Indian community at home in Central Mass.

Craig S.Semon

The curiosities and aromas of Indian cuisine permeate the bustling India Market at the former Burlington Coat store in Olde Shrewsbury Village, where shoppers can find American staples, as well as hard-to-find specialties from their homeland of origin.

The cultural boon doesn’t stop at the door, however, as Shrewsbury and other towns in the 495/Metrowest corridor have become increasingly popular places for Native Americans.

According to the US Census Bureau’s 2011-2015 American Community Survey, 58,000 Indian immigrants reside in Massachusetts, including 8,000 in Worcester County.

Upendra Mishra, publisher of India New England News, based in Waltham, said the Indian-American population is growing in Massachusetts and the central Massachusetts region is one of the two largest places in the state. where American Indians chose to reside.

Mr. Mishra said there were two areas in Massachusetts with high concentrations of Indians. One is the Boston area, including Cambridge, Newton and the Route 128 belt. The other is the Worcester, Shrewsbury, Westboro, Grafton areas, according to Mr. Mishra. Shrewsbury has one of the highest concentrations of American Indians in the central mass and is second only to Burlington for cities outside the region.

What draws Native Americans to the region, Mr. Mishra said, is science, technology, engineering, education and health care.

“Shrewsbury is a very good town,” he said. “People prefer places where the education system is good, where there is a good way of life, and then they move around. It’s also very nice, the technology belt around Shrewsbury, and that’s what makes it really appealing to American Indians.

Currently, the United States is the third most popular destination for Indian migrants in the world, after the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, according to mid-2015 estimates from the United Nations Population Division.

In recent decades, the population has grown significantly, with 2.4 million Indian immigrants residing in the United States in 2015, making Asian Indians the second largest immigrant group after Mexicans, accounting for nearly 6% of the 43.3 million foreign-born inhabitants. according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC

Mr. Mishra also points out that Worcester has attracted many American Indians interested in entering the medical field who are now practicing in Worcester.

Shrewsbury Town Manager Kevin J. Mizikar said the local Native American community is growing. The population nearly tripled in the 1990-2000 decade, then more than doubled in 2010, topping 3,000 in 2015.

“The population of Shrewsbury across all demographics has grown steadily over the past few decades,” Mr Mizikar said. “And I think that’s attributed to high quality education and high quality services in the community and obviously the location within the Commonwealth.”

Westboro City Manager James J. Malloy also said excellent local schools and high-quality, high-tech jobs attract American Indians to central Massachusetts towns, including Westboro.

“In 15 years, the Indian community has seen a tremendous change in Westboro,” he said. “And it will be interesting to see what the 2020 census looks like, because of all the new subdivisions and housing developments that we have. There are a large number of American Indians who settle there.

In the fall of 2013, the India Society of Worcester celebrated its 50th anniversary. The handful of founders, who were mostly students from Worcester State College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Clark University, started the company, located in Shrewsbury (near the Worcester line), to come together with d others who were 8,000 miles from home. In addition to cultural events throughout the year, the organization has set up a crisis committee, a language school, dance and singing lessons, a senior group and a free health clinic open to the public. .

In a 1986 Telegram & Gazette article, India Society founder Shyam S. Sharma described most Indians entering the country as doctors, scientists, professors and business executives, which which facilitates involvement in American culture and politics.

Between 1990 and 2000, nearly 75% of working Indians in the region held managerial and professional jobs, nearly half of whom had college or professional degrees, according to a study by the Institute for Asian American Studies in the United States. University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Ashish Cowlagi, the current president of the India Society, said that Shrewsbury and Westboro are currently the main Indo-American communities in central Massachusetts, with the second tier of heavy Indo-American communities being Northboro, Grafton and Marlboro.

“If you look at the age breakdown of the census report, what we found about the Indo-American community is that it is by far a much younger community, in the age bracket. age 25-45,” Mr. Cowlagi said. “There were more kids in school, more school-age kids, so we’re looking at programs for young people.”

Mr. Cowlagi agrees that the quality of school districts makes a big difference to American Indians.

“We tend to culturally value education,” Cowlagi said. “Generally, all of these cities that we talked about have highly rated school districts. All of these cities also tend to be great suburban locations for Boston-based jobs. Certainly, these two reasons are important.

Dr. Sahdev R. Passey moved to the area in 1973, started his private pediatric practice in Worcester in 1978, and has been a member of the India Society since the mid-1980s.

More than ten years ago, he founded a free health clinic at the India Society. To date, more than 3,000 patients have visited the clinic, he said.

In addition to Dr. Passey’s free clinic, his wife, Carolyn (Murray) Passey, an Irish-American Catholic, opened a cultural school at the India Society nearly 25 years ago.

“When we met, got married and started having children, she felt that our children needed to learn more about Indian culture,” Dr Passey said. “She wanted to make sure that our children, as well as the second generation of children born in central Massachusetts, had the opportunity to learn about the culture.”

Currently, 130 to 150 second-generation Indo-American children, mostly from Shrewsbury and Westboro, attend the center’s school on weekends.

“As is the case with our immigrants, the first generation arrives; they are attracted by their culture and their allegiance to the country they come from. But the second generation, when they were born here, they don’t consider themselves Indians or any other ethnic nationality. They are American. So that’s their culture,” Dr. Passey said. “In Indian culture, we have these big family units where grandparents and parents live together. So many first and second generation kids interact with their grandparents, but if their grandparents don’t speak English, they can’t communicate with them. We wanted to offer them this opportunity to learn the language so that they continue their culture and their relationship with their grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Regarding the progress made by American Indians in the United States on a national scale, Dr. Passey brings up a few names, including Nimrata “Nikki” Haley, former governor of South Carolina who is now United States Ambassador. United in the United Nations, former member of Congress. and former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former California Attorney General and now U.S. Senator Kamala Harris.

“In my generation, our parents imposed medical or engineering studies and professions on us,” said Dr Passey. “But now that the second generation is born here, parents are starting to realize that there are other areas as well and a lot of these children are entering the political arena and into social services.”

Despite their inherent cultural differences, Mr. Mishra said Indians are very good at adapting and integrating into local cultures.

“India itself from the outside may look like a very homogeneous society, but it’s a very diverse society. So when you grow up in India, every few miles you see the culture changing, the language change,” Mr Mishra said. “We have so many languages. We have so many different kinds of cultures in India. So you grow up in that kind of environment in India and then when you come here it becomes very easy for Indians to integrate into the local community.”

Mr. Mishra said the Indians who immigrated to Central Mass. had their share of cultural challenges 25 and 30 years ago, but he said living here was no longer a barrier.

“Food was a big issue as a lot of Indians are vegetarians. Indian food and Indian spices are hard to come by. There weren’t many Indian restaurants. There weren’t many Indian retail stores. It was very difficult,” Mr. Mishra said. “But now there are so many Indian grocery stores, Indian restaurants and Indian retail stores in the Central Mass area.”

As the Indo-American population grows, so do the number of Indo-American destinations to shop, dine, and worship.

The nearly 50-year-old New England Sikh Study Circle celebrated the opening of its new 21,000 square foot temple, Gurdwara Sahib, in Westboro on October 14. The temple, one of four in the state, cost about $6.5 million to build. Every Sunday, 500 worshipers attend services, NESSC President Malkit Singh Gill said.

India Market, located in the village of Olde Shrewsbury, opened in January 2015, and the Patel Brothers Farmers Market, part of a national chain, is about a mile away on Route 9. Additionally, there are plenty of Indian restaurants in Shrewsbury and Westboro.

“We have some small Indian markets,” Mr. Malloy said. “We have a couple of great Indian restaurants in town, probably five or six.”

Although Native Americans seemingly adapt easily to their adopted community, Cowlagi admits there’s one thing he can’t get used to: winter.

“I have been here for over 17 years. I’m still not used to snow,” Mr Cowlagi said. “I think the weather is something a lot of American Indians have to get used to.”

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