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Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic minority in the United States today because of the liberalized immigration policy of 1965. With half of all immigrants coming from Asia, the Asian population increased 143 percent between 1970 and 1980, and by 1985 there were 5 million Asians in America or 2.1 percent of the total population (Takaki, 1989, p. 5). Asians first came to the United States around the 1840s as a result of the discovery of gold in California. With the abolition of the slave trade and the onset of the industrial revolution, thousands of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Korean men were recruited by labor agents to work on plantations, farms, railroads, and mines of Hawaii and California--work which white Americans would not do. Yet when Asian American history is discussed, one group--the Asian Indians--has remained almost invisible with the exception of an Indian gentleman farmer, Dilip Singh Saund, the first Asian to be elected to Congress in 1956 and 1958 (Chan, 1991, p. 173). Recent research indicates that farm workers from Punjab, India, migrated to the West Coast to seek their fortunes and to escape the tyranny, repression, and unfair taxation of British colonial rule. Furthermore, a severe drought in Punjab, which lasted from 1898 to 1902, may have been the final push that sent Sikh farmers to California (Bagai, 1972, p. 28). By 1900, there were approximately 696 Asian Indians in the United States although most came between 1904 and 1924 (Bagai, 1972, p. 46).
Asian Indians, who worked mainly on the farms of California, in the lumber mills of Washington, and on the Western Pacific railroad, were subjected to the same racial oppression and discrimination as their Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino counterparts. Because they were mainly Sikhs (there were one-third Muslim and some Hindu workers as well) and their religion dictated that they wear turbans, the Indians were referred to as "rag-heads" and were not allowed to enter stores or rent rooms (Bagai, 1972, p. 28). Despite these adversities, the experienced Sikh farmers were very successful financially, and many became farm managers and labor contractors. By 1924, racist reactions to Asian labor resulted in exclusion laws which barred further immigration from Asia and prevented all Asian workers who were already in America from bringing their wives and children into the country,(2) marrying white Americans, owning property, and becoming citizens. The citizenship of Indians was revoked as they were now considered ineligible even though earlier American law had permitted them to become naturalized citizens because of their Aryan, or Caucasian, racial ancestry. Because of restrictive immigration and because many Indians remained bachelors,(3) the Indian population in America not only remained small, but, by 1946, it was reduced to 1,500 (Takaki, 1989, p. 445).
The Luce-Cellar Bill of 1946 changed these unfair practices, and Asian Indians, along with other Asian groups, were allowed to become citizens and marry Americans, own property, and bring their relatives to America on a quota basis; however, 50 percent of the quota was reserved for aliens with occupational skills and professional degrees (Asian Women United of California, 1989, p. 13). The Immigration Act of 1965, which allowed quotas of 20,000 immigrants annually from each Asian country and also entry of family members on a nonquota basis, led to a second wave of immigration from Asia (Chan, 1991, p. 146). According to the 1990 census figures, there are 1 million Asian Indians in America today (Abraham, 1990, p. 5). Unlike the first wave of Asian Indians, the demographics of Indian immigration have undergone a change--i.e., the newcomers are English-speaking highly educated men and women who have made significant contributions to American society as doctors, scientists, engineers, computer technologists, educators, writers, and artists.
Just as Asian Indians have been ignored in accounts of Asian American history, likewise, they have been forgotten in literature, especially children's literature. Bibliographies of Asian American children's literature, prepared by libraries and scholars alike, overlook the contributions made by Asian Indians in America. While it is true that there is not much literary output by this group in America because the number of Indians writing in English is small, an examination of their children's literature is vital not only for enhancing knowledge of India but also for providing an understanding of the early phases of a literature developed by a specific immigrant group. Because of their smaller numbers, and because they are relative newcomers in America, Asian Indian writers reflect the duality and needs of first generation immigrants. They express a strong relationship with the home country and seek to preserve and propagate their culture for the next generation of Indians and for non-Indian readers. While integration with mainstream America is valued at social and professional levels, exclusivity is perpetuated at the inner emotional level.
In the area of fiction, there is not a single children's book that describes the experiences of Asian Indians in America. Since the majority of immigrants from India started to arrive only after 1965, twenty-seven years is not sufficient time to form a meaningful relationship with the soil. Moreover, first generation immigrants are generally too preoccupied with establishing themselves professionally, economically, and socially to write and reflect on their experiences in the new land. With the exception of one or two adult writers and filmmakers in recent years, Asian Indians have even remained silent on the experiences of the early settlers on the West Coast. The children of these pioneers, now third and fourth generation Americans, have not revealed the pain and loneliness, the triumph and humiliation, and the courage and contributions of their Indian ancestors. Unlike the Chinese and Japanese in America, the Indian community does not have a Laurence Yep, a Paul Lee, a Sheila Hamanaka, or a Yoshiko Uchida to give voice to its historical and social experiences.
A quick review of Chinese American and Japanese American children's literature will help explain the Indian situation. It is only in the past two decades that Laurence Yep has published historical novels based on the accounts of the early Chinese workers in America and his own parents' history in Dragonwings (1975), Mountain Light (1985), The Lost Garden (1991), and The Star Fisher (1991). The Japanese also published a variety of books like Farewell to Manzanar (Houston & Houston, 1973), Japanese American Journey (Endo et al., 1985), Journey to Topaz (Uchida, 1971), Samurai of Gold Hill (Uchida, 1972), and The journey (Hamanaka, 1990), all books about the concentration camps of World War II only some thirty or forty years after the Pearl Harbor incident. Likewise, it is only the second and third generation of Chinese and Japanese writers who have described their cultural conflicts and duality in fictional works like The Child of the Owl (Yep, 1977), Sea Glass (Yep, 1979), A Jar of Dreams (Uchida, 1981), The Best Bad Thing (Uchida, 1983), The Happiest Ending (Uchida, 1985), Sachiko Means Happiness (Sakai, 1990), and The Invisible Thread: An Autobiography (Uchida, 1991).
Despite the comparative abundance of books by Chinese and Japanese writers in America, Jenkins and Austin (1987) point out, in their analysis of children's literature about Asians and Asian Americans, that the diversity of the Asian American experience has scarcely been touched--the Japanese focus mainly on the concentration camps of World War II, the Chinese on the traditional lifestyle in Chinatowns, and the Korean experience is virtually untapped (pp. 86, 155). If this is true with Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans with their longer tradition, larger numbers, and deeper historical roots in the United States, then it is not surprising that Indian authors, who are relative newcomers, still reaffirm their roots in India by writing fictional works for children based on Hindu cultural values' themes of progress in Indian villages, and the pleasures of childhood in India.
Dhan Gopal Mukerji, who was among the first Asian Americans to write for children, came to the United States in 1910 to study at Berkeley, and he committed suicide in 1936 at the age of 46. His children's books do not express his inner …