Immigrants to New York City from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh more than doubled to 146,000 in the last 10 years, according to a survey conducted by the United States Bureau of the Census. The City is experiencing a surge of immigrants, at the rate of one lakh new arrivals a year since 1990, hitting the one million mark in the new millennium. More New Yorkers than ever before, like myself, are not, as the old Bruce Springsteen song goes, ‘Born in the USA.’ Forty per cent of all New York City residents were born abroad, a figure unrivaled since the early 1900’s.
Indians in New York number 64,000 new residents with Bangladesh and Pakistan together contributing
82,000, according to the Survey which sampled 16,000-plus households in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island.
The size of the sample as well as the fact that the Census Bureau has conducted the Survey make the data appear to be highly reliable. The New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, as it is called is undertaken every three years for The Department of Housing Preservation and Development, a city agency. In this survey, for the first time, Indians and Mexican foreign born are being counted separately from their respective regional counterparts. The next such survey will be conducted in 2002 using a new sample drawn from households responding to the 2000 Census.
Indian immigrants are by no means the largest number of new arrivals in New York City. Immigrants from the Dominican Republic continue to top the list of foreign born residents in the last decade, increasing from over two lakhs in 1990 to well over three lakhs in 1999. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union tripled to over two lakhs while Mexicans quadrupled to almost one and- one- half lakhs
during the same ten-year period.
The city has drawn the foreign born since the early 1600’s when it was still called New Amsterdam. Back then, its 500 residents spoke 18 languages. The 1999 survey shows the county of Queens is the nation’s most diverse, boasting 167 nationalities and 116 languages.
I spoke with Bruce Lambert, the New York Times Metro reporter whose story on the Survey appeared some days ago and also with Professor Andrew Beveridge of Queens College who analysed some of the data provided in the Survey. Lambert reminisced briefly about a trip to India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. He recounted a story related to him by Senator Daniel Moynihan. The Senator from New York recalls seeing a busload of delegates of Indian origin arriving in Albany, the state capital and remembers thinking “Well, the bus carrying the Pakistani and Bangladeshi delegates can’t be far behind!” In a word, we had arrived. Beveridge wondered whether the Bangladesh and Pakistani foreign born had been “over- counted.” I replied that if anything they had been undercounted as had the Indians. Bangladeshis recently availed of the lottery system used by the INS (US Immigration & Naturalization Service)
so their numbers have increased significantly. Practically every street fruit vendor and small restaurateur in Manhattan is from Dhaka. Besides, new arrivals from all groups tend to be undercounted because many immigrants who are ‘undocumented aliens’ do not respond to the questionnaires circulated by the Census Bureau.
So the foreign born, among them Indians and other South Asians, are continuing to come to New York City in unprecedented numbers bringing new life to its streets, shops and neighborhoods. We have indeed arrived, as Moynihan implied when he saw the busload of Indian delegates arriving in Albany. But where do we really want to go?
July 28, 2000
New York City