In quiet Eden Prairie, Kuhu Singh no longer feels safe walking alone after a string of attacks on Indian-Americans in the United States.
On long weekend strolls in her neighborhood, she now walks with her family to avoid being isolated. And she’s angry that Indians are being threatened. “This is my home,” said Singh, who produces web content for a retail broadcasting company. “You can’t come to my house and ask me to leave.”
Minnesota’s growing Indian community, estimated at 50,000 people, is on edge after recent national attacks.
About 200 residents last weekend held a peace vigil in Eden Prairie to remember two Indian computer engineers shot last month in a Kansas bar by a white man who questioned their visa status and later said he had shot two Middle Easterners. One of the men died in the attack, which is being investigated as a hate crime.
Last week, the Seattle Times reported that an Indian Sikh who is a U.S. citizen was shot and wounded outside his Seattle area home by a man who reportedly shouted, “Go back to your own country!”
Vishal Agarwal, a school administrator and biomedical lab manager from Maple Grove, said he’s not letting a fringe segment of society rattle him.
“If you look brown, that’s some people’s excuse to attack you,” he said. “People who shoot you just because you don’t look like them aren’t rational people.”
But at the Washington-based Hindu American Foundation, the phone has been ringing nonstop with questions: Should we should lock the temple doors? Should you only speak English to avoid discrimination?
“This has hit home,” said Suhag Shukla, a former Eagan resident who is now executive director of the organization. “Living in fear is not living. We really need to find more positive solutions.” While Indians have faced discrimination for years, such as when a community opposes the building of a new temple, Shukla said that rising anti-immigrant sentiment nationally has prompted the latest acts of violence.
“I’m also concerned we now have issues of hate happening in a different political context,” said Rowzat Shipchandler, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the daughter of Indian immigrants. “It’s given people permission to act on their bias. Although these are challenging times, it’s an opportunity for communities to come together.”
Incidents such as hate crimes and the targeting of minorities have risen in recent months.
As a Muslim Indian, Hasim Khorakiwala of Shoreview said he’s more conscious than ever about wearing prayer attire in public. “It is becoming kind of unsafe,” he said.
Minnesota hasn’t witnessed any such violence at the level of incidents elsewhere in the U.S. But Amit Kachru, of Maple Grove, said current fears run second only to the time Indians feared being targeted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“I hope this is a phase,” he said. “You’re looking at one of the most peaceful communities.”
It’s also a growing community. From 2000 to 2010, the Asian Indian population in Minnesota nearly doubled, from about 17,000 people to 33,000 people, according to census data.
The state’s estimated 50,000 residents of Indian descent now make up Minnesota’s second-largest group of Asians, after the Hmong.
Drawn to the Twin Cities by top-ranked schools and major corporations, medical companies and engineering firms, Indians are the most suburban of ethnic groups.
Cities with the biggest populations, after Minneapolis, are Eden Prairie, Plymouth, Edina, Eagan and Rochester, according to the state Demographic Center.
Minnesota and the nation remain safe for Indians, said Sree Kamojjala, president of the India Association of Minnesota. He doesn’t want foreign media depictions of the U.S. as a dangerous place to magnify fears here, he said.
“It’s disheartening, the display of hatred, but ... we don’t want to create unnecessary fear,” he said. “It’s not as grim as you think. It’s one or two rare incidents.”
Nevertheless, the incidents have incited fear among Indian-Americans.
In Minnetonka, a couple was recently accosted outside a restaurant by a man telling them to “go back to their country” before he was chased away by restaurant patrons.
A mother said she won’t let her teenager go to the grocery store alone, while another woman wearing traditional Indian dress and a bindi on her forehead recalled a man motioning at her as if he were cocking a gun.
After the recent attacks, Agarwal said he’s focused more on teaching others how to protect themselves and defuse a difficult situation — and to reassure his two U.S.-born children not to be afraid in their own home.
“This is my country,” he said. “We belong here.”