Houston, the new and thriving hub of Indian-American community

Earlier this year, when India was reeling under the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of dollars were raised by Indian Americans to support healthcare and tackle the crisis in their country of origin. One of the cities in the US from where the biggest chunk of the support and funds flowed in was Houston, Texas. Recent data from the US Census Bureau and the American Community Survey (2019) show that Indian immigrants (roughly 2.7 million) in the US are highly concentrated in the state of California (20 per cent), followed by Texas and New Jersey (each with 10 per cent). And Houston, the largest city in Texas, with a population of roughly 150,000 Indian Americans, has emerged among the top ten hubs of the community.
Members of the Indian American community in Houston are typically well educated and financially successful. The community is enriched with high earning professionals that include physicians, dentists, engineers, scientists, IT experts, university professors, attorneys and business owners. “The Indian-Americans in Houston are making a mark as doctors, lawyers, engineers, IT professionals, entrepreneurs, and corporate executives. They are also active in the public sector. Over the past few years, the community has become more vocal and its members are running for city, county, and state elections. It’s also interesting to see the second generation charting out unconventional careers as stand-up comedians, artists, writers, and musicians,” explains Tarush Anand, president, Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH).
There are several Indian Americans in Houston who have emerged leaders in different walks of life. The big names include Dr Durga D Agrawal, president and CEO of Piping Technology and Products, a company that he set up in his garage in 1978, which is now among the largest employers in the greater Houston area. He also supports charitable and philanthropic activities in a big way and is a regent on the University of Houston System board. Vijay Goradia, who migrated to the US from Mumbai in 1978, is the founder of Vinmar, today a $5 billion global plastics distribution company. Other prominent Indian American entrepreneurs in Houston include Ramesh Bhutada (Star Pipes), Jugal Malani (Unique Industrial Products), Amit Bhandari (BioUrja), Abeezar Tyebji, (Wireless Shipcom) and Bal Sareen (Brask). Chancellor of the University of Houston, Dr Renu Khator; CEO of LyondellBisell, Bhavesh (Bob) Patel; senior vice president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Southwest and Memorial Hermann Sugar Land hospitals, Malisha S. Patel and writer Chitra Divakaruni, too, are well known Indian Americans in Houston. India born KP George is the county commissioners court judge in Fort Bend, a large and diverse county in the larger Houston metropolitan area.
Jiten Agarwal, a prominent community leader in Houston and founder of data analytics firm Expedien, feels that the fast-growing number of Indian Americans in the most diverse metropolitan area in Texas, over the past decade, reflects a change in the demographics of the community. “While traditionally Indians have been concentrated in the states of California, New Jersey and New York, we are a growing community in Texas, especially in Houston, over the past decade. Indian Americans are now in top positions in every field. Not just in the traditional oil and gas sector, but members of the community are leaders in diverse fields including politics and philanthropy,” says Agarwal, an IIT-Delhi alumnus, who went to the US with a job and started his own venture having been drawn by the entrepreneurial energy of Houston. He adds that Indian Americans in Houston, especially the second generation, are now more engaged with the local community and making a difference locally rather than only contributing towards their own temples and mosques. “Personally, I am involved with Combined Arms Houston, an organisation that supports veterans from the US armed services, and Volunteers of America, helping the most vulnerable sections of people in the US.”
The Indian community in Houston has, in fact, stepped up on several occasions in not just helping people in India or Indian Americans but have also been very active in philanthropic and community activities locally. In the aftermath of the Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the community came together like never before and served the greater Houston community with large donations and more than 1,250 volunteers who saved 687 people from high waters and served over 30,000 hot meals to victims of the hurricane. Sewa International, a Hindu-faith based community organisation, was at the frontlines of the relief efforts and is still involved in rebuilding homes that were destroyed by the historic flooding. “When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Sewa stepped up again by helping distribute masks and other PPE. Members of the organisation also distributed around one million pounds of food to communities that were the hardest hit. The community opened hearts and wallets and raised millions for relief efforts. Sewa is an example of organisations that give back not only to the local community, but also help people in need in India,” says Anand of IACCGH.
Even now, Sewa volunteers are assisting the US Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) in COVID-19 vaccination efforts. “Sewa’s assisting student performance in remedial education programme provides after-school tutoring and mentoring services primarily for under-served and under-privileged children in three schools around Houston. The mission is to empower communities by creating resources and providing skills needed to enhance lives,” says Gitesh Desai, president, Sewa International, Houston chapter.
Other organisations in Houston, run by the Indian American community, include Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, Magic Bus USA, India House, India Culture Center and Gujarati Samaj of Houston. The Indo-American Political Action Committee of Greater Houston is the political voice of the community while the Indo-American Charity Foundation has been founded on the philosophy of living and giving in Houston.
Ramesh Shah, Dev Mahajan and Raj Bhalla are prominent philanthropists and community leaders. Goradia of Vinmar is engaged in several philanthropic endeavours including Pratham USA, an education non-profit of which he is one of the founders and a large donor. “There are different kinds of non-profit organisations being steered by Indian Americans – political, social, religious, business and they are all making a difference. As the voice of the business community, we have the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston, which has facilitated trade missions to and from India and we promote business opportunities in Houston,” says Jagdip Ahluwalia, founding secretary/executive director, IACCGH. He adds that there are over 100 religious organisations in Houston that help the Indian community members to build networks to keep them together. “Houston is known as the “Kashi” of America due to the sheer number of temples here. The Bohra community has built a big masjid and community centre and there are several Sikh gurudwaras and Kerala’s Mar Thoma churches in our region. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and the Meenakshi Temple are both local landmarks.”



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