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India’s independence celebrated in Jersey City

Photo Credit: Harish Nalik
Photo Credit: Harish Nalik

Organizers of this year’s India Day Parade in Jersey City are reversing history.

Top, right: Actress and model Mallika Sherawat, with Jersey City Mayor Jeremiah Healy; Bottom, 2nd photo: Harish Nalik

The past 14 years, the procession began at the illustrious Indian market on Newark Avenue, making its way to Manhattan Park (popularly known as “Mosquito Park”) on Kennedy Boulevard.

Trouble was: The merchants who’ve made Jersey City a magnet for Indian culture never got to see much of it.

Saturday, the parade will come to them from Kennedy Boulevard, reversing the route.

“We buy groceries from the Indian market almost every week. There are good restaurants also,” said Harish Naik, president of the Hudson County Indian Association, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “This time, we can see what kind of response we get from the entire community.”

The shops and restaurants will be open for business, with many of the eateries setting up chairs and tables outside.

“It will feel like a whole-day celebration — one-stop everything,” Naik said.

The parade begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at 3359 Kennedy Boulevard and makes its way to the Indian market on Newark Avenue.

It’s going to be tough to top the more than two dozen floats and marching bands that drew 37,000 people to Edison last week, many of them waving American and Indian flags.

But as Sunday’s celebration of India’s independence approaches, organizers in Jersey City are eager to show how far their enclave has come.

Like Edison, Jersey City’s unique positioning made it a hub for Asian Indians beginning nearly two decades ago. Redevelopment of a good portion of the city’s 11 miles of waterfront created one of the nation’s largest office-space real estate market.

And the area near Journal Square simply helped people get around.

When Naik’s parents came to Hudson County 20 years ago, “we didn’t have a car or transportation,” he said. “Journal Square made it easy to get a subway to New York City.”

Just as the city by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island was a draw for Eastern Europeans and others decades ago, it now provides a community for people whose wares and services bring in scores of Americans from throughout the region.

“We believe in keeping family and friends together. We believe in unity,“ Naik said. “We like living close to the temple and the colleges. And the market is here. We don’t eat much pizza and burgers.”

Easily one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the country, more than 2.5 million Asian Indians were counted in the U.S. Census of 2007. It’s the third-largest Asian-American ethnic group here, after Chinese and Filipino Americans.

New Jersey is home to the third-largest Indian population in the country. The area that stretches from Connecticut through New York and New Jersey to Pennsylvania boasts more than 600,000 of its people — and at least 17 “Little India“s, by far the largest Indian population of any metropolitan area, census figures show.

It has already made a significant difference to our collective culture.

Indians, along with other Asians, are among the best-educated. Census figures show that 67% of all Indians have a bachelor’s degree or higher (compared with to 28% nationally and 44% average for all Asian American groups). Four of every 10 have a masters, doctorate or other professional degree — five times the national average.

A joint Duke University – UC Berkeley study found that Indian immigrants founded more engineering and technology companies from 1995 to 2005 than immigrants from the U.K., China, Taiwan and Japan combined.

Earlier this month, Dr. Sudhir M. Parikh — publisher of News India Times and Desi Talk newspapers — told his fellow Indians at an awards dinner at the W Hotel in Jersey City that they must remain vigilant of their rights and privileges.

Parikh, who received the Padma Shri award from the president of India, urged young people to get involved in the political process.

“We must be constantly conscious of how our community is perceived,” he said.

Chances are that Saturday’s parade will suggest that its members are quite the festive bunch.

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