A monument featuring Mahatma Gandhi was recently unveiled in the Mahatma Gandhi District (formerly nicknamed “Little India”) in Houston. The statue marks the entrance to the District, which has become a major part of Houston’s cultural landscape in recent years.
Houston’s ties to India go back roughly 50 years. Since the 1965 Immigration Act, the Indian population has grown considerably, from a handful of resident families then to around 125,000 people now. As a result, the Hillcroft area in southwest Houston was renamed in 2010, 141 years after Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, thanks to tireless efforts by the city’s India Culture Centre and the city’s substantial Indian American population.
The Indian population in Houston continues to grow quickly, increasing by 83% from 2000 to 2012; approximately 125,000 people of Indian descent reside in Houston. Of all countries, India also sends the largest number of foreign students to Houston, and Hyderabad is ranked 2nd among cities that send the largest number of foreign students to Houston. Of the one quarter of Harris County residents that are born outside of the US, Houston has a larger proportion of Indian immigrants compared to other metropolitan areas in the county. India ranks 4th among countries of origin for Houston’s immigrant population, compared to 9th in US metropolitan areas overall. Indian immigrants in Houston tend to be substantially above local and national averages in terms of education and income. Nationwide, Indians also held more than half of H-1B visas that were issued by the US government in 2014.
Indian Americans in Houston are getting increasingly involved in various levels of government. Some names include Ravi K. Sandill, the first South Asian judge in the 127th district court in Harris County; Himesh Gandhi, member of the Sugar Land City Council in 2012; Nandita Berry, a former secretary of state for Texas; and Payal K. Patel, one of three 2015-16 Indian American national finalists for the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. Beyond Texas, Indian Americans are also increasingly seen in public roles, such as state governors, popular entertainers, ambassadors, and the winner of a recent Miss America contest.
Cultural ties are not the only thing supporting the Houston-India relationship, as economic linkages continue to strengthen. The mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, traveled to Mumbai and Delhi for a week with a delegation of 30 Houstonians this past April to meet with the US Ambassador to India and various Indian government officials to promote increased economic activity between their regions, at the request of the Indian community in Houston. Houston’s trade volume with India reached $4.7 billion in 2014, and the Houston-Galveston Customs District was the 3rd busiest gateway in US trade with India through combined sea and air goods shipping. Nearly 700 companies in Houston have business and trade ties with India, and Texas is among the top three states that have the greatest volume of foreign direct investment from India.
Increased Indian interaction with the Houston community, in addition to growing bilateral investment and business exchanges, serve as a strong template for other cities and regions to emulate in promoting fruitful relations between the US and India.
Patricia Weng is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a graduate student of the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego.