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Understanding Telugus’ ‘American Dream’ & the craze to migrate to the US

Coastal Andhra has been witnessing significant transnational migration for several decades, most visibly from the late 1960s, continuing up to the present. Here, we look at the pattern of migration against the background of the region’s history, discuss the formation of an affluent regional diaspora, and analyse the emergence and significance of the ‘NRI’ category. 
 
Who are the NRIs? How and why did so many people from Coastal Andhra emigrate to America? Why did Guntur become an important node in a specific transnational circuit of mobility and remittances? What are the silent stories behind the most commonly articulated narratives about migration? In what ways does the aspiration to migrate, and the migration process itself, affect everyday life in the state?
 
It is not a ‘floating signifier’, emptied out of meaning, but has a caste - and place-specific significance. Similarly, when studying how a regional diaspora in the USA consisting of Telugu professionals from Coastal Andhra emerged, we need to be attentive to the history and sociological variations of the particular migrant-sending region.
 
The region of Coastal Andhra has traditionally been the stronghold of the Kammas – the major landowning or ‘dominant caste’ of Coastal Andhra. Their strategies of domination or assertion point to the important but complex interlinkages between region, caste, state and transnational civil society groups. 
 
We explore why Coastal Andhra – a semi-rural and agriculturally productive region – came to be a major source of ‘high-skilled’ international migrants. The creation and articulation of the widespread aspiration to migrate out, particularly to the USA, is mirrored in the desire on the part of migrants to ‘give back’ to their home region. 
 
Migration and giving back are also seen as inextricably linked within the popular story about how Coastal Andhra became the most ‘developed’ region in the state of Andhra Pradesh. 
 
Stories of the successes of Telugus in the USA circulate widely in Coastal Andhra, and one often hears about the ‘craze to go to the US’. This indicates that it is not just money that pushes people to migrate out, but a dominant social imaginary that views migration as a positive, highly desirable, and even, inevitable process. 
 
This pattern of migration has created aspirational pathways for many dominant caste youths in Coastal Andhra, who see mobility not as a rupture but as a desired extension of their lifeworlds and who seek
to become part of the affluent Indian community living the ‘American Dream’.
 
A look at three waves of migration
 
Migration from this region can be roughly divided into three phases or ‘waves’, creating different generations of migrants: (1) the post-Green Revolution period of the late 1960s and 1970s, (2) the post-IT revolution phase, and (3) the most recent phase starting from the early 2000s.
 
The first wave of migration can be traced to the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which is seen as a watershed that allowed many skilled professionals to migrate to the USA. With this law, the background of Indians migrating to the United States changed ‘fundamentally’. 
 
In Coastal Andhra, the first wave of US migration consisted mainly of doctors, who also took their families with them through the visa sponsorship scheme. Migrants who left India in the 1960s and 1970s were invariably from big landowning families, for whom migration can be seen as a risk mitigation strategy. In some cases, one or two sons of the family stayed back in the village to look after farming while the most academically successful son (or, in very
in a few cases, the daughter) was given the opportunity to study or work in the USA.
 
The route to the USA was often circuitous, with many Andhra doctors first going to Iraq, Iran, Malaysia, or North Africa, and then, from there to the USA after passing the entrance exam for medical residency. This pattern of mobility was facilitated by information sharing within the community about where residencies or vacancies were available, how to complete the necessary paperwork, and about life in the US in general.
 
The second wave of migration began from the 1990s, when many more professionals from the region started going to the USA to work in IT related jobs, often as contract workers on H-1B visas. Although computer engineers from India had started moving to the USA from the late 1980s, by the turn of the century, this movement intensified due to the boom in the software industry. But since the ‘Y2K boom’ was rapidly followed by the dotcom burst in the early 2000s, aspiring migrants began to go to other destinations such as Australia and Europe, as stop-over points in their quest to reach the US.
 
In the third wave that started in the early 2000s and continues until today, many young people from Coastal Andhra have become ‘education migrants’. Most are students who have graduated from local engineering colleges and enrol in masters of science or engineering courses in American universities (often in computer science). This education route may lead to permanent settlement, because students may be allowed to do a period of ‘Optional Practical Training’ (OPT) for up to twelve months after completion of their course. Students with strong social networks end up finding a job or placement within this period. 
 
Migration in groups
 
Often, several potential migrants form a group, apply to the same
universities and migrate out together. These boys and girls belong to either the same colleges or the same villages or towns, and often to the same caste.
 
Though Telugus can be found in all the states of the USA, three regions stand out as areas of dense population: the East Coast, the Mid-West (especially Illinois, Ohio and Michigan, which host a large number of Andhra doctors), and the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles (where many IT workers are concentrated).
 
Early adopters were multicultural 
 
Compared to the first generation, many of the second and third-wave migrants are from less affluent backgrounds. Still, in quite a few instances, their families invested large amounts of money in the migration process, by funding their children’s education or paying consultants to get false papers or to ‘manage’ the visa. 
 
The older generation also consider themselves to be more ‘multicultural’ and as having a broader worldview compared to the more recent wave who, they claim, live in a Telugu ‘bubble’. They claim that younger migrants, being less cosmopolitan, stick to their own culture and kind – they eat Telugu food, watch Telugu cinema, live amongst other Telugus and hardly interact with local Americans.
 
The aspiration to migrate as a route to upward mobility and progress has spread beyond the affluent class of Kammas to ordinary middle class and small farmer Kamma families – creating a regional culture of migration in which mobility is also equated with development. 
 
Eventually, migration is seen as an opportunity to transform the fortunes of the family, the community and the region. That is also one of the reasons why Telugus are one of the most dominant communities in the US today, after the Chinese. 

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