What is a role of Indian American community?

Where are we headed?



Niraj P. Baxi, President,

National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA)


February 2, 2004


Senior members of the ICC

(formerly Indo-American Community Service Center-ICSC),

the first Seniors’ organization in the US,

Santa Clara, CA


Respected Elders and Friends:


I am truly privileged to be invited a second time to speak to this group of distinguished Indian Americans. Thank you for inviting me again in your midst. I see so many of you who I have been privileged to with over many years. Harikrishna Majmudar and Mrs. Majmudar, Pradeep Joshi, Umakant Sarma and of course Bharatbhai Desai and many more of you.


The first time was in 1997, when I came here with my mother, Suvarna Baxi. Mummy, like many of you, was torn between her love for her children (all of whom were in the US) and India.


It is your hard work, dedication, sense of loyalty and being true to the salt, education and many fine qualities that you helped ingrained in us. Today’s India would not be the power it is shaping up to be without all of your efforts. It is your hard work and toil that today’s India is what it is. You have been India’s builders, our parents and our elders who have guided our path and to describe this role of ‘guiding hand’ that I talk with you today.


I have great regard and respect for your courage and wisdom in educating us and sending us to the US. You sent us across the oceans to these United States, so that we may study and make the best of our education here. Even though it was painful, you did what was best. Our talents (that we acquired here) were more suited for advanced economies, like the US and hence most of us settled here. India was not ready for us then but the last decade is showing what India’s true potential can be and the participation and the role of Overseas Indians.


But, that is not the reason for my being invited to be with you. It is to give you a perspective of Indians in America, where are we headed, individually and collectively and maybe share with you our thoughts, aspirations and your role.


Indian American started migrating in large numbers in the 1960’s with the passing of the civil rights act, which allowed all (not just European Americans) to immigrate to the US on an equal footing.


As more Indians migrated and settled in various parts of the US, they formed themselves into various Indian Associations, then the Gujarati, Kannada, Punjabi, Telugu, Kerala and other cultural associations were formed.


The first Federation of Indian Associations was the FIA New York in 1975, then FIA Chicago soon after and then various umbrella organizations came up around the country.


In 1980, it was felt that we needed an Federation that would take care of our regional and national interests and the birth of NFIA took place then.


NFIA is an organization of organizations and we have gone through an analysis of our priorities:


(1)   Advocacy and Awareness (address issues related to immigration, visa, hate-crimes)

(2)   Participating in Political – involvement by providing opportunities to individuals)

(3)   US – India Relations (Political, Economic, Social, Cultural etc.)

(4)   Address issues affecting our Seniors, Women and Youth.


We do not stay young forever, only our spirit does.

We who are not seniors will soon be.

We ignore the issue of seniors, much to our own detriment.

It is said that coming events cast their shadow- we are seeing our own aging in this country.


My father Prafull Baxi would often quote a famous Gujarati poet “ mujh viti tujh vitashe, dhire bapaliya”

“What I went through, you too will go through, so (walk) gently my child”


We need to learn from you, our elders, once again.

Leave us a legacy of your leadership that would continue to inspire future generation of Indian Americans.


The founding of the Federation of Indian Association of the San Francisco Bay Area, ICSC, ICC are great events in our community.


These are very turbulent times in the Valley. The affluence in the valley coupled with the return migration of many Indians. The complexity of our Indian culture, its share of challenges with challenges of America-our new frontier.


So what next?  What do we need?

  1. Participation in the political process: I remember Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s trip to the UN in 1982-83, wherein she urged Indians to become a part of the mainstream of America and make it our true home. You, who sent us far away, to establish new roots in the US have to help this roots germinate and flower. There is no more powerful political force than you amongst Indians in America. You will have to lead us as our Gadarite Indian American brothers who led us 90 years back to liberate India from the British empire. And it all started here in the Bay Area.
  2. Unity is the need of the hour. Community is divided with problems of India and America. Unity does not mean working under one Association, one umbrella. It means working together on common issues. Every one does not have to be one on everything, but people have to unite behind issues and ideas.  That is the unity that I am espousing. Discuss rigorously within but not without. Let us not publicly air our differences and let us not go public without discourse and discussion within us. Where would our Indianness be without these debates? There is an age old American axiom that politics stops at the Water’s edge. We should implement this within our community also.
  3. Building coalitions: United we stand, divided we fall. It is the same way with communities. As only Indians, our numbers are not significant. Hence it is imperative that we find common cause within our community, with the African and Hispanic American community groups, but most of all with the Asian American community with whom we have so much in common.
  4. Building social & cultural values systems: You are our first generation of elders in this country and you have to lead the way. We have heard from you since very young and we got our value systems from you. You can bring these values to us and to your grand children. History of Indian migration around the world supports this point of view. What we all need is to remember and not forget our Indianness in America.


Adoption of the land and participation in US is the need of the hour.


I am again honored to stand before you and as President of the National Federation of Indian American Associations, the NFIA, I salute you.


Thank you,