Modern Migrations: Gujarati Indian Networks in New York and London [NOOK Book]


Although globalization seems like a recent phenomenon linked to migration, some groups have used social networks to migrate great distances for centuries. To gain new insights into migration today, Modern Migrations takes a closer look at the historical presence of globalization and how it has organized migration and social networks. With a focus on the lives of Gujarati Indians in New York and London, this book explains migration patterns ...
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Modern Migrations: Gujarati Indian Networks in New York and London

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Although globalization seems like a recent phenomenon linked to migration, some groups have used social networks to migrate great distances for centuries. To gain new insights into migration today, Modern Migrations takes a closer look at the historical presence of globalization and how it has organized migration and social networks. With a focus on the lives of Gujarati Indians in New York and London, this book explains migration patterns through different kinds of social networks and relations.

Gujarati migration flows span four continents, across several centuries. Maritsa Poros reveals the inner workings of their social networks and how these networks relate to migration flows. Championing a relational view, she examines which kinds of ties result in dead-end jobs, and which, conversely, lead to economic mobility. In the process, she speaks to central debates in the field about the economic and cultural roots of migration's causes and its surprising consequences.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This outstanding book on the migrations of Gujaratis from India to Africa, Europe, and America, opens a new window on the population movements currently crossing the globe. Reaching back into history and spanning the divides between the mass migrations of the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, Poros tells a compelling story, one that will interest established scholars and new students of migration alike."—Roger Waldinger, University of California, Los Angeles

"Modern Migrations adds significantly to our understanding of immigration processes in general, and the Indian diaspora in particular. Illuminating existing links and flows in the U.S., the U.K., East Africa, and India, Poros uses the relational perspective very effectively and offers a clear, valuable look at migration today."—Milton Vickerman, University of Virginia

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804775830
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/19/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 248
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Maritsa V. Poros is Assistant Professor of Sociology at The City College of New York and The Graduate Center, CUNY.
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Read an Excerpt

Modern Migrations

Gujarati Indian Networks in New York and London
By Maritsa V. Poros

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2011 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7223-5

Chapter One

Gujarati Indian Networks in New York and London

WHEN I FIRST SET OUT TO COLLECT the life histories of Gujarati immigrants in New York and London, many of them told me that they never expected to migrate to the United States or the United Kingdom. "I never thought that I would come to America," or "We never wanted to go to Britain," they told me. These immigrants' histories, although unique in their own way, had an almost predictable quality to them. Of course, all such stories benefit from hindsight in that they are reflective narratives carefully woven into coherent representations of identity, culture, and life circumstances. Yet, as I listened, it became clear that the stories of their lives, which are intimately intertwined with sociohistorical linkages and relations among India, East Africa, and Britain or between India and the United States, made their migration and occupational histories seem not only likely but even inevitable. The social ties they had to others already living in the United States or the United Kingdom determined where they migrated (for instance, Elmhurst, Queens, in New York, the port city of Mombasa in Kenya, or Wembley in Northwest London) and how they got there, thus confirming many studies of migration that focus on the role that social networks play in the lives of immigrants. Consider the story of Harshad, who was born in Kenya in 1955 as the youngest of six siblings.

In Harshad's generation, most Indians from his ethnoreligious community of Oswal Jains were born in Kenya. Their fathers had migrated there at the turn of the twentieth century after a severe famine in their region of Gujarat resulted in economic hardship and disadvantageous social and economic changes in their class status. Kenya had long been central to Indian Ocean trade networks that included Gujaratis and was therefore known to this early generation of migrants that included Harshad's parents. Harshad told me that his father "worked for relations or people that we knew, you know, who had set up businesses there." Thus, with the help of others in their community in Kenya, Harshad's family were employed as small traders and shopkeepers in towns that developed along the East African railway, which extended from Mombasa to Lake Victoria in present-day Uganda. They sold all sorts of things-from everyday staples to mattresses that his mother made by hand. Harshad's household had little education or income, but their relatives and coethnic friends often helped with loans and pooled income, which eventually allowed Harshad's parents to invest in dairies and milk bottling plants that served the local district. Because Kenya was a British protectorate when Harshad and most of his siblings were born, they had British passports, whereas their parents had taken Kenyan citizenship in the early part of the century. In East Africa, anticolonial resistance against the British and Asians (primarily Indians) by the native East Africans had been growing throughout the mid-twentieth century. Asians were middleman minorities privileged by the British to suppress the native African population in the economy, education, and, of course, government. The movement for African political independence eventually resulted in a shift in the economic control of Kenya from British and Asian hands to the native Africans. Under these circumstances, Harshad's parents encouraged and financed their children's migration to and pursuit of higher education in London, which was considered superior to education in Nairobi, and financially supported them when they arrived there.

Harshad's middle brother was the first of the siblings to migrate to London with several of his friends from Kenya. From London, he made preparations for the migration of his siblings, who followed him one by one. Their parents bought them a house in London, which Harshad told me served as a "staging post" for all of his siblings and many friends from their Oswal community in Kenya. Despite his initial pursuit of a college degree in London, Harshad was persuaded to join his eldest brother in a prospering garment manufacturing business that operated transnationally in Britain and India through connections to kin and members of their Oswal Jain community in that industry. In fact, Harshad felt obligated to leave his studies at the request of his brother. Later, the firm suffered from a flooding of the market with Indian cottons, and Harshad's brother terminated the business. Harshad was left unemployed but with considerable entrepreneurial experience. He pursued a string of other transnational and local entrepreneurial opportunities that arose from close-knit community and kin relations that sometimes proved obligatory as well. However, when he decided to leave the garment industry, he realized that he had few good opportunities available to him in London's primary labor market because he had not completed his degree in law and economics. He therefore entered a six-month training program in computer programming. Meanwhile, his wife had been working in a large telecommunications firm. She connected Harshad to a job that she heard about from a friend in that firm's human resources department. This distant connection ushered Harshad into a temporary and then permanent technical position consistent with his newly acquired qualifications. Harshad and his wife have no doubt that their three children will complete university and become professionals in London's primary labor market. This belief is pervasive among most other members of their small community, who have made similar transitions from India to Kenya and finally Britain.

Harshad's story illustrates phenomenal generational mobility linked to migration. Kin and community members figured prominently in the ability of Harshad and his siblings to migrate to London, attend university, start businesses, or obtain other types of employment. Money, resources, job opportunities, information, and companionship generously flowed through Harshad's relations with his family and community. And, as in any family or social network, social obligations, negotiation, conflict, resistance, and capitulation were also present. In Harshad's story we see that the premigration histories of immigrants are deeply intertwined with their postmigration lives. His story, however, is not simply a matter of reaping advantages from densely connected networks that span several countries or from solidary networks based on coethnicity and kinship. The types of social ties and the transactions within ties in Harshad's networks provided specific kinds of opportunities that both facilitated and constrained his economic incorporation and mobility. These ties included him in some endeavors, such as partnering with his brother's transnational business, and excluded him from others, such as making decisions about the future of that business or leaving university. As networks change, so do opportunities and the social and economic constraints that accompany those opportunities. Network theories of migration focus almost entirely on interpersonal ties, social ties to kin and community, such as those clearly seen in Harshad's family and highlighted in dozens of studies of immigrants from different countries (for example, Foner 2000; Levitt 2001; Massey, Arango, Durand, and Gonzalez 1987; Menjívar 2000; Portes and Rumbaut 1990; Smith 2006; Tilly 1990). Even when those ties constrain the economic and other opportunities of migrants, they are still crucial for migrants to get from one destination to another and to establish their lives in a new destination. Social ties to family and friends, however, are not the only types of ties that are significant in the migration histories of Gujaratis. Here is a quite different migration story, this one from New York.

Lakshmi comes from a long line of "diamond families" from a small town in Gujarat, now grown into a small city, known for its Jain diamond traders. She was trained early in the business by her uncle, even though women were not often expected to work in the business. They were usually encouraged to marry into other Jain families in the diamond trade and to become mothers and caretakers. The business is mainly centered in Bombay (now known as Mumbai), where Lakshmi was born. Its headquarters, as with most businesses in the diamond trade, are in Antwerp, Belgium. Rough diamonds are bought and sold there and sent to Indian diamond centers, cities such as Bombay in the state of Maharashtra or Ahmedabad and Surat in neighboring Gujarat, for cutting and polishing. Polished stones can be traded again in Antwerp and exported for sale to commercial centers around the world. Lakshmi's uncle sent her and her husband, whom he also trained in the trade, to New York City in 1970 to expand their business to New York's large commercial market. Their firm in Antwerp sponsored them as investors for U.S. immigration, but they still had to start this commercial side of the business from the bottom up. Along with just a handful of other Jain diamond families from Gujarat, they were pioneers among Indians in this new market.

In the early 1970s, Lakshmi and her husband started out in a modest one-bedroom apartment in Queens, in a building filled with many other Indian immigrants. They began navigating the New York market by connecting and partnering with other diamond entrepreneurs and by expanding their business into the production and sale of jewelry—eventually running a multimillion-dollar business. Lakshmi is somewhat unusual in that she plays a central role in an independent operation that she co-owns and in which she works with her husband. However, she also holds a subordinate position to him in most matters of its operation. Lakshmi confided to me that she is careful not to speak back to her husband when they are in the office so as not to cause "major fights" between them. Apart from its overt sexism, this control over her behavior in their office attests to the densely intertwined networks of Jain diamond families who live in diamond centers, such as New York, Antwerp, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Bombay. Their families have known each other for generations. They share the same region of origin, religion, class status, education, and business interests. Their trade requires huge amounts of trust, in part because it is so risky to trade extremely small and valuable objects around the world on little more than a handshake. And their networks exert strong social controls over their behavior to protect each member's stake in the business.

Lakshmi and her husband are in some ways like many entrepreneurial families whose businesses operate transnationally, often not only between India and the United States or the United Kingdom but also in a number of commercial centers around the world. Clearly, their social networks were instrumental in their migration and in their business opportunities in New York. Social ties to family members, such as Lakshmi's uncle, played a critical role in directing where Lakshmi would migrate, how she would get there, and what she would do once there. Her family and community ties, however, were noticeably different in several respects from the ties that Harshad had. Lakshmi's ties consisted of suppliers and buyers in the diamond trade that were simultaneously family ties—uncles, husbands, and members of their ethno-religious community in India among whom it would be unthinkable to simply extricate themselves from the diamond industry to pursue other lines of work or interests in the way that Harshad eventually did. Those ties also drove their migration to specific destinations that followed from their business interests, unlike Harshad's migration to London. Lakshmi's dense "trust networks," as Charles Tilly (2005) would call them, are unique in that they are a composite of interpersonal ties to kin and community and organizational ties consisting of those same people within their businesses and industry. These ties are different from those of another kind of migration flow from Gujarat illustrated in this last story from New York.

Kishor and his wife Jamnadevi live in a comfortable home in a wealthy New York suburb. Inside it is adorned with Indian furniture and textiles, which complement its functional American style. Kishor is a pediatrician, and Jamnadevi is a dentist, two common professions of the first large wave of Indian immigration after 1965. I wondered how exactly they got to New York and asked Kishor to describe to me how he became a house physician in a New York hospital:

KISHOR: When I was here in 1974 [the year prior to his immigration on an employment preference visa], I lined up a job in Staten Island with my friend.

MP: A friend from ...?

KISHOR: Gujarat.

MP: From school?

KISHOR: Same college, same college. He said, we have an opening here; why don't you come over? So I said, okay.

In fact, Kishor had been preparing to enter the United States to practice medicine for some time. His brother was the first of two of Kishor's sibling-doctors to migrate to the United States under employment preferences for physicians. When Kishor made a six-month personal visit to his brother in 1974 with a tourist visa, he was encouraged by him to study for the Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) exam, necessary for obtaining a professional visa to the United States. Kishor took a preparatory class, passed the exam, applied for a visa, and returned to India to wait for it. The next year (a mere four months after his application), the visa was granted and, as already mentioned, Kishor had lined up a job through his old medical college friend, a doctor at a Staten Island hospital. That friend also helped him with housing and social support during this major transition in Kishor's life. Kishor had also sponsored Jamnadevi to migrate with him at the same time, as she had applied for a permanent visa under employment preferences for highly educated professionals. However, she finally migrated under family preferences for spouses of employment-preference migrants when that visa approval arrived first. Kishor, his elder brother, and his sister all migrated to the United States, and they are practicing medical doctors there. Their other sister, who is not a doctor or other professional, stayed in India.

The simplicity of Kishor's answer to my initial question about how he migrated to the United States belies a much more complex history that precedes the liberalization of U.S. immigration law in the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which ostensibly opened the doors equally to immigrants from all parts of the world and expanded the number of highly educated people who could immigrate under employment preferences. That history can be traced to the time of India's independence from Britain during Jawaharlal Nehru's term as the first prime minister of a democratic, independent India (1947-1964). Nehru pursued a set of socioeconomic reforms to push India toward Western forms of modernization and to boost the nascent middle class (and the elite) (Varma 1998). Nehru led the development of a set of prestigious institutes of higher education focused on science, technology, and management, which were funded by foreign states, especially the United States, and by American foundations that intended to curb the influence of communism in India. These organizations, such as the Ford Foundation, Harvard, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), were instrumental in influencing the structure and curriculum of these Indian institutes during the 1950s and early 1960s and in promoting the study of science, medicine, and engineering among the Indian middle class (Bhagwati 1993; Domrese 1970; Oommen 1987). Nehru intended to bring India closer to the West through a new, highly educated labor force and technological development. Of course, Indian education, including its curricula and organization, was for a long time influenced by the British system. However, after India's independence—as the British were pulling away from India—the United States stepped in to "colonize" India with American-style education and administration at the top Indian Institutes of science and technology, the Regional Engineering Colleges and in medical education (see Magat 1979; Nielsen 1972; Parekh 1985; Sodeman 1971; Weaver 1967). Thus, Nehru's active engagement with the United States fostered Indo-American social ties in which faculty, students, ideas, and resources were exchanged from 1947, long before the 1965 liberalization of U.S. immigration laws, which opened the doors to immigration from Asia, Latin America, and the rest of the world.

The educational ties to specific medical colleges in India, the surplus of Indian-trained physicians, and the shortage of medical personnel in the United States and Britain created open circumstances for the migration of Indian physicians. The United States and Britain actively recruited this high-skill labor force. For instance, the British National Health Service (NHS) in the 1950s and 1960s used ties to specific medical colleges in India, including in Gujarat state (Coleman 1994; Spencer 1997). The NHS also relied on recruited doctors to encourage similarly qualified colleagues in India to help fill the health industry's labor shortage (see Robinson and Carey 2000), a phenomenon similar to the U.S. case. As Kishor tells us, he had lined up his first job in a U.S. hospital through a physician friend from his medical college in India. Large proportions of graduating classes of medical colleges in India left for the United States and Britain (Helweg 2004; Helweg and Helweg 1990; Khandelwal 2002).


Excerpted from Modern Migrations by Maritsa V. Poros Copyright © 2011 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures, Maps, and Tables ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xvii

1 Gujarati Indian Networks in New York and London 1

2 From Arab Dhows to Jet Planes 31

3 Linking Local Labor Markets 66

4 Networks, Niches, and Inequalities 96

5 Migrant Networks as Webs of Relations and Flows 138

6 Immigration in a New Century 169

Notes 181

Bibliography 193

Index 213

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