Jackson Heights Indians


The term ‘Indian’ encompasses a wider-ranged area than the specific politically-bound region of recent history, and includes those of that particular ethnic and geographic background bound in by the Indian Ocean, Himalayan Mountain Range, and western deserts, excepting of those of Arab descent. (Not to be confused with Native Americans, called ‘Indians’ mistakenly, as this would defeat the purpose of tracking immigration.)

The region we will be focusing on in particular for development and migration of this focus-group will be Jackson Heights, Queens. If any differences between this population and the broader group is noted, mention will be made of this disparity.


The South-Asian population encompasses people that trace their origins to the Indian Subcontinent, a peninsular region of Asia separated from the mainland by the Himalaya mountain chain. Although this region includes the countries of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Tibet, Myanmar, and even Afghanistan, the definition is generally simplified to include just India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, which historically formed the whole of British India. Already it is evident that this region has a very diverse make-up. Both across and within countries, South Asia is home to a wide array of cultures, languages, ethnicities, and religions.[1]

Based on current studies, the genetic history of the region shows a great variety of ancestral origins among the peoples of the Indian subcontinent. Specifically, South Asians can belong to one of thee racial groups: Caucasoid, Australoid and Mongoloid. This is especially interesting given that most countries have native populations stemming from one racial group. The racial populations are distinguished primarily by geographical location. The Caucasoids are concentrated in the North and the Australoids are focused in the South – explaining the well-known disparity in the disparity between the populations of North and South India. Meanwhile, the Mongoloids are located in the Northeastern part of the subcontinent.[2]

Besides these racial differences, the peoples of South Asia have a diverse linguistic history. Given its history as a British colony, English is well-recognized across South Asia. However, the national languages of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali, respectively. Among these, Hindi and Urdu could be considered the same language, distinguished only by sociopolitical constraints.[3] However, there are over 1952 mother tongues, of which only 15 being specified in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution.[4]

Furthermore, alongside such ethno-linguistic diversity, South Asia is home to adherents of many different religions. Although the majority of the South Asian population is Hindu, there is a large Islamic population and smaller, but significant, populations of Buddhists, Sikhs, and Christians. There are also smaller communities that adhere to less common religions, such as Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and others. These religions all have very different roots and particular forms of worship. Thus, this religious diversity has often acted as a deterrent to unity in the region. This has happened on multiple occasions throughout the history of the subcontinent and was a prime cause in the formation of three separate nations – Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan (later split into Pakistan and Bangladesh) – when it gained independence from the British Empire in 1947. Such frictions have remained in the community, as well as in immigrant communities.[5]

Still, the various forms of diversity in the Indian subcontinent has allowed for the development of a unique and colorful culture. This is evident in the food of this region, the wedding celebrations, as well as the social norms. It is unique among the world’s many cultures, a result of the relative geographic solation of the Indian subcontinent from the rest of Eurasia due to the mountain ranges to its north. It is also home to the Bollywood film industry, which has gained international recognition. This culture was exposed to the rest of the world not only by explorers and visitors, but also by people who emigrated from the subcontinent to western countries.

People have emigrated from South Asia for centuries. The first significant wave of South-Asian emigration from the region was of the Romani people, known colloquially as gypsies, who are thought to have originated in the northwestern region of the subcontinent.[6] Since then, there were smaller exoduses occurred over centuries to other regions in Asia. Under the rule of Great Britain, known as the British Raj, poorer individuals were often sent to other British colonies, especially in the Caribbean, to serve as indentured servants. This explains the Indian culture that dominates places like Guyana, Trinidad, and Mauritius. There was also voluntary emigration to North America and the United Kingdom during the era of the British Raj. However, the numbers were small in regards to the populations of both British India and the nations that were immigrated to. For instance, during the nineteenth century, only about 700 Indians immigrated to the United States. This number rose by 8,000 in the first three decades of the twentieth century as Punjabi Sikhs flocked to work in California for jobs in agriculture. Yet these numbers did not increase in the following years due to the Immigration Act of 1917 and that of 1924, which barred South-Asians from immigrating to the United States and being eligible for American citizenship. There was also a small migration of Indians to Canada and the United Kingdom during these years, but this was also limited by restrictive legislation. It was not until after India gained its independence from Great Britain that these numbers rose.[7]

In initial decades after India gained its independence, workers of many different skill levels migrated to the United Kingdom. This was due to a demand for labor and postcolonial ties, and the commonwealth immigration policy implemented by the United Kingdom, which allowed citizens of Commonwealth nations to have unrestricted entry to the United Kingdom as well as the right to work, vote, and hold public office. These policies were later tightened by the Immigration Act of 1968. Eventually, this influx of Indians was enhanced by a large amount of dependents arriving in the United Kingdom. There was a peak flow of a little more than 23,000 immigrants in 1968, after which an average 5,800 immigrants arrived each year, and there was another sharp increase in immigration between the years of 1995 and 2005. Growth of the Indian population in the United Kingdom made it home to the largest Indian population in Europe, with smaller communities in other European countries, especially Germany and Italy.[8]

Indian immigration to the United States also gained speed with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, which abolished the National Origins Formula. This allowed Indian immigrants to become legal residents in the United States and invite their family members. The Immigration Act of 1990, which created the H-1B visa for temporary workers, further assisted this developing immigration. By allowing for businesses to hire foreigners with degrees in “specialty occupations,” the H-1B visa has brought a large number of scientists, engineers, and IT specialists from India. Although these only last three years, the employer can then apply for permanent residence for the visa holder. These policies have truly stimulated Indian immigration, as the annual total influx of Indian immigrants has risen from 27,000 in 1986 to 85,000 in 2005, raising them from 4.4 to 7.4 percent of the total immigration to the Untied States. In addition, a great many of these immigrants are highly educated. According to the US Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey, 74.1 percent held at least a bachelor’s degree, whereas 68.9 percent reported work in high-end occupations. Indians have also migrated to Canada since it underwent a legislative change in 1968, and other countries like Australia and New Zealand in the past three decades.[9]

Although many Indians have immigrated to foreign countries for job opportunities, others have travelled to these countries as students. India actually ranks second only to China in the number of students it sends abroad, with the United States receiving half of this population. Most of these students come to the United States to pursue graduate degrees. In recent years, however, there has been a renewed interest in studying in the United Kingdom. Either way, students often see studying abroad as a path to permanent residence in the foreign nation. Many countries support this by allowing graduates to apply for permanent residence if they meet certain requirements.[10]

Besides these pull factors to the United States, there are many reasons also pushing people out of India. Based on 2010 data, it has been found that those looking to start a business have a greater desire to leave the country. Although opening a business anywhere is risky, the risk might be higher for those who stay in India. About 5%-7% of Indians say that they would migrate if they could, which is a considerable amount in absolute numbers given India’s large population. This is concentrated in the western and southern parts of India, probably due to a greater exposure to other countries in these regions. Many believe that life is better overseas, both financially and materially. For some this means working a menial job but sending enough money home to pay for their children’s education, which they could not afford with a similar job in India.[11] For the more skilled immigrants, the reasons for immigrating to the United States stem from a lack of jobs available to them in India. Although many skilled workers are graduating from Indian universities each year, the number of jobs available to these workers has not increased. The jobs that are available are mostly in the public sector, where salaries are low. To avoid unemployment, many instead go to the United States where their skills are in demand and the compensation is much higher.[12]

South Asians have taken their already diverse culture and diversified it even more by forming expatriate communities in a variety of countries, especially the United Kingdom and the United States. Beginning as unskilled laborers, the majority of Indian immigrants are now highly skilled workers often brought over for their specialty services.

Settlement to Present

The association between race and place results in an invented concept of a “minoritized space.” All of the many responses to a racialized minority or an immigrant group, like the Indians of Jackson Heights, correspond to the specific territory, which is both physical and symbolic of those people. In a study led by Michael S. Laguerre, it was found that the “the production of the minoritized subject is concomitant with the production of minoritized space.” In other words, the notion of a minoritized space creates a connection between the place and the individuals living there that stirs up a racialized image of that location. This can be seen in Jackson Heights, a location where Indianness was and is being made. It was not until the early 1970s that Jackson Heights developed as a sign of Indianness due to the rapid emergence of Indian-owned stores and restaurants on a few blocks in Queens.[13] At this time however, there wasn’t a noticeable presence of Indian residents in the area. Indian diasporas, and all diasporas in general, tend to exist strongly in postwar cities like New York and London. New York was the perfect place to hold Jackson Heights’ Indian community as Indian migrants have made New York their homes, work places, and sites for cultural preservations for many years.[14]

The Little India of Jackson Heights came into existence during the period when Southall, Britain, became a symbol of Indianness in the 1970s. By the 1970s, Jackson Heights was no longer the relatively homogeneous garden apartment community it once was.[15] In the early 1900s, Edward MacDougall, the founder of Queensboro Corporation, sought to develop Jackson Heights according to the Garden City Movement in Europe, which inspired MacDougall when he visited Europe 1914.[16] According to Raymond Unwin, an English engineer who also followed the Garden City Movement, “…every house should have its garden and should be so placed and planned that all its rooms should be flooded with light and sunshine… It was necessary to break away from the customary type of street with its endless rows of houses, cramped in frontage…”[17] MacDougall took this idea and created principles for his construction to follow through: the full block would be developed, maximum of sunlight and ventilation, and buildings would be set back to allow landscaping in the front.[18] Jackson Heights, in the 1920s, attracted mainly white Anglo Saxon Protestants and was filled with relatively wealthy residents, as it wasn’t affordable for a large portion of New Yorkers.[19] However, beginning in the 1960s, immigration quotas were repealed, which allowed immigrants from all over the world to settle in Jackson Heights.[20] The 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, which abolished the National Origins Formula of 1921, prompted migrants from Latin America, Caribbean, and Asia to move to urban areas of the United States like New York City. However, Jackson Heights was not the first destination point for these Indian migrants. Instead, many chose Manhattan to settle.[21] In the 1960s, only a few thousand Indian immigrants, at most, lived in New York City. Many of whom were students, professionals, and nationals who were posted at institutions such as the Indian consultant, India’s official airline, Air India, and the Indian delegations of the united Nations. The duration of stay varied among these immigrants. Many students and government posted immigrants moved back to India, while the professionals and businesspersons tended to stay the longest. India Abroad, a newspaper established in the 1970s, held advertisements for businesses and accommodations primarily in Manhattan. Small numbers of Indian restaurants and stores were also located in Manhattan.[22]

However, a shift from Manhattan to Queens became apparent in the early 1970s due to the emerging ethnic markets and cost factors. As one Indian immigrant noted:

“All Indians then lived in Manhattan. However, accommodation in Manhattan was becoming expensive… When my employer told me that some cheaper apartments were available in Queens, I took a ride to Flushing and liked the area. I was satisfied with Flushing because the Number 7 subway line provided an easy commute to Manhattan where I worked and the apartment rents were quite cheap.”

Soon enough, a new ethnic community began to develop in Queens and was primarily made up of immigrants arriving directly from India and who established their households in that borough.[23] Ethnic markets also contributed to the shift from Manhattan to Queens. In 1973, Subhas Ghai and Raj Ghandi started an electronics store in Jackson Heights that became well know to Indian migrants as the store provided an easy way to receive access to Indian goods.[24] Additionally, in the 1930s, seven new transportation systems were built near Jackson Heights: the Triboro Bridge, the Midtown Tunnel, Grand Central Parkway, the Whitestone Bridge, the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway, and LaGuardia Airport, were built which helped develop Jackson Heights. Jackson Height’s proximity to the subways and transportation systems made the store’s location especially effective.[25] The store, “Sam and Raj,” was legendary throughout the Indian diaspora as it served a variety of Indians: American citizens, aliens, residents, and tourists.[26] By 1980, the majority of the 74th Street block between Roosevelt Avenue and 37th Avenue housed South Asian shops.[27]

However, the Indians of Little India didn’t feel they receive the full rights they deserved. In the mid-1980s, a number of break-ins and thefts occurred in Jackson Heights that were largely ignored by city authorities. As one merchant stated: “We thought as immigrants we were not being heard.” However, migrants were unwilling to label themselves as racial subjects, and preferred the term “immigrant” to capture the complexity of their feelings of disempowerment. While shop owners shunned race as a market of identity, they were willing to participate in more collective actions as a result of the 1980s robberies. They founded the Jackson Heights Merchants Association and protested the police inattention. This is not to be confused with the 1931 Jackson Heights Merchant Association, created by the Queensboro Corporation, which was formed to offer relief to the local economy. The two bear little resemblance to each other as the later one was founded as a local “ethnic organization” composed of South Asian merchants. The Jackson Heights Merchant Association hired private security people to guard against break-ins and also to provide area information on where to obtain certain goods or services. The organization also spoke to the anxieties of local residents. In this way, the organization maintained and protected the streets, and guided people through its own vision of what that space was for. In addition, the organization established a political image as it acted as an interest group in local and city politics by developing relations with the police, administrative bureaucrats, and members of congress, and by encouraging authorities to look upon this area as highly profitable in terms of tax revenue and as highly marketable for its presentation of Indianness in a multicultural landscape.[28] Other organizations, such as the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, also helped to improve community life. Formed in 1988, it was through the Jackson Heights Beautification Group that 36 blocks of Jackson Heights became a historic district. However, this historic district did not include 74th Street.[29] The Group’s activities included neighborhood cleanups, programs to remove graffiti, and other actions that revolved around beautification and preservation.[30]

By 1992, the 74th Street area of Jackson Heights was officially named “Little India” by Mayor David Dinkins. For the merchants, having a “Little India” is a step towards recognizing Indian American interest groups and Indian American localities within the political and social fabric of the United States. However, many Indians remember white residents shouting, “Indians go back” when Mayor Dinkins visited 74th Street. Some of the white residents opposed the development of a “Little India” because they felt that the area was theirs too, and such a label would obscure that fact. Nonetheless, Jackson Heights is known today as the “Little India” of New York.[31]

The presence of Indians in Jackson Heights became so strong that in 2001, when Aamir Khan, a Bollywood director, was looking for “India in the United States,” he went straight to Jackson Heights where he was met with over a thousand admiring fans. What prompts the massive migration of people from Asia to “global areas,” like Jackson Heights, include the abundance of restaurants that serve Indian foods, advertisements in languages other than English, and the proliferation of business partnerships between the U.S. citizens with those in other countries like India.[32]


Jackson Heights was a source of connection to India for many post-1965 Indian migrants who provided Indian goods and went to Jackson Heights just to buy Indian clothes and eat Indian food. The diasporic cultural citizenship demonstrated by sites like Jackson Heights largely resulted from the specialized characteristics of post war and post-1965 migrations as well as through new consumerist and service economies, such as the “Sam and Raj” electronic store. For Jackson Heights, its Indian community was mainly held together by consumption and commerce.[33]

As for housing, many old housing stocks have been helplessly torn down in place of larger complexes in the past decade. However, Jackson Heights continues to serve as a simple living space for easy commuting to jobs. Incredibly, Jackson Heights has grown to become one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country.[34] According to a report the Furman Center at NYU, by 2008, Jackson Heights consisted of approximately sixty percent Hispanic, fifteen percent white, ten percent black, and about twenty percent South and East Asian. Although at first intended by the Queensboro Corporation in the early 1900s to be a self-contained upper- and middle-class urban community, immigration law changes in the 1960s allowed for many new arrivals of immigrants into Jackson Heights. Today, Jackson Heights continues to stand as a symbol of the future of America.[35]


Jackson Heights was originally planned as a garden city, “…emphasiz[ing] light, space, and greenery… [with] interior gardens that sometimes stretched sidewalk to sidewalk”[4].  The community was a suburbian haven, meant for its residents to escape city life.  The Jackson Heights community was predominantly white middle-class for those “fleeing a city that was not only crowded, but increasingly culturally diverse”[5]. Housing was, for the most part, cooperative (“co-ops”).  Because of the addition of mass transit, which allowed people to travel between Manhattan and the outer boroughs, the middle-class residents of Jackson Heights were able to live in this Queens suburbia while still working in Manhattan[6].  During the 1920s, the Jackson Heights’ sense of community strengthened due to an increase in housing and population – both of which remained architecturally, economically, and racially homogeneous.

However, starting in the 1940s conditions began to change.  Jewish residents began to move to the area, and after the Fair Housing Act of 1968, some black residents populated the area around Jackson Heights; still, discrimination in the cooperative housing made it difficult for many people to settle.  Circa the 1960s, many of the middle-class white residents were heading towards Long Island’s suburbs; this caused some people to worry about urban decay spreading to their Queens neighborhood.    However, instead of ruining the area, the middle-class movement to Long Island left Jackson Heights open for historical preservation and immigrant settlement.[7]

Due largely to the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act of 1965, immigrants began to flood into the United States; of these immigrants, a significant amount of Hispanic, Caribbean, and Asian peoples moved to Jackson Heights.  While other groups – most notably the Hispanic immigrant population – formed residential communities in this area, the South Asian community did not form any “residential Asian enclaves…”[8].  Yet, as Ines Miyares said in her article, “From Exclusionary Covenant to Ethnic Hyperdiversity in Jackson Heights, Queens,”[9]

Little India arose in Jackson Heights, which developed into a prominent commercial area for South Asian goods.  “Little India was born in the 1980s and continues to expand along 74th Street and on 37th Avenue…. Although only settling in small numbers in Jackson Heights relative to their greater residential concentrations in Richmond Hills, Queens, Indian entrepreneurs leased or purchased vacant storefront and began to establish an economic enclave bordering the incipient Latin American district. (479)

The South Asian community established their presence in Jackson Heights with commercial ventures such as a Bollywood theatre, Bollywood media stores, Indian restaurants, gold vendors, and grocery stores, “attracting shoppers from these [South Asian] communities in New York, New Jersey, and Conneticut”[10].  The large and diverse shoppers in Little India illustrate the importance and extensiveness of this community; it is the South Asian epicenter of the Tri-State Area.

The population of the area has included Indians, Pakistanis, and Bengali, among other South Asian groups.  In 1988, just after the beginning of the immigrant flux, 212 immigrants arrived in Queens from Bangladesh, 1,457 immigrants arrived in Queens from India, and 337 immigrants arrived in Queens from Pakistan.[11]  In 1990, the number increased dramatically: 857 Bengali immigrants, 1,627 Indian immigrants, and 681 Pakistani immigrants came to Queens.[12]  These numbers in Queens exceed the lower numbers of South Asian immigrants moving into the other boroughs; for example, in 1988 Manhattan had only 181 Bengali immigrants, 217 Indian immigrants, and 147 Pakistani immigrants.[13]  Since many of these South Asian immigrants were settling in Queens, Jackson Heights’ location in that borough added to its appeal for opening business in the area soon to become Little India.

Jackson Heights’ structure contributed to the South Asian settlement (or lack thereof) and commercial area.  The mass transit allowed for travel throughout Queens and the other boroughs, which influenced where the South Asian immigrants established their businesses; Little India’s main commercial area is adjacent to the subway system.  This positioning allowed Asian Indians to work in Jackson Heights without locating their homes there; reluctance to live in Jackson Heights may have been due to high housing prices of many co-op buildings.  As Doug Turestsky mentions in his 1986 article “Jackson Heights Copes With Diversity,”[14]

These relatively affordable buildings have long been attractive to each succeeding wave of immigrants coming to the city. But this is changing, not because Jackson Heights is any less desirable, but due to a blitz of co-op conversions that has hit the neighborhood in the last four years. A recent New York Times article detailed the doubling – or more – of the price of housing in the neighborhood in just 18 months. Vice chairman of the City Planning Commission Martin Gallent, a 20-year resident of Jackson Heights… [admits] “… it’s harder and harder…for middle and lower income people to maintain homes here.”

Possibly influenced by the high costs of the co-op apartment buildings, South Asian immigrants instead took their capital and invested in businesses, such as restaurants.  However, their businesses – along with those of other incoming immigrant groups – were not always welcomed by the established white community.  As Turetsky explains later in his article,[15]

Some residents express annoyance because it is often first generation immigrants who are buying up the… storefronts. It is not uncommon to hear such refrains as “What has happened to all of ‘our’ stores?” or, “They’re coming in with bags of money and buying everything up.” A human relations worker familiar with Jackson Heights believes that many of the second-or-third-generation Europeans in the neighborhood feel that these new immigrant groups “haven’t paid their dues.”

Tensions were not restricted between natural-born Americans and immigrant; inter-immigrant relations were not always peaceful.  However, even with some racial conflict, the Jackson Heights community was still known for its “ethnic diversity”.[16]  Such diversity allowed for Little India to grow, establishing the South Asian community in Jackson Heights despite the relatively low number of immigrants moving to the area.


Census and Composition
Our group sought to narrow down our focus group within the confines of New York City to determine a percentage of the overall population of Asians or South Asians residing in Jackson Heights. Of the 19.5 million residents of New York reported in 2011, 7.8% identified as persons of Asian descent. Of which, roughly 8.2 million residents were located in New York City, which had a population of roughly 12.7% persons of Asian heritage. Foreign born (of all ethnicities) totaled 36.8% of the population, which tally into this 12.7%. In the state, Asians own 10.1% of businesses; 16.3% of businesses are Asian-owned in New York City. [A]

Census.gov defines ‘Asian’ as “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam. It includes people who indicate their race as “Asian Indian,” “Chinese,” “Filipino,” “Korean,” “Japanese,” “Vietnamese,” and “Other Asian” or [providing] other detailed Asian responses.” [x] They use their data as self-reported and leave the distinction up to the resident filing. My group wished to define this down to a subset within this, which is impossible in the current data presented. As a result, we elected to assume ‘Asian’ and ‘South Asian’ as our groups of interest.

According to the Census Bureau, almost a quarter of Indian Americans live in NYC, making it to be the largest Asian Indian center in the Western Hemisphere. 2.7% of NYC is Indian American, with a population of 226,888 by last census; this number jumped by the 2007 count to roughly 315k, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. According to the 2010 United States Census, there are 192,209 Asian Indians, 53,174 Bangladeshis, 41,887 Pakistanis, and 3,696 Sri Lankans in New York City. A majority of South Asian immigrants are concentrated in Queens neighborhoods, constituting 8.2% of the borough’s population. The census only specified down to county-level within New York City, but it was evident that a large percentage of South Asians lived and thrived in Queens.

On our tours of Jackson Heights in person, our group discovered that the area was rapidly being covered by a new wave of Hispanic immigrants, observable by signs in Spanish, Mexican flags, and traditional Hispanic cuisine. This influx is apparently very recent. The 2011 census indicates that there are more persons of Hispanic origin in the area than there are South Asians, and of it’s 175,000 estimated residents, over 60% of them identify as Hispanic. In comparison, only ~20% of the community identified as South or East Asian. [C] Other sources indicated that 62% of the South Asian community lived in Jackson Heights, but this statistic may have changed by some considerable degree in the 20-year gap. [Y]


The first buildings in Jackson Heights went up in 1911 with the first apartment being Laurel Courts, followed by Oban and Penrhyn Courts. All of these buildings were located near Northern Boulevard due to its transportation system.[1] In 1917, a subway running along Roosevelt Avenue went up, which meant a closer distance to Grand Central. This allowed for further development of the community.[2]

There are 984 occupied housing units for Asian Indians in Jackson Heights, Queens, zip code: 11372.  Most of these housing units are apartment complexes that range from five to six stories high. Other common units include family houses aligned in a row house fashion.[3]

The first buildings to be offered under the cooperative Ownership Plan by the Queensboro Corporation was in 1919. The Greenbrier coop was the last coop the Queensboro Corporation was responsible for selling.[4] Currently, 360 of the occupied housing units, which accounts for 36.6% of the total occupied housing units, are owner-occupied housing units, which mean the occupants own the housing. The remaining 624 housing units, or 63.4% of the total occupied housing units, are renter-occupied housing units, which mean the occupants rent the housing.[5]

The occupied housing units hold a population of 1,107 Asian Indians, each unit consisting of about 3.08 individuals. On the other hand, renter-occupied housing units hold a population of 2,038 Asian Indians, almost twice the population held by occupied housing units. The average household size of renter-occupied units is 3.27 individuals.[6] In fact, according to the 1996 HVS Survey, the rate of home ownership within the South Asian Community was only around 22%, lower than the percentages for Caucasians, Asian Americans, and African Americans. Following 9/11, the City, State, and Federally funded programs have largely underserved South Asians in Queens. Over 30% of the South Asians in New York City live in market rate rentals and South Asians in general are under-represented in government –subsidized housing. This combined with discriminatory acts, which have prevented South Asian from fully participating in education, work, and recreation, have made it difficult for South Asians to find housing.[7] Another, but less prominent explanation for the low ownership rate is the fact that ownership also means settlement in that particular area. With renting, the residents are given the freedom to move and are not confined to one particular area.

Household Analysis

Out of New York’s 207,414 Asian Indians, approximately 205,042 of them are part of a household, making up 62,126 households.  Of these households, 71.9% are family households.  56.8% of households are married couple households, while 8.3% are family households with single mothers.  Overall, 36.6% of households have children under eighteen, with the majority – 30.5% of the total family households – belong to married couples’ households.

Nonfamily households make up 28.1% of the Asian Indian population.  For male householders (16.2% of Asian Indians), 11.8% live alone, while 4.4% do not.  For female householders (11.9% of Asian Indians), 9.2% live alone while 2.7% do not.

An average Asian Indian household has household and family sizes averaging around four members.  For household size, the mean is 3.26; for family, the mean is 3.87.

The population of Asian Indians over fifteen years of age consists of 172,775 people.  Of these persons, 55.7% are married but separated; 3.4% have been widowed, and 4.6% have been divorced.  Of the fifteen and older age group, 35.0% have never been married.[1]

According to the 2010 United States Census, all the Asian Indian families in Queens County are part of a household; the total number of households is 32,771 out of the 62,126 Asian Indian households in New York City.  The 27, 557 family households make up 84.1% of all South Asian households.  64.2% of these householders are male, while only 19.9% of these householders are female.  Similarly, in the 5,214 non-family households, 9.6% of householders are male and only 6.3% are female, and males living alone are 6.4% of the households while females living along are 5.2% of the households.  The majority of male householders implies the patriarchal elements of South Asian society have carried over to their new settlements in Queens.

At 23.5%, the majority of households contains four members.  However, one, two, three, and five person households follow closely.  One person households make up 11.7% of all South Indian Queens households.  Two person households make up 19.9%, three person households 19.7%, and five person households 13.1%.  Six and seven person households are a much lower percentage, at 6.3% and 5.9% respectively.

Traditional family units – that is, husband-and-wife families – number 22,259 in Queens’ South Asian population.  58.6% of these families contain children under eighteen years of age who are related.  54.1% contain children under eighteen who are the couples’ own children.   Asian Indian female households – women without husbands in their families – number 2,945 in Queens.  49.3% of them have related children under eighteen years of age.  38.0% contain children of their own.[2]

Comparison of the Local and National South Asian Communities[3]

South Asians in Queens

South Asians in the U.S.A.

Family households





Non-Family Households





Male Householders





Female Householders





As seen in the chart, the Queens South Asian community is, for the most part, parallel to the national South Asian community.  Family households are the majority of households, and male householders dominate over female householders, albeit more so in Queens that the small gap that exists nationally.

Income and Employment

The South-Asian population in the United States, as mentioned earlier, is one of the most educated immigrant groups in the country. As reported in the US Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community survey, 74.1% of this population holds at least a Bachelor’s Degree, and 68.9% works in highly skilled occupations. Perhaps this is because of the large number of Indians that come to work as specialists, especially in the IT industry. This pathway to immigration began with the creation of the H-1B temporary worker visa by the Immigration Act of 1990. This resulted in a flood of Indians coming to the United States. The number of H-1B visa holders increased fivefold in the decade following the passage of the 1990 act. In 2001 there was a peak in the number of Indians holding H-1B visas, with over 160,000 such visas being issued. These constituted 82 percent of all H-1B visas issued that year, with 85 percent of these Indian visas being given to specialists in the computer industry. India has achieved great success in outsourcing IT professionals.[1] These advantages have benefitted the Indian immigrant population economically. While 37.9 percent of all immigrants lived in poverty in 2008, as did 28.7 percent of native-born Americans, only 16.4 percent of Indians suffered this fate.[2]

The effects of an educational advantage are also evident when examining a subset of the immigrant population, such as that residing in New York City – which is home to over one-sixth of all Indian immigrants in the United States.[3] The Asian Indian population, as referred to by the Census Bureau, has a total population of 204,410 persons living in New York City. Approximately 67.0% of the population above 16 years of age is in the civilian labor force, with only 9.8% of this subset being unemployed. None of this population is part of the Armed Forces. The majority of these workers, about 40.7%, have an occupation that falls under management, business, science, and arts. These occupations are heavily skewed towards the health care industry, which, alongside educational services and social assistance, claims the greatest percentage of Asian Indian workers. This is followed by sales and office occupations (25.1%), service occupations (15.0%), production, transportation, and material moving occupations (13.3%), and finally, natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations (5.9%). This stratification may be a result of a blended community consisting of both educated immigrants and immigrant-children, who are capable of obtaining jobs in professional fields – especially health care – and less educated immigrants who sill in the other occupational niches. Either way, a vast majority of all workers, around 81.3%, are private wage and salary workers, with a few government workers (10.9%) and self-employed workers (7.7%). The median household income of the Asian Indian Population was $62,996 in 2011, with the per capita income being significantly lower at $30,087.[4] Both of these values are greater than the United States average of $52,762 and $27,915, respectively, owing perhaps to the higher preparedness of this group for obtaining reputable jobs upon arrival to the Untied States. In fact, Asian Indians have become the richest ethnic group in the United States.[5]

Thus, the South-Asian immigrant population in New York City is a diverse group, but it is a good representative of the entire South-Asian population in the United States. It is evident that this immigration has benefitted this population more so than it has other ethnic immigrant communities. This is probably due to the higher education of the population, more secure pathways taken to immigration, that is, through specialty occupations, as well as the success of immigrant children in the city.


  • Food
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Language
  • Health
  • Gender Roles
  • Clothing
  • Look into Culture section and how this has become insinuated into NYC culture in general — words, foods, clothing, etc

Struggles and Representation

  • Indians as lawmakers and representatives
  • Jobs and population of class in variety of positions – What they can get, what they gravitate toward, tensions w/ existing job population or community
  • Discrimination, etc. Is a STRONG FOCUS
  • Esp. toward the tensions already existing

According to the New York CompStat, crime has actually decreased in the area since 1990. [x] Our perception of the area was a very peaceful and safe neighborhood that looked to be welcoming and family-friendly. However, the introduction of a flood of Hispanic immigrants also has brought forth a stream of Mexican gangs, typically ‘Border Brothers’ bonding together, but as of recently, smaller gangs with ties to ‘La Eme’ or ‘Nuestra Familia’, both West Coast-based fronts, have sprung up and taken prominence. [2] [6] For the most part, these gangs are reported to prey on their fellow Mexican immigrants, who are purportedly unlikely to speak with police about the problem, particularly if they are undocumented. [3] As the heaviest concentration of Hispanic gangs are around Corona and Jackson Heights, according to members of the Queens Gang Unit, there are concerns about the continued safety of the area. The unit mentioned that the gangs were unlikely to target non-gang members in general, but this information is at odds with arrests made, and reports of hold-ups and violence against civilians. [5] Roosevelt Avenue was pointed out as an area of particular concern for violent crimes, identity crimes, and prostitution, and the community council has made ventures to clean up the area and make it safer for tourists and residents alike. [4]

Since 1993, the original ‘garden city’ portion of Jackson Heights has been named a historic district, an area which stretches just about half of the area in size. This means there can be no destruction or alteration of the façade, which means no development with the times. While this has led to the preservation of some gorgeous architecture, some have pronounced it a hindrance, particularly in regards to repairs and renovations of the buildings. Opinion is divided between civic pride and falling behind the times.

Housing in Jackson Heights is something of a growing issue, particularly since at least half of the area is a Historic District, which means that no alterations or developments can be made upon the façade. Because of a trend for ethnic homogeneity in areas, incoming South Asians are more likely to group with their own and remain in the same area, which means that what scarce housing there is available is more likely to be used by the immigrating groups, and thus have their options more highly priced for less space available. According to a report published back in the 1990s, South Asians ranked lowest on the percentage of homeowners, and paid the most for their rent or mortgage [LINK].

Jackson Heights residents feel that air quality, traffic, and park space are significant issues affecting their area as well. [7] This has been a matter of community outreach, and has come up in council meetings. As a garden city, Jackson Heights has always been particularly oriented toward environmentalist concerns and sustainability, and this has continued to this day. As traffic and parking become more pressing issues to community members, it also affects the quality of life therein.

[x] http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/crime_statistics/cscity.pdf
[2] http://allaboutgangs.blogspot.com/2008/05/east-coast-mexican-gangs.html
[3] http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/737657/posts
[4] http://www.qgazette.com/news/2009-12-16/Features/Jackson_Heights_Residents_Fight_To_Clean_Up_Roosev.html
[5] http://foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/17798917/article-Gang-unit-gives-updates-on-activity-in-Queens-
[6] http://gridskipper.com/archives/entries/059/59544.php

[1] “Indian Subcontinent Map,” Maps of India, http://www.mapsofindia.com/neighbouring-countries-maps/indian-subcontinent-map.html, accessed April 15, 2013.

[2] Prithvish Nag and Smita Sengupta, Geography of India (New Delhi: Concept Pub. Co., 1992), 139.

[3] “Peoples,” South Asia, http://www.cotf.edu/earthinfo/sasia/SApeo.html, accessed April 15, 2013.

[4] Prithvish Nag and Smita Sengupta, Geography of India (New Delhi: Concept Pub. Co., 1992), 141.

[5] “Peoples,” South Asia, http://www.cotf.edu/earthinfo/sasia/SApeo.html, accessed April 15, 2013.

[6] Giles Tremlett, “Gypsies arrived in Europe 1,500 years ago, genetic study says,” The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/07/gypsies-arrived-europe-1500-genetic, accessed April 15, 2013.

[7] Daniel Naujoks, “Emigration, Immigration, and Diaspora Relations in India,” Migration Information Source, http://migrationinformation.com/Profiles/display.cfm?ID=745, accessed April 15, 2013.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jennifer Robison, “Do Indians Want to Leave Home?” Gallup Business Journal, http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/147602/indians-leave-home.aspx?version=print, accessed May 3, 2013.

[12] “Push Factors of Migration,” Globalization101.org, http://www.globalization101.org/push-factors/, accessed May 3, 2013.

[13] Shukla, Sandhya Rajendra. India abroad: diasporic cultures of postwar America and England (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003), 80-81.

[14] Ibid., 78.

[15] Ibid., 106-107.

[16] Karatzas, Daniel. Jackson Heights, a garden in the city: the history of America’s first garden and cooperative apartment community (Jackson Heights, N.Y.: Jackson Heights Beautification Group, 1990), 32-33.

[17] Lucey, Norman. “The Effect of Sir Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City Movement on Twentieth Century Town Planning.” The Lucey and Lucy Family History. http://www.rickmansworthherts.freeserve.co.uk/howard1.htm. Accessed April 21, 2013.

[18] “Jackson Heights.” Ashoka’s Community Greens. http://www.communitygreens.org/jackson-heights. Accessed April 21, 2013.

[19] Karatzas, Jackson Heights, a garden in the city: the history of America’s first garden and cooperative apartment community, 92.

[20] Ibid., 167.

[21] Shukla, India abroad: diasporic cultures of postwar America and England, 108.

[22] Khandelwal, Madhulika. Becoming American, Being Indian: An Immigrant Community in New York City. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002), 13.

[23] Ibid., 14-15.

[24] Shukla, India abroad: diasporic cultures of postwar America and England, 108-110.

[25] Karatzas, Jackson Heights, a garden in the city: the history of America’s first garden and cooperative apartment community, 140.

[26] Nakanishi, Don T., and James S. Lai. Asian American politics: law, participation, and policy. (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 187.

[27] Shukla, India abroad: diasporic cultures of postwar America and England, 110.

[28] Shukla, India abroad: diasporic cultures of postwar America and England, 113-115.

[29] Karatzas, Jackson Heights, a garden in the city: the history of America’s first garden and cooperative apartment community, 169.

[30] Shukla, India abroad: diasporic cultures of postwar America and England, 116.

[31] Ibid., 115-116.

[32] Ibid., 78-79.

[33] Ibid., 116.

[34] Karatzas, Jackson Heights, a garden in the city: the history of America’s first garden and cooperative apartment community, 172-174.

[35] Samways, Maggie. “Most diverse: Jackson Heights.” Time Out Worldwide. http://www.timeout.com/newyork/things-to-do/most-diverse-jackson-heights (accessed May 4, 2013).


[A] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/3651000.html
[x] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/meta/long_RHI405210.html
[B] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/36081.html (Queens)
[c] http://www.timeout.com/newyork/things-to-do/most-diverse-jackson-heights
[Y] http://www.chhayacdc.org/ourissues_sasians.html

[1] Karatzas, Daniel. Jackson Heights, a garden in the city: the history of America’s first garden and cooperative apartment community (Jackson Heights, N.Y.: Jackson Heights Beautification Group, 1990), 24-25.

[2] Ibid., 28.

[3] U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census.

[4] Karatzas, Jackson Heights, a garden in the city: the history of America’s first garden and cooperative apartment community, 157.

[5] U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Our Issues and Actions | South Asians in NYC.” Chhaya CDC | Sustaining Homes, Strengthening Communities. http://www.chhayacdc.org/ourissues_sasians.html (accessed May 4, 2013).

[1] Daniel Naujoks, “Emigration, Immigration, and Diaspora Relations in India,” Migration Information Source, http://www.migrationinformation.org/feature/display.cfm?ID=745, accessed April 17, 2013.

[2] Aaron Terrazas and Cristina Batog, “Indian Immigrants in the United States,” Migration Information Source, http://www.migrationinformation.org/USFocus/display.cfm?ID=785, accessed April 17, 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] U.S. Census Bureau, “SELECTED ECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS: 2006-2010 American Community Survey Selected Population Tables,” American FactFinder, http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_10_SF4_DP03&prodType=table, accessed March 6, 2013.

[5] “USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau,” State and County QuickFacts, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html, accessed May 3, 2013.

Michelle’s Links

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, “American Fact Finder,” U.S. Department of Commerce, accessed

March 4, 2013. http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/


[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Philip Kasinitz, Mohamed Bazzi, and Randal Doane, “Jackson Heights, New York,” in Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research 4, no. 2 (US Department of Housing & Urban Development, 1998), 163, accessed April 19, 2013, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41486481 .

[5] Ibid.

[6] Doug Turetsky, “Twenty Years Ago: Diversity in Queens,” CityLimits 11, no. 1 (1986): accessed April 8, 2013 http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/3366/twenty-years-ago.

[7] Kasinitz, Bazzi, and Doane, “Jackson Heights, New York,” 164.

[8] Ines Miyares, “From Exclusionary Covenant to Ethnic Hyperdiversity in Jackson Heights, Queens,” Geographical Review, 94, No.4 (2004): 479, accessed April 15, 2013, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30034291.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Infoshare Online. accessed April 19, 2013, http://www.infoshare.org.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu:2048/common/print_1.aspx?&queryId=0&queryId=1&queryId=2&p=0

[12]Infoshare Online. accessed April 19, 2013, http://www.infoshare.org.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu:2048/mod1/main.aspx

[13] Infoshare Online. accessed April 19, 2013, http://www.infoshare.org.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu:2048/mod1/main.aspx.

[14] Turetsky, Doug, “Twenty Years Ago: Diversity in Queens.”

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.


One Reply to “Jackson Heights Indians”

  1. Just wanted to say thank you for creating this! I am currently writing a paper about South Asian Indians in NYC and your blog has been very helpful, glad I could use a resource from a fellow Macaulay student.

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