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Morris Museum hosts Smithsonian traveling exhibition exploring the history of Indian Americans
Bollywood Dancers.

MORRISTOWN, NJ.- From the builders of some of America's earliest railroads and farms to Civil Rights pioneers and digital technology entrepreneurs, Indian Americans have long been an inextricable part of American life. The Smithsonian traveling exhibition “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation” details the history of Indian Americans and their contributions to the United States from the 1700s to the present. The first-of-its-kind exhibition from the Smithsonian will be on view at the Morris Museum from May 2 through July 12, 2015. The Morristown presentation of “Beyond Bollywood” will be complimented by an installation featuring twentieth century paintings by Indian American artists, a display showcasing Indian textiles and costumes, and a variety of programs and events.

Approximately 17 million people in the United States are of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, and the number is expected to climb to 41 million by 2050. One in every 100 Americans has a family connection to India. Indian immigrants helped build the nation’s railroads, worked in lumber mills, toiled on farms and established prosperous trading routes that are still in use today. Through a vibrant collection of photographs and interactive learning stations, visitors will experience the Indian American story and explore the many dynamic roles Indian Americans have played in shaping America.

“Indian Americans represent an important and growing community here in New Jersey,” said Linda Moore, Executive Director of the Morris Museum. “This wonderful exhibition offers the opportunity to deepen our awareness of the Asian Pacific American experience and foster cross cultural understanding.”

In the western imagination, India conjures up many things: elephants, saris, and spices; gurus, gods, and goddesses; turbans, temples, modern-day Slumdog Millionaires, and the pulsating energy of Bollywood movies. But in America, India’s contributions stretch far beyond these stereotypes. Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation is the first national exhibition that celebrates the history and remarkable achievements of Indian Americans. our story includes the earliest immigrants from India, who built railroads and formed the backbone of California farms. the fi rst Asian American in Congress. the creator of Hotmail. Doctors. Cab drivers. Motel owners. Musicians. Athletes. today, one out of every 100 Americans traces his or her roots to India. one of America’s greatest social revolutions, the Civil rights Movement, was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s quest for Indian independence. India’s fingerprints here range from flavorful food and flamboyant fashion to yoga studios, sites of worship, and breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology. from Silicon Valley to Smalltown, U.S.A., the lives and stories of America’s 3.3 million Indian Americans are woven into the larger story of this nation – and have shaped it to be what it is today.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, farmers from Punjab settled along the American west coast, working in lumber mills, iron factories, and railroads to support the nation’s industrial boom. At the same time, peddlers from West Bengal set up shop along the Eastern seaboard. generations later, the descendants of these early immigrants grew in number and wealth, to become influential landowners in California’s Central Valley, entrepreneurs, public servants, and organizers for civil rights. Another wave of Indian immigration occurred in the 1960s, when new immigration laws enabled Indian scientists, engineers, and doctors to join the nation’s workforce. Engineering and medical schools proliferated in India after independence (in 1947), training those who would later work in the U.S. and, eventually, lead Silicon Valley’s startup boom. Indian American immigrants also found work in dozens of other fields, with many owning hotels and driving taxicabs.

Since 1999, nearly three quarters of National Spelling Bee winners have been Indian American. the stunning energy, rhythm, and color of Bollywood-style dancing has been embraced by Americans in everything from fl ash mobs to the most popular television dance programs. And Indian Americans have brought their own distinctive sounds to American music. Delicious Indian flavors and dishes, from vindaloo to tikka masala, have become ubiquitous in American kitchens. Clusters of Indian restaurants, from Curry hill in New York to Little India in Los Angeles, are common fixtures in our urban landscape. Some call Indian food the “American” cuisine of the new millennium. Yoga, introduced to the U.S. in 1893, may be India’s most popular contribution to American culture. By the 1990s, more than 15 million were practicing yoga and today it continues to be big business. Yoga studios have sprung up all over major cities and small towns, and Americans spend $5 billion annually on yoga classes and accessories.

In the early 20th century, organizing by the Gadar Party and the India Lobby paved the way for Indian immigration and citizenship rights—a fight that took decades. today, that demand stretches beyond basic citizenship toward movements for social justice. After 9/11, many immigrants and racial minorities, including those from India, no longer felt safe or welcome here. Sikhs, some of whom traced their American ancestry back multiple generations, were suddenly assumed to be terrorists because of their beards and turbans. Mosques were firebombed. Hindu temples were vandalized. Activist groups like Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) are one of many in recent years taking to the streets to protest hate crimes, racial profiling, and unconstitutional detention. And over the last 20 years, many Americans, including desis (South Asians), have used art and music as tools of power, protest, and personal expression.

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