Little India: The Reflection of a Small but Vibrant Community

I was discussing Nigerian restaurants with a friend last night over dinner. "Are there any?" she asked.

"In Houston?" I replied. "Of course! Why?"

It was a rhetorical question; I knew the answer. Despite making up nearly 2 percent of our city's population, Nigerians in Houston -- and their restaurants -- are largely overlooked, even in their large numbers. After all, Houston has the largest expatriate population of Nigerians anywhere in the world.

Compare the large Nigerian demographic to that of expatriate Indians, who make up roughly 3 percent of Harris County's population. There's only one percentage's worth of difference between the two, yet the Indian community in Houston is vibrant, visible and very well off.

Why is that?

The difference can be attributed to two key pieces of data in the 2000 U.S. Census. Indians are, by and large, more educated than the city as a whole, and they make a lot more money. Education is responsible for all of the business owners creating the Mahatma Gandhi District from scratch, and wealth is responsible for the district's continued support and growth in that time.

Indians and other South Asians have also created a fantastically complex infrastructure that caters entirely to their community: radio stations, newspaper, social centers, dance academies, temples, all manner of stores, even movie theaters.

There's no short or easy answer as to why other immigrant populations in Houston haven't created the same opportunities for themselves. But in this week's cover story, you can read all about how Indian immigrants have transformed a nondescript stretch of Hillcroft into the busy and colorful Mahatma Gandhi District in just 25 short years.

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