August 17, 2001
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Indians in Chicago live the suburban dream

Ashok Easwaran in Chicago

For immigrants to the United States, a home in the suburbs has been the ultimate dream. And the latest census figures show that Indian immigrants are defying the general trend in the rest of the community of moving to the city area.

For Indian immigrants, the first stop is Devon Avenue in Chicago, where the various sari and jewellery shops and Indian restaurants give homesick expatriates some solace in an alien land.

Community leaders say the direct shift to the suburbs reflects the affluence of the community. Many Indian immigrants are professionals in the hi-tech sector and choose to settle near their workplaces.

Four in five Indian Americans now call the suburbs home, making the community more likely to be suburbanite than any other ethnic group, including non-Hispanic whites.

A large number of them work in Motorola in Schaumburg, 3Com in Rolling Meadows and Lucent Technology in Lisle. Like other Indian Americans who have tasted success, they return to Devon now only to dine, shop and mingle with members of the community.

The Indian influence is visible in other ways too. Indian stores have sprung up inside malls. The latest blockbusters from Bollywood have replaced Hollywood films at the Des Plaines Theatre. And when Mohabbatein was shown at a theatre in South Barrington, all 18 shows were sold out.

The biggest factor contributing to the Asian population boom in the Chicago area has been the rapid rise in the number of Indians, especially in the northwest Cook and DuPage counties.

The Indian population in Illinois grew by almost 95 per cent during the past decade, bypassing Filipinos to become the largest Asian group in the state. In Skokie, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect and Glendale Heights, Indian Americans account for one in 20 residents. In Oakbrook Terrace, Indians make up 10.8 per cent of the population. A large number of Indians also live in Naperville and Schaumburg.

"I have a better quality of life in the suburbs," said Suhas Desai, who lived near Devon earlier. "Not only in terms of quality of life, but also in better school and park facilities for my children."

And along with the outward sings of affluence has come political power. Skokie resident Usha Kamaria was elected earlier this year as the first Asian trustee of the Niles Township board.

The township comprises the suburbs Of Lincolnwood, Skokie and parts of Morton Grove, Niles, Glenview and Golf. Over 20 per cent of the residents in these suburbs are of Asian descent. Another Indian American, Pramod Shah, is serving his second term as collector of the Niles Township.

Her experience as trustee has been "pretty good", Kamaria told the Indo-Asian News Service. Her agenda is to bridge the gap between the local government and the Asian community.

"A lot of Indian Americans are not aware of the services offered by the township. I tell them you have paid taxes, so why don't avail of the benefits," she said.

Her future agenda includes greater participation by Asians, which includes more jobs and more government grants for the community. "Asians are 20 per cent of the local community, and we probably pay more taxes. So we should get an appropriate share," she said.

Indo-Asian News Service

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