Indians in the Central Valley: Making A Home Away From Home

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

–Maya Angelou  

What is home? Is it a physical place? Is it an emotional place of relationships? Or is it a combination of both? Traditionally, home is where we have shelter, comfort, security, acceptance, and above all, the freedom to be at ease with ourselves. However, in our increasingly globalized world, the definition of home is one that is changing. It is no longer simply a place of familial relationships, or even familiar townships. As we have begun traveling far in search of new horizons, we have started to have to make our home wherever we find ourselves, both physically and with the people we find ourselves surrounded by.

Last year, I made a 645 mile move to Fresno to start make a new home. While many things were different my new home in this new place—less rain, more heat—there were some things I was pleasantly surprised to find. One of these pleasant things was the large number of people of Indian descent in the valley. However, it was not just how many people of Indian heritage that I found exciting, but how at home they seem to be in the Central Valley. As someone once said, “home is where heart is.” And it certainly seems as though the Central Valley has captured the heart of immigrants, including Indians. In a home, each member feels at ease with who they are, without any pressure and pretensions. The vast Central Valley, with abundant orchards, diverse farmland and warm hearted residents, welcomes newcomers (as evidenced by the diversity of ethnic groups in the valley) from far away lands, and these visitors have assimilated themselves in their new home by sharing their rich culture and many talents.

“Feeling at home” is evident by the demographic diversity of Indians. Even though these people are descendants of India, they represent a multiplicity of regions, languages, and religions, similar to that of India itself. People from different regions of India—from South to North, and East to West—found their home in the Valley. People follow different faiths, including Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, etc. It is unsurprising that the Valley is a home to Hindu temples, Sikh gurudwaras, and many other spiritual centers of Indian traditions.  It seems that diversity of the whole country is found in one region of California.

There is a longing in every human heart to be at home—to feel a sense of belonging—wherever we are and in whatever we do.  In the Valley Indians hold various jobs and are often described as a “highly successful group.” However, what is missed in such statements is that Indians, like their fellow Americans, hold various job roles: farmers, real-estate agents, restaurant owners, cooks, gas-station owners, telemarketers, physicians, professors, scientists, taxi-drivers, public health professionals, nurses, dentists, school teachers, administrations, and many more. It is the San Joaquin Valley’s warm heart that has allowed Indians to make a new home away from home and feel at ease with diverse occupations.

However, diversity and displacement from familiar “homes” are not free from challenges, as highlighted in the news media. These challenges also offer us opportunities to grow, and reclaim unity as neighbors. Research shows that a sense of “belonging” can boost confidence and performance among students. We must cherish diversity—which is the hallmark of both India and the United States—and help create a sense of unity and belonging in our community. I see Fresno State exemplifying commitment to create an environment of “belonging” for its community members. Last year when I moved to join my new academic community at Fresno States, my colleagues at the department of Philosophy and our Dean of College of Arts and Humanities showed kindness and generosity to make me feel at home. Our University’s commitment to diversity, respect, equity, and inclusion is a testament to the Valley’s spirit of hospitality and to the greater mission of recognizing our shared humanity. It is the presence of diversity that attracted me to Fresno State. We must take responsible actions that make all people around us feel at home, and feel a sense of belonging. In my classes I make every effort that my students, who come from various social, economic, religious, geographical, linguistic, ethnic, and gender backgrounds, that their voices are heard. As Indians are present in every profession, it is important we take leadership and pride to help our old and new neighbors to feel at home, as we all are tied together in a “single garment of destiny,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it. According to Gandhi:

“The ability to reach unity in our diversity will be the perfect present for our test of our civilization.”

By Veena Howard

Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy

CSU, Fresno