Indian Americans in Texas look forward to a direct connection with native land

Ritu Jha-

Swapan Dhairyawan, president of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH), has said his organization is looking forward to placing some pending demands before Prime Minister Narendra Modi since Houston has become one of the busiest gateways for US-India trade.

Modi is scheduled to address a ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event, touted as one of the largest Indian-American community events, on Sunday, Sept 22, at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Dhairyawan told indica that Houston is home to big Indian companies like Mahindra & Mahindra, JSW Steel, and ONGC. The chamber had played a big role is establishing Mahindra USA (MUSA), a wholly-owned subsidiary of M&M Ltd which has been selling tractors in the USA since 1994.

“It holds number three position in the US selling tractors,” said Dhairyawan. “We helped bring Mahindra to the US. We [the Chamber] also helped the present United Airlines to India.

“We need a non-stop flight from Houston to New Delhi,” said Dhairyawan. While United remains a great partner of the community, the optics of having Air India fly to Houston would be very big, he said.  “And considering Texas as one of the markets, it has been pending for a very long time.”

Dhairyawan pointed to the way Modi announced a direct flight from San Francisco to New Delhi during his speech in Silicon Valley in 2015 and said chamber members hope the same happens at Houston, “but it would happen only when the green light comes from the top”.

Asked whether the issue has been discussed, he said, “This has been in the pipeline for many, many years and has been discussed by the tourism minister during a past visit.”

According to the chamber‘s report, the Houston-Galveston customs district is the third busiest gateway for US-India trade (by value) and India is Houston’s ninth largest international trading partner. From 2009 through 2018, trade between Houston and India averaged $4.8 billion annually and was valued at $7.2 billion in 2018.

Thirty-three firms based in Houston operate 85 subsidiary locations in India, including KBR, National Oilwell Varco, NetIQ/Micro Focus, Oceaneering International and Walter P Moore.

Twenty-eight Indian firms in turn operate subsidiaries in the Houston area, including HCL America, JSW Steel, Mahindra USA, Neilsoft and Welspun Global Trade.

Jagdip Ahluwalia, founding secretary and currently executive director of IACCGH, told indica there are 90 organizations in town participating in the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event. While IACCGH is not doing the specific event, it is welcoming the prime minister and a special billboard has been created.

Rishi Bhutada, public relations and media coordinator for the event and a member of the board of the Hindu American Foundation, told indica, “Out of 50,000 people expected, 8,000 are coming from outside Texas.”

HAF was one of the organizations named in the controversial Caravan report of July 2019 on the RSS’s attempts to gain a foothold in the US administration by boosting the presidential campaign of Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Dem. Rishi and his father Ramesh Bhutada have been prominent donors to Gabbard since before she was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2012.

The capacity of the NRG stadium is 50,000 and the organizers already have over 50,000 registrations, Rishi Bhutada said. There won’t be any community breakfast with the PM or dinner, nor individual photo-ops.

There are more than 92,000 people living in metropolitan Houston who was born in India, according to the IACCGH.

According to a press release, to entertain the audience at the event, the Texas India Forum has created 90-minute music, dance, and multimedia show featuring close to 400 artists and community members from Texas and across the nation.

Twenty-seven groups will perform in a seamless live and multimedia experience that will showcase the diversity of the Indian-American community. Two original songs have been written for the program, which will trace the journey of Indian-American youth learning about their roots to understanding how to put that together with the contemporary world.

“A challenge that many second- and third-generation Indian Americans go through is navigating the complexity of having a hyphenated identity as an Indian and an American,” Heena Patel, CEO of MELA Arts Connect and co-producer of the program, said. “Woven showcases the multiplicity of Indian-American experience. Our hope is that each person sees themselves in at least one form of expression and recognizes that whatever mix of Indian and American they are, it is just right.”

The show will also shine a light on “unsung heroes” in the Indian-American community who have undertaken “selfless acts” benefiting the broader American community without need for recognition. From the classical and folk traditions passed on in basements across America to the creative exchange between Eastern and Western arts and ideas, Woven illuminates the stories of generations of Indian Americans and snapshots of home, and builds on the theme of ‘Shared Dreams, Bright Futures’ that is the foundation of the event.

“We look forward to presenting this unique and interesting cultural show at the event, which will tell the story of our community in a way that’s never been done before,” said Gitesh Desai, spokesperson for the event. “We want all the attendees and those watching from home to connect with a program that shows the Indian-American community and understands what drives our community to be part of the larger American experience.”

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