Monday, May 20, 2013

Chemung County Melting Pot: South-Asian Heritage Month

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

According to my good friend Wikipedia, May is Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, Jewish Heritage Month, National Military Appreciation Month and, randomly enough, National Bike Month.  It is also South Asian Heritage Month.  South Asia generally refers to the countries south of the Himalayans including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  While the peoples of these nations have long and storied histories, their history in the United States and Chemung County has been relatively brief. 

Prior to the 1960s, immigration to the United States from these countries was almost unheard of.   Before 1965, immigration from Asia was restricted through strict racial and national quotas which favored immigrants from Northern and Western Europe.  However, the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965 changed the way the United States handled immigration, doing away with racial-geographic quotas and instead given preferences to those with useful job skills in targeted fields or family members already living here.  By the 1970s, this resulted in an influx of highly skilled and educated immigrants from India and Pakistan.  As of the 2000 census, there were 2,000,000 people from India and 724,000 people from Pakistan living in the United States, plus their American-born children.  According to the 2010 Chemung County census, .78% of our residents are of South Asian descent. 

Attracted here by the hospitals and high-tech industries like Corning Inc., Chemung County’s South Asian immigrants have been settling in.  There are Indian groceries in Big Flats and Horseheads and a Mosque in Big Flats too.  The Southern Tier Indian Cultural Association (, a local social and cultural organization, hosts annual events celebrating Indian culture which have become quite a hit in Corning.  Still, their integration into the community hasn’t been easy.  In a recent interview as part of an oral history project, a Horsehead’s student of Pakistani descent expressed her anger at a patient who refused to let her mother treat her because she was wearing a hijab. 

The South Asians in our community might not have been here quite as long as some, but they are an important part of our Chemung County melting pot.  We here at CCHS are looking forward to collecting both their stories and their stuff.

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