Huntsville a city of opportunity for Asian Indian community looking for high-tech jobs, higher education


March 27, 2012

Members of Huntsville's dominant Asian community – Asian Indians – have a simple answer to why this metropolitan area has more Asians than any other in Alabama except Birmingham.


March 27, 2012

Members of Huntsville's dominant Asian community – Asian Indians – have a simple answer to why this metropolitan area has more Asians than any other in Alabama except Birmingham.


The Huntsvilles area's high-tech workplaces, technically oriented universities and "open-hearted" reputation, as one Indian-American put it, make Huntsville a good place to open a company, buy a business, pursue a technical career, or hang a professional shingle.

"Most Indians focus on four things," Ashok Jadeja said this month. "Doctor, engineer, business owner, student. Huntsville is a good place to do all of those."

Jadeja lived in Huntsville for 10 years before his job with Chrysler transferred to Detroit. He still owns property in Huntsville, calls the city home and said his "goal is ultimately to live there." He laughed as he summarized the career paths, but said there is truth to his Top 4.

Bhavani Kakani fits the profile. Her husband is a surgeon and, when the couple decided to move from Ohio to Huntsville in 1974, people told them, "You can't go there."

"Our experience was, the community was welcome, opening their arms to us," Kakani said this month. "This is our home now."

Dr. Bhagabat Sahu, a Huntsville-area urologist, fits Jadeja's profile, too. "It was mostly personal," Sahu said of his journey to America and, ultimately, North Alabama. "I was a medical doctor, and I came to this country for further specialization."

Sahu took special training at Columbia University and eventually opened a practice that includes Huntsville. After being contacted by a reporter for this story, Sahu said he asked a patient, an attorney, why he chose an Indian-American physician.

"I have no bias," Sahu said the man replied. "If he's good, I'll go there."

Sahu, Kakani and Jadeja are members of a growing metro Indian-American community numbering 2,212, the census says. That is 17 percent of all Indian residents in the state.

Locally, Indians are the leading subgroup in an Asian community that has grown in recent years to 8,664. The second-largest subgroup in Huntsville is Chinese, followed by Korean.

Asian Indians are also the largest Asian subgroup in the Birmingham-Hoover metro area, but not in Mobile or Montgomery. In Mobile, the leading group is Vietnamese, and in Montgomery the leading group is Korean.

In Mobile, the large Vietnamese population is attributed to shrimp boat operators who immigrated to the area after the Vietnam War.

Sahu agrees that Huntsville is "very welcoming" to Indian immigrants, but he also believes in keeping close to his homeland's culture and traditions. It is important, he said, for his children to understand them.

To that end, many in the Indian community here gather regularly in associations dedicated to their particular region or language, Kakani said. A large Hindu Cultural Center and Huntsville India Association serve as umbrella organizations for the entire community.

Kakani noted there are some 18 languages and 75 different dialects in India. "Entering another state is like going to another country," she said.

A recent visit to Suraj Imports on University Drive, one of the city's Indian regional groceries, found people from several of those regions shopping for favorite products from home.

Manager Muhammad Arif, a Muslim who said 90 percent of customers are Hindu, gave a tour of the spices, flours, rice, lentils and other products his customers love to buy.

Some of Arif's customers are Americans by birth, Indians by cultural heritage. Sahu said they are still interested in India.

"They like to have both the cultures and traditions," he said. "Most of the kids like it, they are proud to recognize and eat the food or speak an Indian language when they can."

The ease with which Sahu can balance his two cultures in Huntsville makes him sure he's in the right place.

"I didn't make a wrong decision," Sahu said.

"And the weather is as good as India," Jadeja said.



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