In 2010, the overall Indian American population was a little over 3 million, and Maryland had the 10th largest Indian American population, in spite of being 19th for US population overall. Between 2000 and 2010, the Indian American population of Washington, DC increased by 82%, and by 109% in Virginia. A testament to the growing visibility of the Indian American community in the DC-Maryland-Virginia region (DMV) is that in October 2014, Congress held a reception in honor of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, for the first time. Also in 2014, the Seghal Foundation held a fundraiser in National Harbor, Maryland, in the form of a fashion show to help rural communities in India and to help prevent youth homelessness in DC. Titled “Women of Power,” the models were Indian American professional women from the DC metropolitan area who showcased traditional Indian clothing on the catwalk.
Prasad Kadambi, President of the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple (SSVT) located in Lanham, Maryland, told Asia Matters for America that priests from the temple attended Congress’s historic event and have participated in many Hindu ceremonies hosted by the US government over the years. The SSV Temple was built and consecrated in 1990 and is one of the largest Hindu temples in the country. About 1,000 to 1,500 devotees visit during a typical weekend, 2,000 will visit on New Year’s Day, and about 20,000 members are subscribed to the temple’s mailing list.
A popular Hindu event that takes place in the DMV region is Holi DC, a free and public celebration that takes place on the grounds of the ISKCON Hare Krishna Temple in Potomac, Maryland. Holi is the Hindu festival of color, during which participants throw colored powder or water at each other. Ananda Vrindavan, the Community President of ISKCON DC, told Asia Matters for America that Holi DC was founded in 2009 and the number of participants has grown from 50 people the first year to over 5,000. All the proceeds from Holi DC go to the temple.
The success of Holi DC has led ISKCON DC to plan another event, Holi Strong, dedicated to those with special needs. Vrindavan said, “We [ISKCON DC] would like to give back to the community in this way and provide opportunities for wholesome fun for those who may not be able to join us at Holi DC.”
Asian Americans are the fastest growing demographic in the country, and Indian Americans are among the wealthiest and most educated ethnicities in the US. Indian Americans have also become more visible in US popular culture and politics. In 2014, the Miss America pageant crowned its first winner of Indian descent, Nina Davuluri, while actors such as Mindy Kaling and Anziz Ansari can be seen on prime-time TV every week. In December 2014, two Indian Americans were confirmed for politically appointed positions; Richard Verma was confirmed as the first Indian American Ambassador to India on December 9th and on December 15th, Vivek Murthy was confirmed as the Surgeon General. Currently, two Indian Americans serve as state governors as well, Bobby Jindal for Louisiana, and Nikki Haley for South Carolina.
Melissa Newcomb graduated from American University SIS and is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.