Indian Americans: Realizing the American Dream

Date:   Tuesday , September 04, 2007

I began my career in the sales division of IBM, one of many Indian Americans of my generation that applied our expertise in engineering, sales and product services. While many of my colleagues returned to India after gaining knowledge in their specialization and integrated themselves into Indian companies or built their own, a number of us stayed in Silicon Valley and forged a new path.

Because of my decision to stay, I have witnessed the changing trends of immigration to Silicon Valley over the past few decades and recognize the shifting dynamic of the social and professional outlook of Indian Americans. While our contributions to the growth of Silicon Valley and our entrepreneurial acumen are well appreciated, we are now at a crossroads where we have to choose the right path for our journey ahead, especially the younger generation of Indian Americans who are working to realize their own version of the “American Dream.”

In order to make the right decisions, however, we must examine the past, present and future of Indians immigrants to America, how we have changed Silicon Valley and the Valley has, in turn, changed us.

The Evolution of Indian Americans in Silicon Valley
The first generation immigrants from India were mostly engineers and doctors who came here looking to obtain a higher education and decided to stay on after they got their advanced degrees. Personally, I came to Ohio’s Kent State University in 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War, to earn my M.B.A and I was easily accepted; I had no feelings of being discriminated against as an outsider. Academic institutions are always open, they’re incredibly laissez-faire, and there’s a great acceptance of folks coming from overseas.

As is the case in all immigrant groups, some of us remained apart from the influences of society around us and others quickly integrated ourselves into the new cultural environment. While our approaches to and interest in American society often differed, we all benefited from the opportunities afforded to us. Due to our strong tradition of excellence in the hard sciences, and because the timing corresponded with a boom in information technology, many Indian immigrants found themselves in Silicon Valley at a time where we could make a significant impact to the pace of innovations coming out of the area. Regardless of the extent to which we integrated with the local cultural environment, we all were offered access to the famed promise of America: through hard work, intelligence and a bit of luck, one could succeed despite factors such as class, race and sex.

Our children, however - some who were born in India and others here in America, but who all grew up and received their education here - naturally became part of the local culture regardless of the attitudes of their parents towards the new society. Straddling traditional Indian culture and the American culture, this generation has built on the foundation that their immigrant parents established and has often looked beyond the environs of Silicon Valley to choose employment. Some are building very successful business careers in professions such as finance, sales and marketing - fields that many of their parents never had an opportunity to enter due to cultural barriers. Others are working in fields which are far removed from the business scene altogether, including the arts, education and politics.

The New Generation
This new generation holds great hope for America and India. They are proving that there is no need to limit their interests to only those areas their parents were involved in to become successful and to find personal fulfillment. They not only see new windows of opportunity everywhere, they choose fields that offer fresh scope for advancement of human knowledge and career development that their parents would never have dreamed of.

For instance, my daughter is pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental policy management and is now engaged in a field study in Africa as part of her thesis work. Such areas of education are highly fulfilling and it is exciting as both a father and as an Indian American immigrant so see her taking advantage of the many opportunities that are open to her as a second generation American.

The Evolving Indian American Experience
My daughter is one of many examples of the how the new generation is fulfilling a new version of the American Dream. While my generation leveraged our traditional expertise to find professional success in a new country, arguably more so than we could in India, her generation is seizing the opportunity to explore and find new, exciting careers that offer personal fulfillment in an increasingly globalized world. I believe this freedom, and this generation’s veracity in pursuing different options, is a direct result of being immersed in the American culture combined with the strong foundation Indian immigrants such as myself have built in Silicon Valley.

As a first generation Indian American, I am even more intrigued to see what choices my grandchildren will one day make and where their paths will lead.