Upon their arrival in the U.S., Asian American Indians seem to turn on a switch, becoming more religious than they ever were in India. In particular this conversion seems to happen among Asian Indians from secular Hindu background.
Asian Indian religious institutions vary in their provision of social services. For example, the New York Hindu temples seem to be more inclined toward a community social service approach than those temples established in California. In New York City the temples are check by jowl to other religious groups, so they have more incentive to be community-minded. Freeway disconnected Californian Asian Indians don’t live or worship in any particular local neighborhood.
About 70% of Indians are Hindus, the other 30% being Christians or Muslims.
Hindu Indians sustain their religious interests through temple, nationality, regional and alumni organizations, devotional and child development meetings and family rituals. Devotional meetings are small numbers of Indian Hindus meeting together for fellowship and teaching. Also, groups of families may hold child development meetings in order to enculturate their school age children.
New York now hosts the second largest concentration of South Asians living outside the subcontinent; only London ranks higher. In 2010 there were approximately 330,000 Asian Indians living in the greater New York area. There are also the “hidden Hindus from the Caribbean,” about 100,000 mainly from Guyana and Trinidad (some community members estimate that there are 300,000 in the metro area). There are also a small number of Sri Lankan, Nepalese and Afghan Hindus.
There are about 2.8 million Asian Indians in the U.S., making them the second largest Asian group in the nation. They are mostly highly educated professionals and businessmen with a median income of $65,000 in 2012.
However, because more recent Asian Indian immigration has included a wider social variety, there is now a poverty-stricken class.
Since 1980, the variation in regional background of Asian Hindus has increased. Asian Indians are cosmopolitans, northerners, southerners (more Christians) and regionalized by province. Each area has its own food, customs, cultural style, gods and language and feels most comfortable dealing with fellow regionalists.
All Asian Indians are worried about their children and want family strengthening cooperation with social service agencies.
Asian Indians are among the most political of the immigrant religious groups. Potentially, this could mean high involvement in neighborhood development.
Examples of Asian American Indian Hindu Temples in New York City
The Great Ganesh Temple, Flushing, New York
The great Ganesh temple is New York’s best-known Hindu temple. Its mailing list approaches 15,000. It is only a few blocks away on Bowne Street from the 3,500-member Korean Presbyterian Church. But they look very different. While the Koreans have built a structure whose sloping roots seem to soar into the future, the Ganesh Temple strives to incorporate traditional structural features that have been familiar to its Tamil- and Telugu-speakers for many centuries.
The difference also reveals different social purposes. The Korean church operates much more like an immigrant incorporation center while the Hindu temple is more concerned with cultural continuity.
However, the Ganesh Temple is perhaps the leader among Indian Hindu organizations in reaching out to the Flushing community and providing family-strengthening services like pre-marital and family counseling, meals, and financial aid.
Divya Dham (Geeta Temple), Woodside, Queens, New York
The warehouse is drab and the banged up double doors don’t see to lead anywhere special. Entering, you are plunged into darkness, only hearing northern Indian accidents echo down the hall. As your eyes adjust, you realize you are in a cavern. Near you stand 1,008 luminous pillars, beyond them various monumental images beckon. As you progress toward the middle of the warehouse, a great panorama of a miniature replica of the Himalayan Mountains greet you.
In such a way, the temple provides children and visitors an experience of the old country. It is an unusual venture in neighborhood- and family-strengthening.
The America Sevashram Sangha, Jamaica, Queens, New York
This Caribbean Hindu temple emotionally rocks in its services more like an African American church. When the annual Pugwah Parade takes place, members joyously splash colors on each other to celebrate the Hindu spring festival. Unlike most Indian Hindu temples, Sevashram draws its members mainly from the neighborhood. This temple and its denomination are known for their emphasis on education. Its founders started Hindu College and Hindu Primary School in Guyana. As befitting its more neighborhood-orientation, he invited Muslims and Christians to enroll also. Now, in New York the members give tutoring and scholarships to help neighborhood children. In general this temple has a community-orientation more like an African American church.