind of old, if small, but vibrant community that, in some ways, was tapped out by these immigration policies as the United States moved towards isolation in the period leading up to “World War I.”
Raj: Yeah, and I think we can call out the loose seller act of 1946, which said only about 100 Indians could come in a year. And his history with the United States of being the court-welcoming place for immigrants for labor but not wanting to truly integrate people that provide for the United States in whatever way that may be.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Absolutely. And I think those country-based quotas are really important because when we talk about histories of immigration to the United States, if you're coming from Northern Europe, there were almost no quotas in place for how many people could emigrate from France, from England, from Germany for a period of time. And there were other kinds of quotas depending on when and where people were migrating. But that 100-immigrant cap was in place for a long time that was in place up until about 1965. So, it did snap in the ability for people to come here. Now 65 has become an important turning point for both the United States and Washington State in particular, and globally. Because while you do have this limitation at migration to the United States, there was a boom in Indian out-migration after 1947 to other places like Canada, the UK, and other parts of the Commonwealth. but we saw a sort of nativism grow in England in the same period that the United States began to open up some immigration policies. So, you might be familiar with Enoch Powell, a leader in the United Kingdom, who gave a very infamous speech called rivers of blood. In his, he talked about this fear that is, many functionally nonwhite Commonwealth citizens keep coming into England, they would lose their cultural identity; there was a real move to push back on immigration. And so, the United States, in some way, saw this to its advantage because this was the same period of time in the 1960s when the United States was trying to compete with the USSR, the Russian Federation at the time, in terms of the space race, the race to get to the moon, but also just in terms of technological innovation. and Indians become a solution. And immigration, more broadly, becomes a solution for the United States, which is having a hard time getting enough labor and technically trained English-speaking folks to work in these kinds of scientific industries. Because there was also a huge investment and then post 1947 period in India to create a technically trained workforce that could help develop the nation. India found itself with a surplus of people looking for work that had been trained often in math and science and were looking for opportunities that maybe they weren't finding in India. Then there was the opening of immigration in the United States. So, the 1965 Immigration Act changes our country-based quota towards a quota system, and that's the basis of our immigration policies still day. And the number one category that we still have people come to the United States through is the family reunification component. This means that if you've had family here, you can sponsor other family members and bring your families with you, depending on the basis you're on. And you can apply for permanent residency or naturalization. And secondary to that were new avenues for students to come and new types of labor pieces as well. Shifting away from saying we only want people from certain countries to saying we want people that have these skills or that these ties have shaped and opened up the floodgates of people from all over the world. Indians, in particular, were able to take advantage of this closing down in England, the lack of opportunities in India in the post-World War II post-independence period, and the opening of immigration policies here. So, considering the first wave as being from the 1890s until “World War I,” the second wave was the post-1965 change in the Immigration Nationality Act. Then we have the third wave starting from the 1980s onwards. And part of what happened in that period is that even though we don't think of Ronald Reagan as a progressive president, he put some policies in place that opened up avenues for immigration through the refugee channel. This was also the period when the United States emerged from the Vietnam War. And a large number of refugees came from South East Asia. But one of the things that also happened is that this became a new category for people to come to the United States based on religious persecution, civil war, natural disasters, other kinds of famine, and other kinds of things that were happening globally. And so, in this period, we also see other kinds of immigration come in. And unlike the 1965 immigrants who tended to already come to the United States with some English language education, because of the criteria that the United States was pushing, looking for people that could come as students and workers if their family reunification chances are that there's some social, economic mobility already at play. Starting in 1980, the demographics changed, and we began to see folks coming from more diverse economic and linguistic backgrounds. and beginnings of some caste differentiation. But that is still pretty minor compared to the overwhelming upper castes that can take advantage of these immigration policies. So that changes a lot of what we begin to see. you see more Indians also moving into what we think of as working-class sectors. We see more Indians coming as part of maybe family reunification, but they didn't have the same levels of education. We also see a boom in terms of Indian economies, right? So, this is the period of time that we also think of as the growth of small business ownership. So, I am a Gujrati. We come from a community stereotypically known to be merchants and business owners. My dad owned a small business. we were pest control operators, the motel industry also exploded. And I think today, there's a wonderful book by Colin Dhingra that looks at this whole life behind the lobby, or 50% of all motels in the United States are owned by Indians, Gujaratis in particular. So, there's just this huge growth, an explosion in Indian communities. Like restaurants, convenience stores, open obviously, all kinds of things. I also think the 1990 period has become a slightly different immigration pattern. And that is the point at which we start to see the shift towards what we know today as the high-tech or highly educated global Indian migration pattern. So, in 1990, under George W. Bush, we saw the revamping of an older visa known as the H1B visa, which initially was part of the Bracero Program, which was intended to bring over temporary workers from Mexico to work in agricultural industries in the United States. And that was a guest worker visa, which meant that people intended to return to their own country after some time. In 1990, that visa was resurrected and intended to be something that could be used in other industries looking for workers but not necessarily for permanent residents. And so very quickly, the kind of technology industries that were growing in this period of time saw a big boom across the development of the internet. But then, software and personal computing began using these visas to tap into global labor markets. With the emphasis on technical education in India and the high percentage of English-speaking workers, India became a natural fit for recruiting and utilizing these visas. And so, by the 2000s, as we began to fear the turn of the millennium, and with lots of fears around Y2K, these visas increased almost to 200,000, being issued a year from 1999 to 2000. the number has since dropped to about 65,000 new visas. we saw this kind of push for the United States to say we need this labor. And we need to find people that can fill these gaps in our economy. And it's been used in many places, and I'm sure you see it in the medical field. The H1B visa is also used for academics working in universities. it's used in finance; heavily nursing uses it a lot. There's a slightly different variation for nurses. But a huge stream of nurses come to the United States on these temporary visas. And then probably the largest proportion has b technology industry. And I should say that even though this visa is open to anyone from around the world, 75% of visas go to people of Indian origin. So, it has radically changed the Indian population. And to your point earlier, it also has been one of the ways that we've seen people emigrate from other parts of India that didn't come through that sort of earlier North Indian concentration. So, we saw a bigger population of folks from cities like Chennai and Bangalore that had been developing their technology, math, and science institutions.
Raj: Yeah, thanks for summarizing three books, the major summarizer, but I appreciate it. I think our listeners will appreciate it too because it's another way of just thinking about the diversity of the population, not just by religion and language, but also when they came to the US and why they came, and what allowed them to come. I think people will see that and those different kinds of Indian stay encountered; I will say that.
I want to transition now to talk about the immigrant experience. As I spoke to you earlier, we are covering different immigrant communities. There are some common themes across immigrant experience, which I think in some ways are exemplified through the Indian experience. I'm hoping to cover some of that today, but it may be topics that I want to cover or prejudice and discrimination than the idea of being a model minority.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Absolutely. I think that while there are concrete histories of the Indian experience of immigration and complicated and very pathways for getting here, I think you're right that there are many common experiences that the Indian community shares with other immigrant groups. particularly around the experience of what it means to come into a new country and be labeled are seen as non-American because of your food culture, race, categorization, religion, language, all of these kinds of things. there was a thing sociologist Herbert Ganz who talked a lot about this idea of immigrant downward mobility. So even though we've talked about how many of the earlier immigrants that came to the United States had come here because they had some sort of skill that was found valuable to the United States and were fairly educated, relatively speaking, when they came here; upon coming to the United States, many immigrants experience what we think about is this shift from having high status in their home country or having some sort of status to having a drop in how they are perceived. So, one really common piece of this that's probably familiar to you in the medical field is the recognition of medical graduate credentials from other institutions outside of the United States. And many of the folks that came to the United States that might have been training as doctors or in the medical profession in India have to come to the United States and find that they can start working. They have to go through a new set of boards and qualifications. But then, often, the experience that they might have had in India isn't counted towards their tenure or longevity here. I think there's also this other way in which certain kinds of credentials aren't taking us seriously in the United States. For instance, the education system in India is modeled after the British system. So, college starts when we still think about the latter years of high school. And that is considered a degree not necessarily recognized in the United States. So, my mom was a great example because she had a Bachelor of Arts and studied English literature. She had completed three years of college in India, but her degree was never recognized in the United States. The same happened for my dad because he functionally went through an electrical engineering program but was only recognized as having the equivalent of an associate's degree here. And there is this feeling that people experience of having to re-credential themselves and reestablish themselves. And that takes time and money and can also mean that people are taking positions commeasured with where they would have been in their home country. And then, on top of that, there is this feeling of discrimination and wanting to combat that discrimination. So, I grew up in New Jersey in the 1980s. And this was a tough time. We had some representation on TV, and that representation was pretty bad. We're discussing Indiana Jones at the Temple of Doom and eating monkey brains. Then Upolu on The Simpsons was about it in terms of what you're seeing with brown characters with Indian characters on television. But there was also a period of time where there was kind of this movement called the dot busters that was picking up speed in New Jersey, where it was people being attacked for wearing bindies or the ornaments that women tend to wear on their foreheads. And Indian businesses are being attacked. My parents owned a small pest control business in which our trucks were egged. there was a lot of open discrimination. And people felt that acutely during that period of time. So, there was street-level discrimination, but then there's also the discrimination that's happening in the workplace. So, Indians are often seen as good workers, they're hard workers, but they're not seen as creatives. They're not seen as people who can think innovatively. That is another place where people began to feel discrimination or hit glass ceilings where they were recruited. They're valued for their skills, but they're not seen as having the right set of soft skills or attributes to progress in American society. And I think the way that unions have compensated for that kind of discriminatory behavior has been trying to fit in as what we think about or talk about as the model minority in the United States. I have a daughter, who's eight years old, and we were talking about this recently, and talking about how people in immigrant communities sometimes don't align themselves with other groups that are marginalized or oppressed because of this fear that they then themselves would also be seen as marginalized or you will be oppressed. And I was explaining to her a little bit if you're new to a school, and there's a really popular kid. And even if that popular kid doesn't act the best or the kindliest, you're more likely to want to be in the shadow of the popular kid than you are to be the target of that kid. So, you'll do everything you can to act like the popular kid, right?
Raj: Yeah, I certainly did. I came here when I was in fifth grade.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Exactly, exactly. I think that there is a sense that Indians, very much, were looking out for themselves and wanting to fit in where they thought they would be able to fly under the radar or trying to find ways to be welcomed in a country that kid offensive, very hostile. And I think that has had some unfortunate effects, too, right? There's a divisive Ness that can happen where Indians aren't as maybe politically engaged as they could or ought to be. I think there's still this remnant of feeling like we don't get involved in politics or we don't shape policies because we've been okay So far, although here in Washington state, we see a significant shift. We're seeing more particularly South Asian women run for office advocating for Immigrant Justice more broadly beyond our communities.
Raj: Yeah, that's a good way to encompass it. I heard two facets; the one as being the object of discrimination in the wages or living life, and in other ways, how you essentially attempt to discriminate against others to distance yourself from the oppressed. I'm thinking about, if we go back in time, and maybe this is where, I look this in 1906, when I 1813, were Bhagat Singh Thind if I'm saying his name, right, try to argue that he was white because he's Caucasian. This also links to, like, what does white mean? But he was granted citizenship by one judge. And another person said, no, the common person wouldn't say you're white. I don't care if you're Caucasian. So, I need to be associated with this group that has the power.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Absolutely. And Bhagat Singh Thind is a great example. So, his case finally appeared in front of the Supreme Court in 1923. But as you point out, he had started this petition for becoming a naturalized citizen much earlier. He served in the US military in World War One here at Fort Lewis in Washington State. And then he went on in his initial petitions through the superior courts in Spokane. And at certain points, he was granted citizenship. At other points, he was stripped of his citizenship; it happened twice. And one of the arguments he made in 1923 in the Supreme Court case was that because of the shared history in the caucus region that Indians should be considered white. The courts quickly denied it and became part of a more extended history of race-based understandings of citizenship in the United States. That's a complicated legacy to write, claiming whiteness to fit in. At the same time, this man had given his service and life to become an American. And Billy was trying to figure out what argument would work for the period of time that he was living in. But I think we still live with that legacy of wanting to be recognized for the communities that we come from and the people that we are while also trying to figure out how we fit into the hierarchy that's been established through social, cultural, and legal means.
Raj: I'm going to channel my dad here. I think he's going t to listen to the podcast. I don't know if you'll appreciate this or not. Maybe you said there's a glass ceiling. But look at all the CEOs, Indian CEOs everywhere, Google, Microsoft; you name it. What is this glass ceiling you're talking about? And this model minority is pointing that out? Because I think we also downplay cultural norms versus historical, economic, and social advantages. We look at Indians in a high place and say, wow, the Indian culture has it. Like, for we know how to educate folks who are good citizens and are changing our world. That's probably overly simplistic. And I want to connect that to the historical advantage that helped us get to where we are. And you've talked about some of that already, which is this post-colonial period where India was trying to determine who it was as a country and create a workforce to develop the country, which matched perfectly with American needs at that time. But also, the education of English, I think, is a huge part of it, which was different people's vision of what India should be. Could you talk about English and how that became a big part of the advantage? And is there anything else that you would add to this advantage? That's outside what some people think of as the culture of India.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Yeah, I think that education piece, even as it was being established in India, and that post-colonial period, was still very political. It was still highly tied to diplomacy efforts to try to gain influence through what we think of as soft diplomacy by the United States and by other countries as well in these newly formed post-colonial states because that period from 1947 to the 1960s, right, 1968, 1970 we saw the radical decolonization of the coral. And we also saw two superpowers still trying to figure out how they maintain balance across this globe the USSR and then the American nation-state. So, education became one of these ways of really exerting soft influence. In India, there are these highly revered institutions called the Indian Institutes of Technology or Indian Institutes of Management, IITs. And they're on par with our MIT and other technical institutes here. These schools were intentionally designed in partnership with Western nations. Literally, from the curriculum design to the recruitment of faculty to want to train students that happened to study abroad or go abroad. They were done in conjunction with the nation-states of the United States of many and England, of Russia to develop a curriculum and to inculcate this kind of global body of workers and thinkers. So, what we see come to fruition in the United States is often the kind of investment and these kinds of institutions with the hope that there would be friendly feelings towards America from any essence. Because there was a lot of fear that the United States would lose control over the South Asian continent because of the close ties between the USSR and India. And the way we are the world's largest democracy, India remains the world's largest democracy, but it was a socialist democracy. And it was a closed society for a long time. And it looked to the USSR as a model for developing the nation through five years centralized plans. And so, the United States was fearful that they would lose influence there and that this could be a place that could become under Russian influence. So, there was, again, this forward diplomatic, political pressure to bring people here and to try to create these good feelings, which was to the benefit of the Indian individuals as well. And then this other component I've talked about is the strong role immigration policy plays in selecting and refining communities. So, these are natural processes, I think, or they're not similar processes, where anybody can apply and have the same shot of coming to the United States. They're already processes that require specific kinds of access to resources and privileges before people can even get here. And so that in itself, I think, is one of these reasons where it's easy to look around and say, yeah, look at all the CEOs, it must be our culture, it must be the center that we are so family-oriented.
Raj: we're just smart people.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: It's just all that right. The story is much more about politics and geopolitics and immigration policy and investments in a post-colonial period, and India's kind of pre-colonial relationships.
Raj: Yeah, exactly. And I have one more question. All immigrants struggle to find their identity here; the Indians experience the same. I want to make two points about that. One is that it's not always just about us finding a place but also contributing to Washington. And Washington has changed because we are here as immigrants and Indians, and community organizations can be vibrant, at the same time, can exclude people. I think there was a quote in your book about a person's perspective on the homogenization of Indian culture, sometimes in community organizations, and the over-emphasis on middle-class Indian experiences. So, for all Indians you meet, you may not want to connect them to this one Indian group, they may not be relevant, or it may not be what they're looking for. So just be cognizant of them. Anything else that you would add?
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Oh, yeah, the one thing I would say there, too, is we have seen a real shift in that book. I talk a lot about the Indian Association of Western Washington. And the important role it played as a cultural link, both for people locally and then also to this idea of India, was so interesting to me when I left Seattle for several years and been back since 2020, is that they rebranded and changed their name. And now, they see themselves as a cultural service organization rather than cultural promotion. And I love that. I love that they see themselves to your point as not just here to maintain or hold on to this idea of Indianness but to take our community strengths and bring them to the larger community. So, they've been hugely instrumental in promoting COVID vaccination, getting elders out of their homes and breaking that kind of isolation, health, and fitness and doing health screenings, getting involved with some of the unhoused populations and helping to talk about and deal with homelessness here. You were correct about these things, which weren't necessarily part of that middle-class Indian experience, or people didn't identify themselves in that way, that there's been a change, I think, in the community, or at least for some folks, not everyone. For some folks, in terms of what we can offer back to the community in that, we live.
Raj: Yeah. Thank you. Well, the last question is, you're well known. So, I don't know if your doctor will listen to this, but you could tell me about a bad experience with yourself or your family. And what lesson was from that, or a good experience that people should aspire to be an Indian seeking care? What does that look like to you when you go to the doctor?
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Yeah, that's a great question. I grew up with my grandparents and want to say to Upstate. It was my mom's parents who migrated to the United States. And when I was eight, they lived with us until they passed away. So, my grandfather passed away when I was 31. And my grandmother the year after him. and one of the things I was just fascinated by was that I watched an intergenerational experience of health care. I have a younger brother who is ten years younger than me. So, I was pretty aware of all of the lifecycle. And one of the hardest things, and I'll say this to you, is my father passed away from a heart attack when he was 66. And as we know, heart disease and diabetes are huge problems in our community. And one of the hard things is even though my father had an Indian cardiologist. I think there was still a disconnect for him in terms of how to eat the way he wanted to eat and still make the kind of lifestyle choices he needed to make to care for himself differently. How to manage some of those pieces and for him statins, taking medication, and things like that. I'm not sure he could communicate his reservations because of his fear or his deference to the medical system. And that was one place where I saw a bit of a breakdown between not saying that it's necessarily cultural. Still, it was this feeling of not wanting to challenge authority, even if it was not making sense for him, or he wasn't necessarily following protocols or doing things that would have potentially changed to save his life. I think that was one thing that I recognize as a care provider, knowing that one of these ways that the model minority component plays out is not actually speaking up or being an advocate in the same ways and not pushing against, especially a medical doctor who's so revered in our communities as well. And then the other part was watching my grandparents go through health care here, especially toward the end of their lives. And my grandfather had English, but my grandmother never did. She never learned it. She stopped school when she was in fourth grade. She was married when she was 15 years old. And so, she never felt comfortable being able to express the pain in her body. And I think that was another place where it was crucial to get a culturally specific translation. That was the only way we could diagnose what was happening because she was conditioned not to talk about her pain. So, I think those are my family examples. For me, I guess now it's OK to figure out what it means to carry the legacy of some of these Indian traits. So, for instance, we eat a primarily vegetarian diet, but I still have high cholesterol, even though that is very much hereditary. It's my good cholesterol or my bad cholesterol. Every single time I meet with a doctor, it's having to talk through what that means for the Indian population, how it looks a little bit different, and how my numbers aren't necessarily the same. My husband is white American, and our numbers are not that different, but the ratios are different. And so just having somebody that can understand, like, we eat, primarily vegetarian diet, it's not a diet change we need to address. Those kinds of things have come up for me as well.
Raj: Thank you, Amy. I know we're at the time going to let you go. But I appreciated our conversation today. And I think our listeners learned a lot from this. And I think I should be friends with you. And maybe you can help me raise my child and have both Indian and American contexts, the struggle that parents always like, okay, not too American, but I'm not. I can't make them super Indian because I'm pretty American, you know,
Dr. Amy Bhatt: oh, my goodness. My daughter is funny because she's eight and we live in Sammamish. And she is so keen to learn a South Asian language. She's like, why don't we speak anything else at home? Her best friend speaks Tamil, one speaks Punjabi, and two speak Hindi. We are like; I spent my whole childhood trying not to speak any of that.
Raj: Trying not to get this accent down.
Dr. Amy Bhatt: Yeah, exactly.
Raj: Thanks again for joining me. It's me, Raj Sundar, in another episode of the health care for humans podcast. I hope you enjoyed this episode. As always, remember to check out our website, healthcareforhumans.org. For show notes and a complete episode transcript, make sure you hit the subscribe button and tell a friend. In the next episode, I'll see you for part two of the India series.
This podcast is intended for educational and entertainment purposes only. Views and opinions expressed in this podcast do not represent any of the participant's past, current, or future employers unless explicitly expressed, so always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers concerning your personal questions about medical conditions you may be experiencing. This Healthcare for Humans project is based on Duwamish land and makes a regular commitment to Real Rent Duwamish.
The transcript ends here.
Amy Bhatt, Ph.D. is a writer, educator, and content creator. She received her B.A. in Political Science and Women’s Studies from Emory University and her Ph.D. in Feminist Studies from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. She is the author of High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration (University of Washington Press, 2018) and co-author of Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington Press, 2013) with Dr. Nalini Iyer.
As a public historian, she coordinated the South Asian Oral History Project at UW and currently serves on the South Asian American Digital Archive’s Board of Directors. She was a researcher and guest curator at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) from 2018-2021, where she co-curated the traveling Smithsonian exhibit Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation (2019-20), and Stand Up Seattle: The Democracy Project (2021). She conducted focus groups, facilitated community engagement, and created educational materials and programs for both projects.
Previously, she was an Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Affiliate Associate Professor in the Language, Literacy and Culture Program and the Asian Studies Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
In addition to her research on transnational migration, she writes about South Asian culture, community formation and activism. She has partnered with the South Asian American Policy & Research Institute, written for, and appeared in news outlets such as NPR, The Conversation, The Society Pages, AsiaGlobal Online, the Indian Express, Quartz, and The Seattle Times.
Currently, she and her writing partner, Shiwani Srivastava, have an animated feature film in development with ReelFX and a television pilot in development with Gunpowder & Sky.