India Style

Michael Tchong Trends

They’re everywhere on American television, to the surprise of their compatriots. People of Indian origin have rapidly vaulted to the second largest ethnic minority on U.S. television, trailing only Spanish-speaking actors. With its influence rising, India is poised to become a cultural and style trendsetter.

This trend can be traced all the way back the 60s, when The Beatles journeyed to India and became one of the first trendsetters to propagate such style influences as the sitar, nehru jackets and yoga, now practiced by more than 100 million people worldwide.

An analysis of 106 popular TV shows, including a list provided by TV.com, suggests that 25 Indian and one Pakistani TV actor, rank only second to the 49 Hispanic- or Spanish-surnamed actors employed by this sample of TV shows.

Parminder Nagra, who starred in the medical drama ER for six years, represents the global diaspora of Indian actors in America, where American-born Indian actors lead with 38%, followed by British-ancestry Indians (35%), and Canadian and native Indians (both 12%).

In September 2010, NBC debuted a show, Outsourced, dedicated to India’s most high-profile industry, which employs four Indian actors. In fact, there are now nearly twice as many Indians employed on U.S. television as there are Asian characters. Margaret Cho once commented with irony to CNN that “there are like two more Asian people on television now then there was 10 years ago, and that’s pretty impressive.”

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It’s not surprising that Latino and Spanish heritage actors represent America’s largest constituency of ethnic actors. What is a surprise is the explosion of Indian actors, a figure that has already surpassed Asians, a much larger U.S. demographic segment.

That more Indians are employed on American television than Asians is in stark contrast to U.S. demographics. Asians make up 4.4% of the U.S. population, or about 14 million, while Indians in the U.S. have an estimated population of 3.9 million.

And unlike the earliest groups of Indians who entered the U.S. workforce as taxi drivers, laborers, farmers or small business owners, newer arrivals include professionals or recent graduates. The largest wave of immigration occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s during the internet boom. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the overall growth rate for Indians from 1990 to 2000 was 106%.

Compare that to 1960, when just 12,000 Indian immigrants lived in the U.S. Indians now own 50% of all economy lodges and 35% of all hotels in the U.S., with a combined market value of nearly $40 billion, reports Little India Magazine. And one in every nine Indians in the U.S. is a millionaire, comprising about 10% of all U.S. millionaires, a 2003 study by Merrill Lynch found.

The influence of India can also be seen in movies. First came Bend it Like Beckham (2002), followed by Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (2004) and Slumdog Millionnaire (2008). The latter garnered three Academy Awards for India, boosting that country’s Oscar total to five, a figure that is sure to grow materially, if “Bollywood is any indication.

Then there’s food. While only the U.K. now considers Indian food a non-native national cuisine, we predict that Indian food will become the cocktail party circuit food in the very near future. Two confluent trends propel this phenomenon. One is complexity. The world appears to prefer complexity and there’s nothing more complex than the spice of curry.

“We predict that Indian food will become the cocktail party circuit food in the very near future.”Michael Tchong

Another major trend influencing taste is our growing fondness for spicy food. The American Spice Trade Association’s 2000 Spice Statistics Reports found a significant increase in the consumption of spices in the 20 preceding years, with overall spice consumption doubling.

Hottest trend: Hot spices such as mustard seeds, black and white peppers, ginger and red pepper, which have grown 72% in sales volume since the late 80s. Vindaloo anyone?