Iselin, New Jersey: The Ethnoburb: Background information when reading Family Life

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Family Life

by Akhil Sharma

Family Life by Akhil Sharma
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2015, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Iselin, New Jersey: The Ethnoburb

Print Review

Bollywood star Gulshan GroverIn Family Life, the Mishras make their home in the New Jersey suburb of Iselin. Iselin and its sister suburb, the township of Edison, are known to most Indians across the United States as the place to visit for anything Indian. It's here that you can indulge a craving for Mumbai street food, check out the latest fashions, or pick up a new Bollywood movie on DVD.

Ethnic enclaves, local regions with significant concentrations of people of a particular ethnicity have always been a part of the United States, a country made up of immigrants. These enclaves serve to cushion the harshness of immigration, giving residents a taste of the mother country before they get fully assimilated into the adopted one. While large urban centers have often served as pockets for ethnic enclaves (think Chinatown) increasingly, ethnoburbs which host concentrations of ethnicities in American suburbs, are becoming more prevalent. The term ethnoburb usually applies only in cases of non-white ethnic concentrations. A paper in the journal Urban Studies formally defines it as: "suburban ethnic clusters of residential areas and business districts in large American metropolitan areas. They are multi-ethnic communities, in which one ethnic minority group has a significant concentration, but does not necessarily comprise a majority."

Oak Tree RoadIn fact Iselin and Edison, qualify as "ethnoburbs" growing from larger satellite ethnic enclaves such as Queens in New York City. A 1965 immigration law that allowed people from non-European countries to migrate in greater numbers lead to large numbers of Indian professionals making their home in the city. Looking for a slice of the American dream, these same immigrants were drawn to suburbs like Edison for their relatively inexpensive housing and decent schools. As of the 2010 census, close to thirty percent of the nearly 100,000 residents in Edison Township were of Indian origin.

San Gabriel SquareIt goes without saying that there are ethnoburbs of many stripes across the country. The San Gabriel valley in California has a large concentration of Asians spread across eight suburbs, including Monterey Park and San Gabriel. In fact, San Gabriel Square, a shopping center in San Gabriel, is referred to as the Great Mall of China for its many Chinese dining and shopping options.

Then there's little Armenia in Watertown, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb. Close to ten percent of the town's 32,000 residents are of Armenian origin. Watertown is home to many Armenian food shops and bakeries, three Armenian churches and an Armenian Cultural and Educational Center.

St. Stephen Armenian ChurchOver the years, these ethnoburbs have overtaken more urban ethnic neighborhoods especially in instances where the makeup of the new immigrants are mostly professionals working in suburban satellite belts of large cities.

Photos from top to bottom:
Photograph of Bollywood star Gulshan Grover at the ninth annual India Day Parade in Iselin, New Jersey Aug. 11, 2013, from India West.
Two blocks of Oak Tree Road in Iselin, New Jersey are a part of Little India. Photo by Tony Kurdzuk.
San Gabriel Square, CA, from www.city-data.com.
St. Stephen Armenian Church in Watertown, MA. Photo by Yerevanci.

Article by Poornima Apte

This article was originally published in April 2014, and has been updated for the February 2015 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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