As everyone knows, Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain in 1492 in search of a passage to India. Instead, he found the Americas. More than 500 years later we have a slightly different scenario: many Indians are leaving the subcontinent and discovering Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh area in the past has experienced waves of immigration; many came to the region seeking a better future in America than the life their European homelands offered. Today, immigrants are still coming to Pittsburgh, but the greatest concentration is not coming from Europe. According to The U. S. State Department, only Mexico sends more immigrants to the states than India.
The 1970 U.S. Census counted 51,000 Indian immigrants in the United States. By 2006, that number had increased to 1.5 million. Half of all Indians in the U.S. live in five states: California, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Illinois. Although Pittsburgh doesn’t enjoy the lion’s share of Indian immigration, the area’s population of Indian immigrants is growing rapidly. According to the census, approximately 14,000 Indian-born immigrants live in Pittsburgh.
Indian immigration to Pittsburgh has paralleled the city’s rise from a blue-collar, industrial-based economy to a white-collar, high-tech and medical services economy. Most Indian immigrants come to the area take professional positions such as doctors or engineers. During the 1980s the abundance of high-tech positions attracted them, and with the area’s medical schools and hospitals, the succeeding decades brought medical professionals. Our fine universities also attract Indian immigrants, enrolling approximately 100 students from India each year.
Indian Places of Worship in Pittsburgh
In addition to the lure of professional positions and advanced education, one other thing has served as magnet for attracting Indians to the area: the Sri Venkateswara Temple. Located in Penn Hills, the temple was built in 1978 by Hindu worshipers. The stark white temple with its striking architecture overlooks the Parkway East and is a focal point in Pittsburgh for Indians of the Hindu faith. It is patterned after the sacred Tirupati Venkateswara Temple in Andhra Pradesh, India. Not only does the temple call to Indians in Pittsburgh, but also to those from around the country and the world who have visited the beautiful temple. One of its most noted elements is the Golden Chariot.
While Hinduism is practiced by 80 percent of Indians, the country is enormous and diverse, and its citizens practice a panoply of religions. Jainism advocates pacifism and non-violence to all living things. The Hindu-Jain Temple in Monroeville opened in 1990 to accommodate the burgeoning need for a place to gather and worship. Christianity is a minority religion in India, but there are Indian Christians in the area, and they too have a church: the Asian Indian Christian church on Greentree Road. It has also become increasingly common to find Indians at Roman Catholic masses in Pittsburgh.
Why No “Little India?”
Unlike other ethnic groups who immigrated to Pittsburgh, Indians have not settled in homogeneous communities like the Italians did in Bloomfield or the Germans on Troy Hill. You will not find a “Little India” or “Indian Town” in Pittsburgh. Indians have managed to assimilate rather seamlessly into the Pittsburgh culture. Perhaps it is because the Indian immigrants arriving in Pittsburgh have been more highly educated when compared to the European immigrant counterparts who came in previous decades, enabling them to have a greater visibility and more interaction with the citizens already residing here. When previous immigrants came, many could not speak the language, tended to cluster in enclaves and take menial jobs, which limited their interaction with a larger segment of society. The foreign-born immigrant, non-conversant in English sweeping the streets did not interact with society as well as the highly-educated immigrant from India who has a command of English, is your child’s pediatrician, and lives down the street from you.
One challenge that all immigrants face is how to assimilate without losing the cultural link to the homeland. In addition to religious services, many of the faith communities offer educational and cultural programs that help Indians retain their heritage. In addition, the Indian Cultural Association of Pittsburgh located in the North Hills provides Hindi language classes as well as lessons on Indian geography, history, sports, music, dance, and art. The Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh boasts an Indian classroom. Finished in 2000, the room is modeled after a courtyard from Nalanda University and showcases Indian art, architecture, and the National Symbol of India.
One sign of a group’s success in blending into the community is how readily the host culture takes to aspects of the immigrant’s customs and cuisine. Examples of American acceptance of Indian culture and peoples abound, from the popularity of the film Slumdog Millionaire to the election of Louisiana Governor Piyush Amrit “Bobby” Jindal, the youngest and one of the most popular governors in the United States.
The Pittsburgh area has several fine Indian restaurants and markets that are not only frequented by Indians but by those outside the culture as well. Besides the cuisine, you might be surprised to find how vibrant the Indian culture is in Pittsburgh. The Cinemark Cinemas in Robinson Township often have special showings of Bollywood features. And the local cable fitness channel offers exercise videos featuring aerobic dance incorporating Indian folk steps.
The Indian culture is one of the oldest on earth. For many years those in the West knew very little about the Indian culture. Most Westerners’ knowledge has been limited to yoga, the Taj Mahal and the work of peerless peace and freedom activist Mahatma Gandhi. Today, that is all changing. The blossoming of the Indian culture in America and Pittsburgh has been subtle and beautiful like the opening of a lotus. Pittsburgh says Namaste to the Indians residing here and to those from India who come to visit.