Distinguished guests, NCAIA members, friends, ladies and gentlemen:
It’s wonderful to be sharing the stage with you, Madam Ambassador.
I wish you all a happy Independence Day of India, a country of my birth. I deeply love India.
India for all of us remains an integral and an inseparable and indispensable part of our life, our journey and our story.
I want to express my deep appreciation for your warm welcome. It is great to be here tonight with all of you.
A sense of humility brings us together as fellow Indian Americans linked by common goals and common commitments and bonded by shared history and shared heritage. These bonds are stronger than the differences that too often drive us apart.
Thank you Pavan for the generous introduction. Special thanks to the NCAIA leadership for inviting me to deliver a keynote address on the subject of “Contributions of Indian Americans” on this important occasion. I am humbled and deeply honored.
I also want to acknowledge the NCIAA’s leadership role in putting together this wonderful event—as well as the Republic Day in January—year after year. Besides bringing the local Indian American community together, these two national day events provide us with an opportunity to pay tribute to India’s founding fathers. So, I ask you to join with me in applauding the NCAIA for organizing them.
Ladies and gentlemen: Let us, once again, remember the sacrifices made by Indian Independence leaders, and the timeless ideals of the freedom movement they led, a movement that inspired leaders all around the world. Its leaders have shaped our history and have shaped our destiny. India’s principles have always guided us.
President Obama himself has eloquently pointed out on a number of occasions how he has been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings and ideals. During his visit to India in November 2010, the President told the joint session of the Indian Parliament:
… India not only opened our minds, she expanded our moral imaginations — with religious texts that still summon the faithful to lives of dignity and discipline, with poets who imagined a future “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high” — and with a man whose message of love and justice endures — the father of your nation, Mahatma Gandhi. The president, in his remark, was referring to the poet Rabindranath Tagore.
For us Indian Americans, the 67th Indian Independence Day assumes special significance, as it coincides with the 100th year anniversary of the Gadar Movement. The Gadar Party, as you will recall, was born in the United States with the goal of liberating India from the British raj.
This connection was the beginning of a reciprocal bond between the United States and India and it provides the theme for my speech tonight: Independence and Interdependence.
The United States and India are independent and interdependent. Our fates and futures are entwined.
India could not be the strong and independent nation that she has become without the friendship and support of the United States. And, the United States could not be the world leader that she has become and continues to be without the substantial contributions of Indian Americans.
The conference committee has asked me to highlight some of those contributions in my talk. I do so with pride as an Indian American but with humility as an American citizen who recognizes that the success of an individual or a group within society derives from that blend of independence and interdependence that a democracy promotes and enables.
The Indian American community has been referred to and recognized as a “model minority” because of its accomplishments in the socio-economic sphere. When we speak of our contributions in that sphere, two points are worth noting:
The first point is the wide distribution of wealth and talent across our community. You may be aware of the following statistics but they warrant repeating because they tell part of the Indian American story:
· The median household income of the Indian American community is 175 percent more than the general U.S. population;
· two-thirds of the Indian American work force is engaged in managerial, professional or related occupations, compared to just over one- third among the general population; and nearly 1 in 4 from the community has a graduate or professional degree, compared to 1 in 10 among the general population.
We as Indian Americans are only one percent of the U.S. population. But —to use a boxing terminology— we punch way above our weight in a number of fields.
These fields include: information technology, the sciences and the medical profession, and the hospitality industry. As U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell noted last week, in the United States today: three percent of all engineers, 7 percent of the IT work force and 8 percent of all physicians are Indian Americans.
When it comes to innovation, we are second to none. A recent study revealed that, between 2006 and 2012, 13.4% of all Silicon Valley startups and nearly 7% of all startups in the United States were founded by immigrants from India. The study further revealed that Indian immigrants started 33.2% of all immigrant-founded startups in the United States over that time period founded more companies than the next 7 immigrant groups combined.
If you think it can’t get any better, there is an industry in which people of Indian origin in this country have done even better. That’s the hospitality industry. Indian Americans run more than 20,000 hotels across America, with a total property value of $128 billion. They own four out every 10 motels in the country.
In the aggregate, those numbers are staggering indeed. As interesting, however, is the time frame within which they have been accomplished.
That leads me to my second point in the socio-economic sphere – that is the relatively short period of time it has taken the Indian American community to become a major player and contributor to helping create and sustain the American dream.
Until the 1960s, Indian Americans had only a negligible presence in the United States, In the 1970s and ’80s we began to build to critical mass. Ever since then, we have grown our presence and increased our significance across the country in different fields, including the ones I just mentioned.
As a result, the Indian American community has become an exemplar of and champion for the American Dream. The remarkable rise and success of Indian Americans in this country is a testimony to the values and ethos that our community espouses – among them the importance of hard work and education.
Education is an issue that is close to my heart. I am sure that most of you will agree with me that our community’s focus on education and cultivation of a culture that reinforces the values and importance of education is a big reason behind the success of its members. I should mention here that it is no coincidence that India, along with China, sends the largest number of students to U.S. universities.
Education is the catalyst that fuels the powerful engine of innovation and entrepreneurship. As Indian Americans. We understand that education is the best investment we can make to build our future; that education helps create higher aspirations. We know that higher aspirations propel individuals and nations forward.
Let me move to another important area of our contribution- that is the emerging and increasing participation of members of the Indian American community in the political and public policy-making processes.
Today, we have more Indian Americans holding statewide and federal office than ever before. Two Indian Americans are serving as chief executives of their states, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina. In addition, we have several next generation political leaders being groomed in local and state politics, across America, from New Jersey to California.
Here in Maryland, we have three delegates in the state assembly: my good friends Majority Leader Kumar Barve, and Delegates Aruna Miller and Sam Arora. We also have a Deputy Secretary of State in Rajan Natarajan.
Roughly 50 Indian Americans have served in President Obama’s administration in various positions during the president first and current terms—which is unprecedented.
On a personal note, I had the distinct honor to serve the administration in two roles; as a member of the advisory committee of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and as an4 member of the Department of Commerce Industry Trade Advisory Committee. Both were gratifying jobs that I enjoyed very much.
While I have concentrated my comments on the contributions of Indian Americans here in the United States, our influence and contributions have transcended this nation’s boundaries. Besides fueling innovation and jobs stateside, as Indian Americans we can also be proud of the fact that we have assisted in the development of India in a big way.
For example, legions of Indian American entrepreneurs and IT professionals from Silicon Valley played a pioneering role in creating a world class IT infrastructure in Bangalore, Hyderabad and other Indian cities. As a result, India today is the largest supplier of IT manpower in the world.
In closing, let me return to the concept of independence and interdependence. I hope my examples have shown that this interplay both across nation-states and within a nation can produce phenomenal results. Unfortunately, as we can see by looking around and across the United States, those results do not necessarily flow to or benefit all.
Fareed Zakaria recently wrote an article for the Washington Post titled “Social immobility erodes the American dream.” I believe we in the Indian American community have the potential to slow and eventually stop that erosion.
We can do that by continuing the good work we already do and by intensifying our entrepreneurial, social and philanthropic involvement and investment. We have grabbed the American dream and can do much to extend it to others.
All of us will do well to remember that it is America’s inclusiveness and openness that provided us with a ladder of opportunity. America has made an investment in all of us. It is my fondest hope and expectations that we make an investment in America by sharing and giving back. We all should be guided by the phrase “to whom much is given, much is expected”.
We, as Indian Americans, make up a high percentage of the top earners of this country, but there are still many Americans less fortunate than us who need our help. We must take upon ourselves this responsibility – to become the voice for those who are voiceless, and to help those who need help to help themselves; and make this country, which has accepted us with open arms, even greater than it already is. I believe in the power of the Indian American community and of the American dream. I also believe that in spite of all that we have accomplished to date our best contributions to the full realization of that dream are yet to come. I firmly believe our best days are ahead of us, not behind us.
Once again, thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts tonight. It is truly an honor to be here. I look forward to working independently and interdependently with all of you to make those contributions that will make a difference for the future of America, India and the world.
Thank you and God bless you.