WMU News

Book details Michigan's fastest-growing ethnic group

Feb. 4, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- The words inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty--"Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free"--may be comforting to many immigrants, but for newly arrived East Indians, no words could be less descriptive of a people.

That's the conclusion of Western Michigan University's Dr. Arthur Helweg, author of "Asian Indians in Michigan." His book is the latest addition to the "Discovering the Peoples of Michigan" series published by the Michigan State University Press. Helweg, professor of anthropology, says those he writes about "represent a people coming from a democratic society, who are the most highly educated, largest-income producing ethnic group of any in the country."

East Indians also, he notes, represent the fastest-growing ethnic group in Michigan, with a population of 54,631, according to the 2000 census. That figure is an increase of 129 percent over the group's 1990 census figures. But as Helweg points out, the group's Michigan roots run deep.

"Although there was a large migration after the Immigration Laws were implemented in 1967, they have had permanent settlements here since 1924, and were attending the University of Michigan as early as 1920," Helweg says. He says the connections with higher education are not coincidental.

"Those who come to the United States are primarily professionals, who are doctors, lawyers and engineers because their society places such a high value on education," Helweg says.

Although the auto and pharmaceutical industries have been huge beneficiaries of their talents, the contributions to medicine are particularly impressive. Twenty percent of all doctors practicing in the United States are East Indians, with the majority practicing in rural areas. The book points to Indians' influence in Michigan through the stories of people like Madhu Anderson and Gurmale Singh. Anderson, who is deputy treasurer for the state of Michigan, is responsible for introducing accounting software to the state's treasury that saved taxpayers almost $70 million. Singh, who oversees the Singh Development Co., one of the state's largest real estate businesses, started the company at age 19 when he took on the renovation of his family-owned Wolverine Hotel in downtown Detroit. His company has created more than 2,400 jobs in the area and is credited with much of the revitalization in the downtown area.

"Their educational foundation and their previous knowledge of American culture, along with their practice of keeping strong ties with their homeland makes them such an important and unique group to the state," Helweg says.

The "Discovering the Peoples of Michigan" series encompasses more than a dozen volumes covering the various ethnic groups in the state, including the Amish, Dutch, Jews and African-Americans. Helweg is co-editor of the series, which could eventually include as many as 30 volumes. Books are available through Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores and retail for $9. each.

Media contact: Matt Gerard, 269 387-8400, matthew.gerard@wmich.edu

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