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March 12, 2001
Weave Traditions Into New Lives Here
Cass Cliatt Daily, Herald Staff Writer
a young girl in India, Neeta Mundhra dreamed of someday leaving
home, going to college and getting a job.
didn't see herself in the traditional role of a married Indian woman,
draped in the simple elegance of a sari and staying home to manage
when she was 21, an arranged marriage steeped in Indian tradition
ended up giving Mundhra the untraditional Indian life she wanted
-- but in Chicago's Northern suburbs.
she joined an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 Indians who call the six-county
Chicago metropolitan area home, according to Chicago's Indo American
Center, a nonprofit community services agency.
2000 Census figures highlight the growth of Hispanic populations
in the Chicago area. But Indians are the second-largest group of
immigrants who are not U.S. citizens.
studying South Asian immigration say Mundhra is part of a new wave
of Indian movement into the United States, where Chicago is one
of the top three areas to settle.
accurate to say the numbers have grown by leaps and bounds," said
Sreenath Sreenivasan, co-founder of the South Asian Journalist Association
and a professor at New York's Columbia University.
the reasons for the growth (since a slower influx in the 1960s)
is the explosion in information technology, and then the demand
for doctors has grown in the past several years," Sreenivasan said.
of the Indians who immigrate to the United States work in medical
and information technology fields.
are so many stories about South Asians and they are never told.
People are always talking about Hispanics and blacks.
are also looking for the American dream," Sreenivasan said.
immigrants tend to be among the most educated of foreign populations,
receiving less attention during discussions of federal funding for
social services, researchers said.
California and the New York-New Jersey area, Chicago is among the
Indian immigrant hot spots because of the proliferation of high-tech
Indians settle in the Chicago suburbs to join communities established
by previous immigrants who found homes near their technology jobs
in the 1970s.
members of the younger generation, like Mundhra, have branched out
in their interests, weaving themselves into the fabric of daily
life throughout the Northwest suburbs.
now I am working and I am taking evening classes (at Oakton Community
College) in Des Plaines and I'm doing it by myself," said Mundhra,
now 25, at her home in Morton Grove.
like the average 20-something American woman lounging in denim overalls,
Mundhra said she enjoys working at her family's gemstone and diamond
business in downtown Chicago.
I were in India, it would not be like this," she said. "In our society,
like 20 percent of women work. And if you get married, you stay
stories that brought Indians here might not be as well known as
tales about other immigrants. But the number of immigrants moving
into the Chicago area from India is second only to new arrivals
report on suburban immigrants indicates that 34,943 Indians became
new neighbors to Chicagoland residents in the past 10 years, compared
with 95,370 people from Mexico.
report, titled "Suburban Immigrant Communities" and released last
year by the Fund for Immigrants and Refugees, tracked growth by
counting people born outside the United States who recently moved
here and have yet to become citizens.
report showed that the area's other top immigrant groups are from
Poland, the Philippines and Korea.
new life in the United States is a long way from the small Indian
town called Farrkuhabad where she grew up. She met her husband,
Rakesh, through relatives when he decided to return to India to
find a wife in 1997.
asked him, Why do you want to marry me?' because there are
a lot of girls here (in the Chicago area) from India," Mundhra said.
"He said he wanted a girl from India.
I wasn't afraid to
come here because the main thing was I liked my husband."
Mundhra, 29, has lived in the United States since he was 7 years
old, when his father came to work here as an engineer.
family has long been a part of the Indian community in the Northwest
suburbs, but Rakesh Mundhra wanted a wife raised with traditional
Indian values, including a willingness to live with his family.
Mundhra had the option of denying Rakesh's marriage request, but
the couple met twice and liked each other. They shared many of the
same values and decided to marry.
thought I was going to say, No,' but when I saw him, everything
was different," Neeta Mundhra said, laughing. "He was very handsome,
and I liked his family."
Mundhra explained that young, single people in the United States
have different ideas about life and marriage than those in India.
many Indians, the constant support and cooperation of family members
is important, while most Americans move away from home in their
carried her beliefs with her to the United States and marveled that
American youth have multiple long-term relationships before getting
just believe in one," she said. "I love American people, but the
traditions we have, we cooperate with each other and complement
each other, and I like that."
the arranged marriage that brought Neeta Mundhra to the United States
became a wedding of two cultures.
Indians said it is different living in a country where even people
who aren't rich can have such luxuries as cars and cellular phones
and heat in their homes.
Indians who come here have the education and might be more affluent
than other immigrants, but they still have more opportunities to
have things here," said Sumit Roy, a master's degree candidate at
the University of Illinois at Chicago, studying his native South
family immigrated to the Chicago area in 1981, and he now works
in the technology industry.
lot of people come here as professionals and open a business, and
it's much cheaper to open a business in the suburbs," he said. "But
it doesn't mean they totally give up their culture to come here."
the Shamiana grocery store in Schaumburg and the similar KC Mart
in Bloomingdale, to the India House banquet hall -- also in Schaumburg
-- and the appearance of boutiques selling traditional garments
throughout the suburbs, Indian culture has made its mark here.
are Hindu temples in areas such as Bartlett, Lemont, Itasca and
Aurora that display an Indian presence.
the Mundhras' home, a traditional crimson cloth on the marble coffee
table shapes the Indian flowers that welcome guests.
drapery of the same fabric hangs from the hall ceiling, embroidered
with metallic thread to form leaves making a "bender ber" -- a sign
of God and an Indian symbol of good luck.
symbol of luck marks the entryway with white paint, but otherwise,
common leather sofas and other furnishings surround Mundhra in her
living room as she talks about adjusting to life here.
enjoys being able to use public restrooms without paying, and also
not paying for water in restaurants, she said.
is faster shopping for clothes in India, but cheaper and easier
shopping for groceries here.
India, you go (clothes) shopping and they treat you like you're
everything," Mundhra said. "They will bring you tea and sit you
down and bring everything to show you."
you have to haggle over prices in bazaar fashion for groceries in
you have it all on paper," she said. "This is on sale and that is
not on sale, and it's all easier."
almost bubbles with excitement when talking about the first time
she saw a fully automated car wash.
is the life she never would have had in India, Mundhra said. She
is going to school to get her high school equivalency diploma and
then hopes to go to college.
I was in India, this was my dream," she said. "So my dream came
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