Amoeblog

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little India

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 20, 2011 05:00pm | Post a Comment
YOU'RE MY LOVE SONG IN THE FLOWERS -- LITTLE INDIA


Little India is a small neighborhood within Artesia centered on Pioneer Blvd. However, since the population of Artesia surrounding Little India is more Mexican, Filipino and Chinese (not to mention home to smaller but significant number of Koreans and Vietnamese), the city council and mayor rather lamely compromised, officially designating it the "International and Cultural Shopping District." Catchy, huh? That silliness suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of what a designated ethnic enclave is... that is, a community that retains a cultural distinction from the larger community. Oh well, everyone knows it as Little India, whether it's official or not.




EARLY ARTESIA - DAIRYLAND

Artesia, named after the area's artesian wells, was primarily developed in the 1920s and '30s by mostly Portuguese and Dutch dairy farmers. Later came Dutch-colonized Indonesians. The character of Southeast Los Angeles became increasingly suburban after World War II and most of the homes in the immediate area date from the mid 1940s to the early '50s.


Pioneer Boulevard in the 1950s

As development increased, so did the value of the land and most of the local farmers sold and began moving away to Chino or the Central Valley to continue farming. The Portuguese-Brazilian Portazil Bakery, the Portuguese restaurant The Navigator and the Dutch Artesia Bakery have all closed in recent decades after many years of operation.


There are still vestiges of Artesia's ethnic past with organizations like the Artesia Portuguese DES, Portugal Imports, Artesia Drive In Dairy and California Dairies. In addition, the Portuguese Festa do Espirito Santo still occurs annually.


In the 1970s, the first Indian-American merchants began to move into the older buildings along the boulevard (some which date back to the 1920s -- their architecture and sign shapes give hints to their original purposes). As Little India grew, new mini-malls were built. Most of the newer shopping buildings date back to the 1990s and are ugly, bland, nondescript and vaguely Mexican-looking strip malls so common throughout the region. 


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Little India

As with many of ethnic enclaves in Los Angeles, the exteriors of Little India give little hint as to what lies beneath the faded stucco surface. Roll down the windows, however, and the unmistakable smell of Indian food and spices wafts pleasantly through the air. Peek inside the buildings to find crowded, cluttered markets and restaurants that tend to look more like dingy cafeterias or, alternately, garish nightclubs. But before we delve into Little India, allow me to elaborate on the much older history of Indians in America.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF INDIAN-AMERICANS

The history of Indian-Americans is older than that of the USA itself. It began in the 1600s, when the East India Company brought Indian servants to the American colonies, where they were treated, essentially, as slaves. In fact, in 1680, an Indian man and Irish woman gave birth to a baby girl. Being "mixed-race," she was classified as "mulatto," taken from her parents and promptly sold into slavery. After the US achieved freedom from the British Empire, the first recorded Indian immigrants arrived in the 1790s, to work in the maritime industry.

 

Larger numbers of Indians, mostly Punjabi Sikhs, began immigrating to America and Canada's west coast in the early 20th century, mostly to work in lumber mills and on the railroads. There they faced considerable hostility and in Live Oak, California and Bellingham, Washington, they were driven from town by angry white mobs.

 
 
Left: A.K. Mozumdar (second from right) Right: the Asiatic Barred Zone

To make matters worse, the 1913 passage of the California Alien Land Law made non-citizen Asians ineligible to own property. A few months later, even leasing land became off limits to Indians. The same year, Indian-American religious figure A.K. Mozumdar became the first to earn US citizenship after successfully arguing before a district judge that he was “Caucasian” and therefore eligible under the naturalization law that restricted citizenship to free white people. In 1917, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act banned Asians from a large part of the continent from immigrating to the US.

 
 
Bhagat Singh Thind 

In 1923, the case of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (a World War I veteran who'd fought for the US) results with Indians' being ineligible for citizenship because, though classified as Caucasian, they're also determined to be "not white." A.K. Mozumdar, along with all naturalized Indian-Americans that followed him, had his citizenship revoked as a result.

  

In 1946, Missourian President Harry Truman signed into law the Luce-Celler Act of 1946, returning the right of immigration and naturalization to a limited number of Indians and Filipinos. In 1965, Texan President Lyndon Johnson signed the INS Act into law, eliminating per-country immigration quotas.

 
Left: 
Kaushal Sharan years after his attack, Right: 
Navroze Mody (middle)

In the 1980s, as more Indians were able to move to the US, they met increased hostility. Gangs like The Dotbusters formed in New Jersey to target Indians with violence and harassment. In 1987, one of their victims, Kaushal Sharan, was beaten with a baseball bat and suffered brain damage. Navroze Mody wasn't so lucky and was beaten to death by the same gang, also in 1987.

   
   Balbir Singh Sodhi                         Frank Roque                             Saurabh Bhalerao recovering from his attack

After the 9/11 Arab Terrorist Attacks, non-Arab South Asians in several cases bore the brunt of inflamed racist hatred. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station attendant, was shot five times and killed by Frank Roque in Los Angeles. Roque was picked up after boasting at a bar, "They're investigating the murder of a turban-head down the street." In 2002 a Hindu pizza deliverer, Saurabh Bhalerao, was mugged and beaten in Massachusetts for "being Muslim." His attackers, after telling him to go back to Iraq, stuffed him in the trunk of their car. Bhalerao escaped and took a hammer to one of his cowardly assailants before being stabbed as he fled.

Diwali - aka Deepavali aka Tihar aka Swanti

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 2, 2008 12:13pm | Post a Comment

Diwali (or Deepavali, Tihar or Swanti) is a festival of lights primarily celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Newar Bhuddists but also, occasionally, fans of holidays, South Asian food or culture. As with all ancient holidays, the true origins are obscure but undoubtedly symbolize the triumph of good over evil. Probably due to its timing, it wouldn't be too unlikely that its roots were in an ancient harvest festival. As is also true of all ancient holidays, Diwali acquired additional significance over the millenia for different people. In the modern age it's marked with lots of lights, house cleanings, new outfits, decorations, flowers and snacking on sweets. This year Diwali fell on the 28th, but was celebrated in the Southland's Little India neighborhood yesterday, on the first.

Ghar Main Ho Sali To Pura Sal Diwali

Newar celebrating Tihar


For Hindus

Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, is honored on this day to ensure a good year will follow and, in northern India, the financial year begins on Diwali. In parts of India, the homecoming of King Rama of Ayodhya is observed with the lighting of rows (avali) of lamps (deepa) which were used to light his way after a 14 year exile. In western India it marks the day King Bali was sent to rule the underworld by Vishnu. Southern India marks it as the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura

 

For Jains


On October 15, 527 BCE, Lord Mahavira attained Nirvana at the dawn of the new moon, an event which is marked today.

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May Is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 28, 2008 04:19pm | Post a Comment
ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

Even in a multicultural, polyglot city like Los Angeles (which has the largest population of Asian-Americans (1.4 million) in the country and where the percentage of the population which is Asian-American is roughly twice that which is black) most discussions of race appear continue to be framed in the outmoded, bipolar terms of  black and white.  For example, whereas a lot of people and many organizations honor Black History Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is by comparison almost completely unrecognized except by some Asian-American organization and individuals.

The centuries-long struggle and strife of blacks in America is well-documented and worth honoring -- many have suggested that Black Americans invented the Civil Rights Movement (some Native Americans might take issue with that). Asians, like other non-whites, have also been subjected to legal segregation, racist violence, widespread discrimination and harassment. So why is it that the Asian-American experience is so... obscure? I hadn't even heard of its existence until I was hipped to it by reknowned Asian-American rights activist, Ngoc-thu Thi Nguyen.


CONTINUED PREJUDICE AGAINST ASIAN-AMERICANS

According to polls, 23% of Americans are admittedly "uncomfortable" voting for an Asian-American to be President of the United States. This is in contrast to 15% compared with an African-American candidate and 14% compared with a (presumably non-Asian) female candidate. Just as many Americans used to fear that Catholics ultimate allegiance was to the pope, a lot of Asians are suspected and viewed of holding allegiances the Asian countries of their ancestors, a view which fuels the "perpetual foreigner" stereotype.


PERPETUAL FOREIGNERS

Asian-Americans are typically descended from more recent immigrants than the white or black population. Last year, coming up with movies to showcase for APA Heritage Month resulted in the suggestion of Chinese Kung Fu movies the distinction between Asians in Asia and Asians in America remains a lot harder for non-Asians than distinguishing African-Americans from Africans or white people from Europeans partly because America loves imported Asian movies and Korean dramas but Hollywood continues to be incredibly uncomfortable with Asian-American leads or ensembles. To date there've only been a handful of Asian-American television series. Even more troubling to me is the fact that many Asian-Americans born in America speak of "American food" and "Americans" as something separate and exclusive of themselves.


BIPOLAR DISCUSSIONS OF RACE 

America's understanding and discussion of racial issues has almost always been overwhelmingly and frustratingly bipolar.  Look at the focus of most conversations about the current Democratic Party elections despite the fact that Asian-Americans are second only to Jews in their per capita political donations. This simple and distorted view exists despite the fact that other groups, such as Asians and Native Americans, have always been central to our country's history. The conversation has always been and remains, still, "black and white."


THE MODEL MINORITY

Asians are often paternalistically referred to as the "model minority" -- a special minority position that seems to involve the allowance of systematic marginalization. It's like saying "here's a gold star for not rocking the boat. We wish all minorities were so well-behaved." It suggests that (even though Asian immigration is growing at the highest percentage of any racial group) the fact that Asian-Americans are the least likely racial group to report crimes against themselves is to be commended. And even though rare modern instances of blackface provoke outrage, yellowface (whether literal or metaphorically practiced by Asian-American actors reduced to playing into stereotypes) is still not a big deal.


NON-MODEL MINORITY ASIANS

I have to assume that the term "model minority" doesn't  apply to all Asian-Americans, right? As a whole, Southeast Asian people including Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Filipinos and Hmong in the United States are, socio-economically speaking, much more aligned with Native Americans, Blacks, and Latinos. Anecdotally speaking, they seem less likely to be fetishized by both pop culture (appearing in advertisments, films and TV less often than East Asians) and non-Asian exoticists struck with so-called "Yellow Fever." And what of South Asians? For whatever reason, if one speaks of Asian-Americans of South Asian ancestral origin as being Asian-Americans (which they, of course, are), many non-Asians will react with confusion or even attempt to correct you. Anyway, enough of my musings on race... here's a brief history of Asian-American Immigration to the Americas.


*****

TIMELINE OF ASIANS IN THE AMERICAS




CIRCA 15000 BCE

A group of proto-Asian hunters walks from Northern Asia to the Americas on a land bridge.


   
Inupiaq dancer                    Yupik girl                      Inuit girls                   Alutiiq dancer                  Aleut boy

CIRCA 5000 BCE

The last great wave of prehistoric migration from northern Asia to the Americas. These settlers go on to develop into the Inupiaq, Yupik, Inuit, Alutiiq, and Aleut peoples (among others).