Indians began immigrating to Mississippi from the Indian subcontinent in perceptible numbers in the early to mid-1960s. These immigrants had generally come to the United States to further their education and then moved to the state to take jobs. The population gradually grew, and Indians began coming to Mississippi directly from their home country, with some of the largest concentrations in Jackson, Starkville, Oxford, and Hattiesburg. As of 2014, the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimated that Mississippi was home to approximately 5,400 Indians.
The earliest immigrants worked primarily in the areas of medicine and higher education. While these professions continue to be well represented among Indians in Mississippi, the employment picture is now much more diverse. In the early 1980s, with the growth of Jackson’s wireless communication industry, Indians began seeking jobs in this area of information technology. Indian entrepreneurs began establishing motels, even in smaller towns, across the state. Mississippi now has a considerable number of Indian-owned small businesses, among them convenience stores, gas stations, fast-food restaurants, and other franchises. Though these businesses are most visible in Jackson, they can be seen throughout the state. Indian physicians, too, have ventured into even the smallest of communities, sometimes serving as the sole health care providers in rural areas.
As the number of Indians has grown, so has the range of services that they require. Jackson now has places of worship for Hindus and Sikhs that employ full-time priests, stores that stock a full range of Indian groceries and the inevitable Bollywood DVDs, Indian restaurants, and a beauty salon that also sells ethnic clothing and jewelry. Periodically, one of the grocery stores hosts a show by a jeweler from a large city. A movie theater in nearby Madison occasionally screens Hindi movies. All of these enterprises appeal to non-Indians as well as Indians.
The population of Indians in Mississippi represents the mosaic that is India, and although most of the state’s Indian community is Hindu, other faiths are represented. All of the country’s major festivals are celebrated with verve across the state, with the size of the Indian community deciding the scale. In particular, Indian students at the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, and the University of Southern Mississippi mark major holidays. As the number of Indians has grown, some splintering into narrower segments has naturally occurred. These groups, usually united by language, commemorate occasions that may be particular to them. In addition, Indian and other South Asian students at both the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University have formed cricket clubs, while students at Southern Miss have staged demonstrations of the sport.
In all instances, Indians take pleasure in inviting non-Indians to participate in their celebrations and to share their country’s foods and cultural practices. College and school groups visit Indians’ places of worship in Jackson, and other institutions and civic groups across the state make attempts to educate their members about the culture and religions of India.
As is true of most immigrant groups, Indian families emphasize education and academic success, and members of the younger generation have distinguished themselves scholastically and in extracurricular activities. Taken together, Indian immigrant parents and their first-generation American-born children in Mississippi can be considered an example of a “model minority.” Though this designation carries some negative connotations, it also signifies a level of achievement that is generally typical of this demographic in Mississippi. Parents and grandparents work to ensure that youngsters learn about their heritage and culture, and young Indian Americans seem to move with ease between their homes that have a largely Indian flavor (in all senses) and the world beyond. While some initiatives have sought to teach the Hindi language, Indian religious beliefs, and Indian cultural practices in formal settings, most of the instruction in these areas takes place as it does in India—at home, both by example and by osmosis. Many of the children speak the language of their parents.
- US Census Bureau, American FactFinder website, factfinder.census.gov
- Seetha Srinivasan, in Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi, ed., Barbara Carpenter (1992)