University City

Group helps Asian-Indian newcomers

When Atif Ali moved from Pakistan to the United States 10 years ago, the simple ease with which Americans could arrange for basic utilities like electricity stunned him.

"What I like here is you don't have to bribe," said Ali, 32, a software engineer who lives in University City's Heather Ridge community.

"If you want to get your phone connection or anything done, you just have to apply and you will get it. There, you have to know people, or be ready to bribe."

Absorbing those kinds of differences between cultures can take time, even longer when going at it alone.

For Ali, like many other Asian-Indian immigrants who have moved to Charlotte in recent years, reassurance comes in the form of Charlotte Indian Association, a group that gathers to share in the transitional experience.

Created in 2009, CIA meets regularly for an array of activities, from quiet dinners and common outings like bowling, to skydiving and hiking for the more adventurous members. No matter what the activity, it's a time when people can talk about Visa concerns, conflict in their homelands, or the differences, both favorable and not, between the two cultures they're straddling.

"We have all these things we can discuss and talk," said Ali. "Those kinds of topics you won't find in American conversation."

Deep Arora, 24, who moved to Charlotte six years ago from India, helped form the group.

Arora, who works as a project manager at Bank of America, said the club often hears from immigrants interested in joining before their planes even touch down at Charlotte-Douglas.

"It's picking up now very well," he said of the organization. "We are now 150 strong."

The United States has experienced a surge in the Asian-Indian population in the last decade.

A 2010 report from the U.S. Census Bureau lists the Asian-Indian community as one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country. Today, more than 2.8 million Asian-Indian Americans live in the U.S., up 1.2 million from a decade ago.

North Carolina's Asian-Indian community has grown from 26,197 in 2000 to 57,400 in 2010. Today, 13,329 Asian-Indian Americans call Charlotte home.

"Indians have a good presence in Charlotte," said Arora.

"What I see, the population is divided in a way most of the married people go to the Ballantyne area because they have good schools, and the rest of the people who work in uptown go to the University area."

Ali, who works for a financial company in Charlotte, said anywhere technology or banking industries thrive, so will Asian-Indian communities.

"Most of us are professionals," he said. "We all have similar values and backgrounds."

The Silicon Valley in California, a world-renowned center for high-technology corporations, has become the largest Asian-Indian American community in the United States, soaring up 68 percent from 2000 to 528,000 Asian-Indian Americans in 2010.

Arora hopes organizations across the country, like CIA, will not only become an opportunity for Asian-Indians to come together, but also for them to merge into the American community.

CIA is not limited to just Indians, he said, and the conversation often steers itself toward local topics, like Charlotte traffic and Panthers football.

"We are trying to create a good mix of Indians and Americans."