Rising above the tree line of the town of Pearland, a suburb of Houston, stands a brilliant white tower. This grand entrance, or gopuram, marks the site of a Hindu temple named Sri Meenakshi Davasthanam. Although it might seem out of place on the Texas plains, the temple highlights the growing size and significance of Texas’ Indian American population.
Constructed in 1982 as the third traditional Hindu temple in the United States, the temple was built for the goddess Meeankshi. It now occupies over 20 acres of land and serves more than 5,000 worshippers. Although the temple fits well into the multicultural character of Houston today, this has not always been the case.
For most of the state’s history, Indian Americans made up a miniscule part of the population. Apart from a small number of international students, national quotas and racially restrictive naturalization policies prevented large-scale immigration. However, the 1965 Immigration Act led to a swell of Indian immigration to Texas and a new visa program caused the Indian Texan population to double in the 1990s.
Today, over 450,000 Indian Americans reside in Texas, giving the state the second-largest Indian American population in the United States. Most of these people live in Texas’ large metropolitan cities, with 220,000 in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area. While DFW’s Indian Americans make up about 2% of the region’s population, some suburbs, such as Collin County, are seeing the population rising to over 7.5%.
DFW reflects the rich cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of India itself. New Hindu temples are being built along with mosques and gurudwaras (Sikh temples). In Frisco, a town 30 miles outside Dallas, theaters show films in Telegu, Tamil and Hindi.
However, Texas’ Indian population is not solely confined to Houston and Dallas. 700 miles west of Pearland, along the dusty banks of the Rio Grande, sits a much smaller temple. The Southwest Hindu Temple Society of El Paso serves as an important feature of the city’s roughly 7,500-strong Indian American population. Although a small community in this largely Mexican American city, El Paso’s Indian Americans play an important role in the city’s culture.
This sizeable growth has had incredible economic and political implications for the region. 5.3% of all businesses in Dallas-Fort Worth are Indian American-owned. Many first and second-generation Indian Americans work in the technology, education, petroleum and medical fields, which have hubs across Texas.
The economic relationship between India and Texas is deeper than just the immigrant community. The size of both economies is a major driver in bilateral trade. If Texas were counted by itself, it would have the world’s ninth-largest economy by GDP. India has the world’s fifth-largest. 28 Houston-based companies now operate 69 subsidiaries in India.
Houston is also the fourth-largest gateway for bilateral trade between the two countries, while India is Houston’s 10th-largest trading partner, with trade valued at over $4.3 billion. In Austin, homebuyers from India comprised the largest share of international homebuyers (21%) and are helping to fuel a surge in home values.
The political implications of this relationship are also important. Indian Americans are seen as a significant political constituency. The population is younger than most immigrant populations and are being courted by both major parties.
Events like iftars - the breaking of the fast during Ramadan - have become part of the political calendar. In 2018, Governor Greg Abbott embarked on a nine-day business development tour of India. In 2019, Indian President Narendra Modi, joined by then-President Donald Trump, spoke to a crowd of over 50,000 people in Dallas.
With immigration rates continuing to grow and with strong ties to India, Texas’ Indian American community will continue to be a powerful cultural, economic, and political force in the Lone Star State.
Josh Downes is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a graduate student in the M.S. in Foreign Service and M.A. in Global, International, and Comparative History programs at Georgetown University.