Posted by: Singh Is King | Saturday, August 4, 2007

In a rich white U.S. enclave, the new mayor stands out: A turban-wearing Sikh

anand.jpg LAUREL HOLLOW, New York: Harvinder Anand, the new mayor of this Long Island village of multimillion-dollar homes, private beaches and yacht owners, is, like many other residents, a successful business executive, a boater and a connoisseur of world travel.

His Sikh turban and beard drew double takes when he moved to the community 10 years ago, but it does not get many anymore. At least not among the locals.
Nonetheless, Anand’s way of standing out in the crowd of Bermuda-shorts-and-loafer-wearing people who elected him in June – he ran unopposed – attracted television crews from U.S. and Indian networks to his inauguration in July. The newscasters described the election of Anand, 47, who is from a New Delhi and is the first member of any minority group to become mayor of this 95-percent-white community of 2,000 fronting on Cold Spring Harbor, as an unparalleled event.

In fact, he is part of what political analysts see as a new U.S. pattern. While minority candidates are usually propelled into office from densely populated enclaves of their own ethnic groups, a small but growing number of Indian-American officeholders has been getting elected recently in communities across the United States where they are the tiniest of minorities.
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That group is so small that most of its members know each other and many reached out to congratulate Anand on his election.

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The calls came from Upendra Chivukula, a New Jersey state assemblyman elected in 2002; Jay Goyal, a 26-year-old second-generation Indian-American elected to the Ohio Legislature last year; Nikki Randhawa Haley, a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives since 2004; and Kumar Barve, the dean of Indian-American elected officials, who won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1990 and is now the majority leader.

Some are Democrats and some Republicans, but they all share a high level of education and a crossover election appeal. It is a testament, perhaps, to the fact that, compared with other immigrant groups, Indians tend to speak English when they arrive and are ready to assume a place in the middle class.

Over all, the Census Bureau counts 2.3 million Asian Indians in the United States. In Iowa, Ohio, Kansas, Minnesota, South Carolina and Maryland, each of which has sent an Indian-American to its state legislature, the Indian-American population is below 2 percent.

Chivukula, a Democrat, represents a district where the Indian-American and Pakistani-American population is somewhat higher, at 6 percent.

United States Representative Bobby Jindal, Republican of Louisiana, a second-generation Indian-American who was elected from a district whose population is 1.5 percent Asian, narrowly lost his bid for governor in 2003 and recently began a campaign for this year’s election for governor. This is a state where Indian-Americans account for about 1 percent of the population.

“There are about 110,000 people in my district,” said Goyal. “About 50 to 75 of them are Indian-American families.”

Ingrid Reed, director of the New Jersey Project, a nonpartisan voter advocacy group financed by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said the pattern was probably unique in the history of American immigrants entering the electoral process. Usually, new immigrants seek office with campaigns focused on issues of particular concern to their own ethnic groups.

But given Indian immigrants’ education and English proficiency, Reed said, they have been less apt than other immigrants to settle in enclaves. “After three or four decades, they are well established in their professions, and they seem to be reaching out toward political life,” she said.

In contrast, Chinese, Japanese and Korean immigrants have largely settled in cities on the East and West Coasts and in Hawaii, which is mostly where they have been elected to public office.

Besides Hawaii’s two United States senators, there are half a dozen United States representatives elsewhere in the country who identify themselves as Asian-American.

Many Asian immigrants “come from countries where voting is not necessarily promoted as a value,” said Christine Chen, executive director of Apiavote, a nonpartisan organization that promotes voting among Americans of Asian and Pacific Island heritage. “Indian-Americans to some extent are different in that, with them, there is the ‘world’s largest democracy’ tradition.”

The growing affluence of Asian-Americans of all backgrounds – Chinese, Pacific Island, Korean, Japanese and Indian – has led both the Democratic and Republican Parties in recent years to court them aggressively for campaign funds, votes, and their political talent as candidates, said Jay Chaudhuri, president of the Indian American Leadership Council, a Democratic-leaning group.

Indians began to immigrate to the United States in large numbers in the late 1960s, after a 1965 immigration law lifted quotas that had severely restricted Asians and other non-North Europeans from becoming legal residents.

The law also established rules favoring immigrants with professional skills in science and technology.

The 1965 law made it possible for Anand, the newly elected mayor here, to immigrate in 1982 upon graduating from Punjab University with a degree in chemical engineering. After postgraduate work at Hofstra University, which is also on Long Island, he got a job with a small chemical company, then moved up to a larger company, and in 1995 formed his own company with a partner. It manufactures chemicals in the United States, China, India and Thailand.

Mayor Harvinder Anand, in suit, tie and turban, with a constituent at the village beach in Laurel Hollow, New York.

Soon after moving to a gated community in Laurel Hollow, where the 2000 census says the median household income is $200,000, he became active in civic affairs. He organized the two dozen homeowners in his development to form a cooperative to buy heating oil and unify the system of garbage collection.

“At the end of the day, I am a businessman,” said Anand, who ran without party affiliation in the village election but calls himself a Reagan Republican. “I believe in efficiency and cost-effectiveness.”

His wife, Dr. Chandni Anand, is an internist. They have two children, Nikita, 14, and Angad, 13.

A member of the village board of trustees, John Fitteron, a retired Getty Petroleum executive, said, “Harry is just a highly capable individual who, like all of us, wants to give something back to the community.”

In Laurel Hollow, that is expressed in the issuance of boat permits and the maintenance of roads, and in upholding the zoning code in negotiations with very rich people over their wishes to build very big houses.

Anand arrived recently at his office in Village Hall, which sits on a lawn overlooking the village’s private beach, wearing his usual business suit. He checked in with the clerk and treasurer, Karen Navin, and her deputy, Nancy Popper, attended to business about permits for residents who wanted to cut down some trees, then stepped outside, where most of the people wore dripping-wet bathing suits.

“Harry Anand,” he said to one after another on his stroll across the lawn, gripping wet hands and making eye contact with people, a few of whom seemed unable to keep their eyes from the turban.

If Anand noticed, he did not show it. “I’m the mayor of Laurel Hollow,” he said with a polished smile. “Just elected. So nice to meet you.”

Source: IHT
Photo: Todd Heisler/NYT

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