Latest trend in American immigration involves newcomers from Asia

As the foreign-born population in the United States hits another record high, here is some data on who some of the latest immigrants are:

The share of the United States population that is foreign-born has reached its highest level since 1910, according to government data released last week. But in recent years, the numbers have been soaring not so much with Latin Americans sweeping across the border, but with educated people from Asia obtaining visas — families like the Patels, who have taken advantage of “family reunification” provisions that have been a cornerstone of federal immigration law for half a century…

“The big story here is just the massive misperception about the nature of immigration in the U.S.,” said Edward Alden, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who specializes in immigration policy. “The lion’s share of public attention is focused on what is now a very small number of people coming here illegally and showing up at the border seeking asylum.

“The reality is that a growing percentage of immigrants coming to the U.S. are highly educated, and are exactly the sort of people we want to be attracting.”…

Madeline Hsu, a professor of Asian-American studies at the University of Austin, Texas, said there were only about 12,000 Indian immigrants in the United States in 1960. The foreign-born Indian population last year stood at about 2.6 million, according to the Brookings Institution, and it had risen by almost half since 2010.

To help put the current political debate over immigration in perspective, the broader trends of immigration in the United States could help. From broad-scale immigration from Europe from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s to the restrictions of the 1920s to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, Americans have swung back and forth about how much immigration should occur. The post-1965 era involves a large-scale swing back to more immigration and from non-European locations. Both of these are significant changes, even if it hearkens back to the late 1800s openness to immigration.

With this in mind, it may be easier to simply let the long-term trend of the last five decades continue. It is hard to imagine America today without all of the post-1965 immigrants. At the same time, the country’s history suggests there may be moments when sentiment turns on immigration. Either side of the immigration debate cannot be guaranteed that their perspective will necessarily win out.

This all suggests the issue at hand might be immigration but the larger, deeper issue could be significant social change.

Seeing the effects of globalization in Mumbai’s suburban restaurants

A historian looks at the changing suburban dining patterns in Mumbai’s suburbs:

“Globalization has brought in a consumerist culture and the socio-cultural category that we broadly label as middle class is growing in importance. The movement of people, culture goods and ideas from one part of the world to another has forged new links between diverse cultures and peoples.

“In India, the food service industry is a very old business. Such service evolved from early khanavals and small restaurants in Bombay. While taverns and inns typically provided food and lodging, the food service industry as a whole has been continually growing throughout the last two decades. The industry has seen one of the strongest continuous growth periods in the mid to later part of 1990’s. While much of the growth has occurred in restaurant and catering, institutional food service has also shown steady growth. The restaurant industry has strongly established itself as an essential part of urban India’s lifestyle. Consumers continue to look for convenience, value and an entertaining environment away from the stresses of daily life, and restaurateurs are filling those needs. In recent years, the number of alternatives available to consumers for purchasing food prepared away from home has increased dramatically…

“The study is also important because restaurants are evolving from just places to eat to an entire experience. While we have in Mumbai and its suburbs, full-service restaurants, hotel-restaurants, fast-food restaurants, buffets, food courts, tea & coffee parlors, fine dine restaurants, messes, canteens, khanavals, there are no full-fledged studies, neither sociological, nor anthropological nor historical, either on their popularity or clientele. Such a study will discuss their growth, strengths, and will naturally be a record of the eating out behavior of the Mumbaikar…

“I hypothesize that: There has been a mushrooming of restaurants in suburban Mumbai in the post-globalization period; Consumption patterns have undergone a drastic change during the period under study; The attitude towards public dining in the suburbs has undergone a change; The growing middle class is the clientele at places of public dining; Double incomes, travel abroad and cookery shows are greatly responsible for the change in the attitude towards food and dining; Food consumption patterns in restaurants can shape and influence the social history of suburban Mumbai.

Sounds like it could be quite interesting on multiple levels. The study of food seems to be growing in importance among academics as it involves looking at common practices and it is relatively easy to make comparisons. Yet, I’m most intrigued by this idea of a suburban restaurant culture developing outside Mumbai. It isn’t just about what food is ordered, prepared, and ends up on plates – it is also about a way of life around suburban restaurants. If I had to describe this in the United States, it would likely involve lots of chain restaurants surrounded by parking lots and populated by relatively middle-class individuals looking to enjoy food outside the home. Perhaps one could focus on the restaurant: it often is in an outlot of a larger shopping center, it has some sort of kitschy Americana decor, tends to have some televisions showing sports, and patrons don’t stay too long. Or focus on how Americans budget money for eating out as a regular part of their entertainment and/or food spending. All of this looks different than urban eating which may focus on smaller restaurants, hipper and more cutting-edge places, and a different feel.

Large “sociological exercise”: nearly 1 in 6 global residents to vote in India’s elections

While Americans may think our country does things on a large scale, nothing quite matches the “sociological exercise” of democracy in India:

The world’s largest democracy is bracing itself for the most anticipated event every 5 years. To keep things in perspective, almost 1 in 6 on earth would be voting this April-May 2014. More than the election extravaganza, this is the world’s largest sociological exercise; an exercise that places everything else outside and puts the Indian at heart and mind while casting the ballot. As much as the focus on this has been the youth, there is a particular section of society which is slightly undermined yet equally important; the Indian women.

India has over 1.2 billion people while the US has over 310 million. While the American Revolution led to a new kind of country and government sometimes referred to as the American experiment (attributed to de Toqueville), this is quite different than developing a modern government and economy for so many people.

I sometimes think part of the current issues in the United States simply have to do with our relatively large population. Coming to a consensus among so many groups and interests is difficult. In comparison, other industrialized nations have smaller populations and are often more homogeneous. But, these issues are multiplied in India with even more interests.

How time zone boundaries can affect cultural practices

Time zones help keep social life across the world consistent but they can have different effects on social life within each time zone:

Now, Google engineer Stefano Maggiolo has visualized what this difference looks like around the world—how solar time lags behind or marches in front of the time on the clock. It’s a rare look at the rhythm of the day—measured and made uniform by technology—affects communities around the world…

Of course, the reasons for standardization are often as sociological as they are technological—and their effects wind up redounding beyond their intent. As Joshua Keating writes at Slate, Spain standardized on central European time during Franco’s reign. This, in turn, led to later schedules in Spain, and to the nation’s famously nocturnal suppers.

“At the time I’m writing, near the winter solstice, Madrid’s sunset is around 17:55, more than an hour later than the sunset in, for example, Naples, which is at a similar latitude,” writes Maggiolo.

It was Spain’s extreme offset that led to Maggiolo’s writing the story.

China, too, uses a single time zone across its territory, which works for the country’s more urban east but hurts the country’s rural west. India does the same—to, as it happens, the opposite effect. In India’s easternmost state, the summer sun can rise as early as 4:30 a.m.

Some historians argue that the invention of the clock and the subsequent development of clock time had a profound effect on civilization. But, tweaking time zones, whether countries want to have a single zone or want to be half an hour off or areas don’t want to switch for Daylight Savings Time (we experienced this in northwestern Indiana so half the year we were on eastern time, half on central time), can lead to some different outcomes and social patterns. In these instances, time can serve nationalistic (in the case of having a single time zone for one country) or economic (the northwest corner of Indiana is on central time and not eastern time like the rest of the state to maintain its ties to Chicago) purposes.

This makes me think that it would be pretty interesting to study people and communities right at the edges of these zones. If India and China have different single time zones, what happens at their border where there is a substantial 2.5 hour difference? Even consistently traversing a one hour time different in the U.S. within one metropolitan area could be interesting.

Sociological views of the village in India

A review of a new volume on the Indian village provides some insights into how the village is viewed:

AT a time when the general disenchantment with village life appears to be the spirit of new India, the editing of a volume on village society is definitely an act of intellectual courage and professional commitment. We keep hearing scholarly pronouncements on the declining sociological significance of the village and village studies. We are told that the Indian village is no longer a site where future can be planned. Rather, it is an area of darkness – full of despair, indignation, filth and squalor, and mindless violence…

Interestingly, for the urban Indian, the village has always been more than a simple social morphological other to a town or a city. The village has not merely been despised for its lack of electricity and other modern amenities; it has also been perceived as a burden on the national conscience because of its abstract moralised qualities of backwardness, bigotry, illiteracy, superstition, and a general lack of civilisation and culture. For the children and grandchildren of “Midnight’s Children”, the village continues to be emblematic of the rustic world of thumb-impression (angutha-chaap) country bumpkins. At any rate, unparh gavar (illiterate yokel) can hardly be a worthy role model for a nation as aspiring as ours. In a way, the decline of the village in the creative imagination of Indians in recent decades is almost complete…

Put differently, it is time we treated the village as an explanandum in sociological research. We cannot go on assuming the village as the container par excellence of the larger processes of rural-agrarian social change. It never was. The introduction brings out in lucid prose the historicity of the study of rural society. It demonstrates that, for long, the study of the village has been an abiding preoccupation of sociologists/social anthropologists in India. So much so that “village studies” came to stand for Indian sociology in the initial decades of its growth and development as an academic discipline.

In course of time, the village attained paradigmatic status as a template of indigenous society and economy, and village studies very often came to be projected as a shorthand for knowing and understanding Indian society by both professional sociologists and the intelligentsia. The efflorescence of village studies, as a distinctive disciplinary tradition of inquiry, is testimony to the considerable analytical and theoretical significance that the village and the studies of the village enjoyed for more than a century and a half.

Three thoughts:

1. It would be interesting to know how the view of the village in India compares to how villages are viewed in other developing cultures. In places where mass urbanization is currently taking place, are there countries where the village is viewed more positively?

2. I was asked a while back about rural sociology. This subfield has really declined and only a few schools still specialize in it. I assume this is partly because the United States has become an urban nation (80% of Americans live in urban areas). Yet, rural places are still important, particularly in other countries (like India) where rapid changes are taking place.

3. This is a reminder that big city life (living in places with more than a million people) is a relatively recent development in human history. Even in developed countries, this has only become common in the last 120 years or so. We may like our cities but most humans have lived in smaller settings. This change was so remarkable during the Industrial Revolution that it helped give rise to the discipline of sociology.

87 year old Indian man wants to pursue sociology degree

I was intrigued when I saw a story describing the interest an 87 year old Indian man has in pursuing a sociology degree:

Sudan is perhaps the oldest man in the country to appear for the BA (Part II) exams of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). The students and invigilators could not hide their joy at seeing the old man bubbling with enthusiasm to pass the examination.

Born in 1925, Sudan completed his matriculation in 1941 and soon got a job in the postal department.After retiring from services in 1983 as post master for Jammu circle, he started his own life insurance marketing services…

“I got excited when I watched my grandchildren studying. I wanted to emulate them and so I decided to join them and pursue my higher education,” said Sudan…

Sudan wants to pursue research in sociology after completing his graduation and masters. “My first target is graduation and then masters. If I am alive I will go for research in this subject,” he said.

It would be interesting to hear why exactly this man is interested in sociology. Did he realize after 87 years that there is still plenty to learn about human interaction? Is there a particular puzzle about people that still interests him? Is there something in particular that he saw that he wants to explain? His explanation could also be related to a common charge against sociology: “it’s just all common sense.” One can assume this 87 year old man is not happy enough with his “common sense” and wants to find out more.

Another question of mine: does the average 87 year old have more insight into human nature and behavior than younger people? In other words, how much does life experience really contribute to understanding the world? I would guess life experience can get you somewhere but simply growing older doesn’t necessarily lead to wisdom.

Sociological study on why “nearly half of the motels in the U.S. are owned by Indian Americans”

A new sociological book titled Life Behind the Lobby tackles an interesting topic: why Indian Americans have gravitated toward the motel business. Here are some thoughts from the author about the study:

At first, I was caught by the numbers of it all: 40% of all motels in the United States are owned by Indians. After initial conversations with motel owners, I realized there was a lot more to learn: how they got started, how they afford motels, what happens to their children. There are so many layers, it becomes fascinating. I wouldn’t have pursued this project because of the numbers alone, but they were a key part of why I got started…

Dating back to the 1940s, the first Gujarati motel owner, Kanjibhai Desai, who came to the U.S. via Mexico, was based in San Francisco. He managed a “residential hotel,” which is the present-day equivalent of a youth hostel. People who stayed there were generally down and out.

Other Gujaratis who came to the U.S. in the 40s and 50s were typically farmers back in India, and even if they didn’t own land, they didn’t want to work for someone else. Part of the reason they gravitated towards the motel business was related to their desire to be autonomous in their work lives. They also wanted to know people who had done it before and succeeded. Those two factors helped create motivation and triggered a domino effect where others who were interested in small business and concerned about mobility went into the same thing…

At the same time, they still have to prove they are worthy owners as there are still stereotypes of Indian owners that pervade. They still have to make sure they are seen as 100% American. They’ve moved from becoming a novelty to a trend to a problem (especially following 9/11) to being somewhat accepted. There’s a lot about it that’s very impressive and it’s a testament to America, in terms of opportunity. But once you see the sacrifices the owners make—all the family living in motels, relying on kin from India to make things work—you realize they have other things that help them move up and it’s not just about meritocracy.

This sounds a little like chain migration where established immigrants bring over family and friends. However, in this case, the family and friends who came from India also often got involved in the motel industry.

This is a limited conversation here so I wonder about a few things:

1. How profitable is the motel industry these days? It may have made more sense in the 1940s and 1950s but is this lucrative today?

2. How much opposition have Indian American hotel owners had to overcome over the decades?

3. Is there competition between Indian American motel owners as they might be cutting into each other’s profits? If so, how does this get resolved?

4. How unusual is it to have this great of a concentration of one ethnic/racial group in one industry?