Asian Indian numbers in metro surge

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 28, 2011 - 2:05 PM

High-tech jobs, family ties fueled a doubling of Minnesota's Indian population in the last decade.

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Akshaya Panda, with his wife, Anu Panda, and daughter Apekshya, 15, live in Maple Grove.

Photo: Courtney Perry, Special to the Star Tribune

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For Shalini Thadani of Woodbury, shopping for Asian Indian groceries used to require a special trip to Minneapolis.

In the 10 years since she and her husband arrived in the Twin Cities from Atlanta, she's watched with delight as more Indian grocery stores have popped up in the metro area -- including one in Woodbury.

"When we came here, we felt it was a step down from the life we had in Atlanta," she said, referring to the fewer numbers of Indian faces and businesses. "Now, we notice it's the same as what we had." The Thadanis are riding a wave of immigration that has propelled Indians like themselves to become Minnesota's second-largest group of Asians in the last decade, overtaking the Vietnamese (the Hmong are believed to be the largest Asian group in the state). Most of that growth is in the Twin Cities' suburbs.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of Minnesotans with roots in India nearly doubled, from 16,887 to 33,031, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released on the state's ethnic groups.

That's on top of the doubling of the Indian population in the previous decade, from 8,234 in 1990 to 16,887 in 2000.

The rapid growth places Minnesota among the leaders of the nation's Asian Indian boom. Minnesota tied with two other states, Iowa and Connecticut, for having the 11th fastest growing number of Asian Indians, the data show.

Minnesota has the 17th largest Asian Indian population in the country, according to the 2010 Census, with California and New York ranking first and second respectively.

The Indian influx, driven by jobs at Minnesota's high-tech companies, reflects a shift away from a previous reason for Asian immigration to Minnesota: the Vietnam War and its bloody aftermath.

"This is not a refugee movement," said Tom Gillaspy, the state demographer. "By and large, this is a job-related, high-tech industry, high-education movement."

Suburban dwellers

The rise of Asian Indians, which is mirrored nationwide, is due in large part to a global demand for workers with technical skills, said Bruce Corrie, dean of Concordia University's College of Business and Organizational Leadership and an expert on immigration and the economy.

"There are people who are needing computer professionals in Target or Ameriprise," he said. "Then you also have Indian companies investing in the U.S. There are many Indian companies with branches in the U.S. and in Minnesota."

Other Indians move to Minnesota to join relatives who have already settled here. Children of Indian immigrants contribute to the growing Indian population.

Many of the recent arrivals are young and just starting their families, said Corrie, a native of India who moved to Minnesota in 1987.

As a group, Asian Indians in Minnesota tend to be highly educated and family-oriented, he said.

They're also the most suburban of all ethnic groups. No surprise, then, that the suburbs posted the biggest increases in Indians over the last decade.

Maple Grove, Eden Prairie, Woodbury, Edina and Plymouth saw exponential growth in their Indian populations.

The number of Indians in Maple Grove quadrupled, from 291 a decade ago to 1,359. Eden Prairie's Indian population increased threefold, from 750 to 2,561.

Indians in Woodbury skyrocketed from less than 500 in 2000 to more than 1,500 in 2010. Edina's Indian population tripled in size, mirroring Eden Prairie's numbers, and Plymouth's more than doubled, from 797 to 2,335.

Minneapolis, which gained more than 1,000 Asian Indians since 2000, remains the Minnesota city with the most Asian Indians: 2,860.

The Census Bureau defines Asian Indians as people who trace their ancestry to India. The category does not include people from countries in the broader South Asian region, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

Though fast-growing, the Asian Indian population is still relatively small compared with other ethnic groups in Minnesota. It represents 15.4 percent of all Asians in the state, up from 12 percent a decade ago.

Growing pains

Akshaya Panda knew nothing of Minnesota before he moved here in 2003. At the time, he was living in Boston and had just earned his MBA. His wife, Anu Panda, and their two children were in India.

It was a job offer from a pharmaceutical company in Eden Prairie that drew him to Minnesota. "I came here in a blank mind, actually," he said.

But the place grew on him, and his wife and two children soon followed.

"We actually don't miss India," Akshaya Panda said. He plays on a local cricket team, and his daughter dances professionally with Katha Dance Theatre, a classical Indian dance company in Minneapolis.

The family chose Maple Grove as their new home, he said, because it was near good schools and the Hindu Temple of Minnesota. Built five years ago, it is the largest Hindu temple in the country and a center of religious and cultural activities. Panda said that so many people go to the temple that the parking lots are full and even overflow at times.

Raj Menon has witnessed the change too. Attracted by a job, he came to Minnesota from India in 1998. He now lives in Burnsville and works at Boston Scientific as an information technology project manager.

In the early years, he said, he would get excited when walking through a Wal-Mart and spotting another Indian. Now he passes so many Indian faces that he hardly notices.

"It has become commonplace," Menon said.

The community's growth spurt can also be seen in the growing demand for Indian language and culture classes offered on Saturdays for the children of Indian immigrants.

Menon is a board member of the School of India for Languages and Culture (SILC-MN), a group that has been offering the classes since the 1970s.

In a good year, Menon says, about 80 kids are enrolled.

Last year, 150 children signed up. And this year, the school had 200 students.

Said Menon: "The last two years we've had record-breaking numbers.

Staff writer David Peterson contributed to this report. Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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