On Jan. 16, Houston became the first city in the United States to name a major commercial area after Mahatma Gandhi. The Hillcroft-Harwin area, where the new Gandhi signboards are displayed, is dominated by South Asian businesses. Houston Mayor Annise Parker told Voice of Asia, a community weekly in Houston, that the new district signified the international character of the city.
Estimates from the Census Bureau in 2008 list Houston as the fourth largest city in the United States. There are about 74,000 Asians of Indian descent according to the 2000 Census, though some community leaders put the figure closer to 100,000, according to a 2007 story in the Houston Chronicle. There are three newspapers in Houston that are geared toward the Indian community.
“Houston did what other cities could not do,” Congressman Al Green from Texas’ 9th District told Voice of Asia. He said he saw the renaming as a precedent for other cities to follow.
In a 2005 community survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 30,000 Indian Americans living in King County — we are using King County’s numbers because the county includes Seattle, Redmond, and Bellevue, cities noted for having a high concentration of Indians.
Estimates of King County’s population in 2008 based on the U.S. Census have it at about 1.8 million, about 80 percent that of Houston’s, which is 2.2 million. This means that although King County’s Indian population is not as big as Houston’s, it’s still undoubtedly a visible presence.
A life-sized bronze statue of Gandhi was installed on the south lawn of the Bellevue Public Library last October, a tangible symbol of the city’s acceptance of its Indian residents and also of the residents’ embracing the area as their home.
Five years earlier, Houston installed its own Gandhi statue at Hermann Park.
Does this mean that, in the next five years, King County will also name a district to celebrate its Indian American and East Asian people? We surely hope so. We hope that it comes sooner than five years.
Houston’s project was pioneered by its India Cultural Center. It took about seven years for it to come to fruition.
We have no doubt that renaming a district here in King County will take much effort. Consider contacting the Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee (WASITRAC) to find out how to help. And if you are not Indian American, your help is especially vital because the greatness in diversity is its inclusion.
One group should not help itself alone. We, as a community, must all help one another. ♦