Facebook Twitter

Culture of India flowering in Seattle

Foreign high-tech workers bring customs of home

SHARE Culture of India flowering in Seattle

SEATTLE — When Anjali Sikka's husband got a job at Microsoft three years ago, she had to leave friends, family and the security she felt in her hometown in India.

She struggled to adapt to her new home in Seattle. Finding simple things — her favorite lentils, a beauty parlor — became a chore. But mostly, Sikka was desperate to find other Indians.

Rather than lose sight of the culture left behind by Sikka and other transplants lured by the high-tech industry, Indians in Seattle are networking and starting businesses — from restaurants to movie theaters — that give them a taste of home.

"Being new to Seattle, it's hard to find people from your same hometown," said Sikka, 26. "You miss what you are familiar with."

Sikka started a Web site, seattleguru.com, to help relocated Indians find the area's nearly 200 Indian businesses, from child care to doctors to jewelers. It also helps them find roommates or apartment buildings where other Indians live.

"It's your own people, your own language. Even though you are far away from home, you feel closer," said Arif Azhar, whose family owns the Roxy Theater in Renton.

The high-tech industry, in need of specialized workers, has been tapping foreign countries — India, in particular. Suresh Ramal, an information analyst at the Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C., said technology plays a large part in the emergence of Indian communities across the United States.

That growth has been largest in California, Texas and New York, all of which have Indian populations over 60,000, according to the embassy.

In Seattle, the 1990 Census — taken before the region's high-tech industry took off — reported nearly 4,000 Indian residents. But, according to the embassy, the population has grown as high as 20,000.

Microsoft Corp. is among the top 10 companies that employs workers on high-tech visas, with 8 percent of its 20,000 employees in the region from other countries.

That trend could continue as the high-tech industry heavily lobbies Congress to issue more high-tech visas, which let college-educated foreigners work up to six years in the United States.

Jenny Juma visits Paramjit Kaur's beauty shop in Kent every two weeks to have her eyebrows plucked the Indian way — by quickly looping thread around the hairs and yanking them out.

Kaur "does it the way I'm used to," Juma said. "When she finally opened her shop, I was like, 'Yes, finally I get what I want.' "

Before her wedding, Alpna Sharma went to the parlor because she needed someone who could do mehndi — intricately designed temporary henna tattoos on the hands and feet of Indian brides, considered symbols of happiness.

"It's a part of tradition," she said. "It's something I want to continue. Growing up here, it's easy to lose your culture."