Thursday, August 11, 2016

Why we are everywhere and why actually we aren't

I have heard a number of statements and claims since I have come to the US regarding how ‘big’ the Indian community here is or how ‘we are everywhere’. I hear how Silicon Valley companies are full of Indians or how Texas and New Jersey makes you feel as if you are in India.

But is this really true? With my sense of history, it just doesn’t feel right.

America is mostly White and Caucasian filled by centuries of migration from Europe and then by Blacks who were brought in as slaves and indentured laborers and Latinos who spread or ran from the south American Spanish colonies. And then came the Chinese laborers during the gold rush and 19th century industrialization and countless other minorities from Asia, Africa & the Pacific. Indians would have been a trickle up until the 1990s mainly because Indians weren’t mass persecuted like the Jews or weren’t running from famines like the Irish. Indians didn’t probably feel the need to travel or couldn’t travel such a distance for doing hard labor like the Chinese who again were escaping persecution. Why Indian’s didn’t migrate is not my point. The point is they didn’t migrate in great numbers to America up until the tech revolution got white collared technology workers on US shores in droves – which brings us back to the hypothesis that ‘Indians are everywhere’.

Let’s see what the US Census has to say.   The US uses a catchall term ‘Asians’ to refer to anybody coming from the Asian continent and doesn’t distinguish Indians from Chinese from Koreans. Nevertheless, non-Hispanic Asians makes up only 4.7% of the population. Considering that Chinese have been coming from a far longer periods and it continues to this day, they should be making up a major share of this 4.7%. How much Indians do you think could be here? 1-2%? Maybe.

See US demography

In states where it ‘feels like’ Indians are everywhere, the Asian population is a little higher. California (13%), New Jersey (8.3%), New York (7.3%) with NYC as high as 11.8%. Some other states in which you may feel there are a lot of Indians  only have clusters of Asian population density like Austin, TX is at around 6% but overall Texas is only 3.8% Asian

And mind you, all these numbers are for ‘Asians’. The California demographic page on Wikipedia says only 10% of Asians are Indians in California

See California demography

All the numbers above taken at 10% look pretty small, don’t they?

Right, let’s get down to the ‘feel’ of Indians dominating the tech workforce. Luckily, some of the tech companies released reports giving diversity data for reporting to the equal opportunity commission.

Google – 30% “Asian” for the US workforce. Whatever the Indian population among this 30%, we can’t sure go around shouting that Google has a ‘majority’ of Indians

Linkedin – they combined data for their California, Brazil and Bangalore offices giving Asians 38% but a high of 60% in tech. Including Bangalore doesn’t answer our question though L

Yahoo – doesn’t matter any more as its sold! But it said 57% if US tech employees were Asian

Ebay – their own website says 55% of tech employees are Asian. That falls to 24% overall

Then why is there this ‘feel’?

I have a theory to this ‘feel’ which is 2 fold.

One, humans tend to live and socialize with people from their own background. So Indians tend to make Indian friends, tend to live in localities were there are some other Indians to socialize. We visit Indian grocery stores, frequent theatres which show Hindi movies and then eat at the Indian restaurant nearby. Not to say Indians don’t make non-Indian friends, they surely do. But there is definitely a bias. Ask a non-Indian where one can see Hindi movies. The blank of the face would tell you we aren’t everywhere

And two, our mind just registers and remembers people like ourselves more than it registers other people. I probably remember seeing an Indian on a train rather than a Polish or Japanese. I probably register that there are 3-4 Indian guys sitting around my office floor. I have no idea how many Latinos there are, never bothered to care

So now I know why we are everywhere and why actually we aren’t!

Saturday, July 23, 2016


My first travel to the ‘West’ was when I went to London by British Airways. I thought the airhostess was rude, behaved as if she was doing a favor. I visited a pizzeria in London during my trip and I thought the waitress was rude, behaved as if she was doing a favor.

Why did I think so? Because as an Indian, the concept of ‘class’ and ‘privilege’ is ingrained in our minds. A waitress is supposed to talk and behave in a certain way, greet you when you come and when you leave. Say sorry and thank you for everything. Serve you food and basically treat you like a master. There was none of it coming. Although I still think the waitress and the airhostess were rude, the degree to which I think so is far lesser. I wish I have a chance to replay that exact sequence of events and make a re-judgment.

Now in America, I see a similar replay of things every day.

As I played with my son in a nearby park, I was surprised to see the lady who cleaned our house last week playing there with her daughter, in the same park! Imagine that in India and I realized how socially segregated we lived all our lives. The lady demands top dollar, wears clean clothes and we treat each other as equals. (but… kamwali ki ladaki ke saath khelega mera beta?)

The postman, garbage collector, carpenter, electrician, sweeper all work with a sense of pride and self-respect.  They keep their head high and you learn to treat them as equals. You exchange ‘Good morning’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Have a nice day’ with all and sundry. There are no servants in most places. No bell boys in budget hotels, no doormen – the kind you see dressed as ‘security’ all across India in front of all sorts of buildings. No ‘salaam sahib’

Of course some of this is attributed to an absence of cheap labor but what it has done is also ingrained a culture of dignity. You can technically get all these services just that they cost a lot so you start questioning it and many a times realize you didn’t need it in the first place.

Not that everything is hunky-dory. Race relations between blacks and whites are at a low, there still is black segregation implicitly in places you live or work while latinos & illegal immigrants do a lot of low paid work. But low is relative, it’s not that low when you compare to Asia.

Dignity of labor treats all humans respectfully and ingrains in you that all work is dignified.

Bottom line? Other than washing & ironing your clothes, cleaning your house and kitchen, polishing your shoes and washing your car you also learn carpentry, plumbing, masonry, wall painting, landscaping & gardening, fixing everything (remember when you opened something as a kid and your uncle said you would be an engineer? Put that to use!)

Or you aspire to become a millionaire so that you don’t have to do all this

And that my friends is the secret of what drives American ambition :-P

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How difficult can it be to get passport photos at a reasonable price?

This may seem trivial but it’s no joke. US Passports apparently require only 2 photos hence most photo printing services give you 2 photos for a fee of around $13. Side note – photo services are provided by most pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens etc. Yes, pharmacies! Quite a weird business combination!

Enter Indian bureaucracy. It turns out; Indian bureaucracy doesn’t go very well with the United States of Convolution. Indian passport application asks for 6 copies which puts these pharmacies in a spin. Confronted by an Indian asking for 6 copies the only solution they have is 6 copies for $13 X 3 = $39!!

It was going to cost 3 of us $117 and I decided to not bow down to this system.

Step 1: Persuade. Went into a CVS, told him we need 6 copies so he can charge something reasonable for the extra copies. He nodded his head as if he understood. He took the pics, printed them out and then presents me with a $117 bill. I decline, argue, even beg but he chooses to throw away the pics in trash than give it to me for anything less than $117. I walk away.

Step 2: Asked a friend to realize that a particular CVS location does do additional copies for 50 cents each. When we drive 30 minutes to it, the person is available only 9-4 so we may have to come back on a Saturday. And he can’t confirm about the 50 cents trick. Probably something unofficial so we won’t know until we came back on Saturday

Step 3: Asked another friend and came to know that COSTCO (a wholesale discount store) does photos cheap. But we don’t have membership and asking some friend to come along just for that seems a bit too much for a trivial task!

Step 4: Realize that we are in the digital age!! Downloaded a DIY app on the iphone, clicked a picture which the app nicely arranges into a grid of 6 passport photos and print at home. But houses here have dim lighting so having bright light and removing shadows isn’t easy. The Indian passport application has clear instruction saying, “Home printed photos will be rejected”. Wherever they got that from!!

Step 5: Enter a Gujarati colleague who suggests a small shop owned by a fellow Gujarati who can do 6 passport photos for $12. I haven’t loved a Gujarati so much my entire life :)