MORRISVILLE — Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao arrived Sunday evening at the Hindu Society Temple of Morrisville from Washington wearing a bright pink sari. Sitting in the Temple’s educational center alongside a host of local politicians, she was treated to old-fashioned Southern hospitality.
Four members of the town’s fire and police departments strode past the 100-plus people in attendance to present the colors. A man bringing up the back of the group wore a kilt and made a bagpipe blare while a red, white and blue U.S. flag was placed to the left of the stage and India’s flag of orange, white and green was placed to the stage’s right.
Swadesh Chatterjee is a longtime Cary resident and political activist who co-founded the U.S.-India Friendship Council. The council helped leaders from the two countries craft a nuclear deal allowing India to use nuclear energy for civilian purposes while limiting its military application.
Chatterjee helped arrange the ambassador’s visit. In an interview, he described India’s rapid ascent on the international stage as one that has propelled the South Asian country from “a place to be managed to a place to partner with.”
He reiterated that to the crowd Sunday and said that “our community now has an opportunity to make a true mark on the American society and our great state of North Carolina.”
Rao agreed, and she said the relationship between the two countries is mutually beneficial.
In a state where Asians make up about 2 percent of the population, Asian-Americans, most from India, account for about 27 percent of Morrisville’s residents, according to the 2010 census. Nearly all of them arrived in the past decade, helping make the town one of the fastest-growing in the Triangle.
The influx of South Asians to this part of Wake County is yet another way Research Triangle Park has helped change the area. Many of the newcomers are attracted by high-tech jobs in the park and by Wake’s schools nearby. They’ve created an ethnic enclave that is both educated and relatively well-off. Morrisville’s median household income tops the county’s; the poverty rate is about 1 percent.
“You have the American dream here, and we have the Indian dream,” Rao said. “When we talk about partnerships between India and the U.S., I’m not talking of an abstract concept. I’m speaking of a living, pulsating partnership.”
After Rao’s speech, Chatterjee opened the floor to questions.
One man wanted to know what could be done about government corruption. A group from Bangladesh offered a letter intended for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, criticizing India’s immigration policy.
Rao said corruption was more stereotype than reality, but she did concede there is progress to be made on that front and others.
While the nation deals with its struggles, Indians in the U.S., like Morrisville Councilman Steve Rao (no relation), have goals of their own.
A common concern is the so-called “brain drain” that pushes graduates of universities in the Triangle and around the country to leave the U.S. because of an immigration policy that makes it difficult even for those qualified for top-level jobs to get citizenship.
“There’s probably no bigger issue for the community,” said Steve Rao. “We’ve done so well in North Carolina and have been tremendous with innovation in science, technology and core industries. We need to keep the people we’re training.”
Ambassador Rao will tour North Carolina with state and federal politicians during her visit.