South Asian immigration
Most early studies of immigration to the United States and Canada treated all the peoples of South Asia as a single category, including immigrants from more than a dozen ethnic groups who inhabited British India prior to 1947. Nevertheless, most pre–World War II South Asian immigrants were Sikhs from the Punjab, who created a relatively uniform Indian presence in the farming valleys of California. Prior to 1965, there were never more than 7,000 South Asians legally in the United States, and most of them were deported or left the country during the late 1920s and 1930s. Because of the preponderance of Sikhs and the small number of other South Asian immigrants prior to the 1970s, little attention was paid to distinctions, making it now impossible to determine exactly how many South Asian immigrants came from each of the modern states that emerged with the ending of British rule in India in 1947, including India, Pakistan, Ceylon (later Sri Lanka), and Bangladesh. The term Hindu, which was the most common designation until the 1960s, was both inaccurate and confusing, as the majority of South Asian immigrants were not religious Hindus but rather Sikhs and Muslims. Further confusing immigrant figures is the considerable transmigration that occurred as a result of the export of South Asian labor from British India during the 19th and 20th centuries. Significant numbers of people who immigrated to the United States from Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Guyana, Trinidad, Fiji, and Mauritius were either born in India, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka or were the descendants of South Asian natives. Prior to the 1980 census, South Asian immigrants were still classified as “white/Caucasians.”
When the United States reopened South Asian immigration in 1946, there were only about 1,500 South Asians in the country. The turning point came with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which led to a massive influx of South Asians. Meanwhile, in Canada, the government had much earlier (January 1, 1951) implemented a new quota system for South Asian immigrants, effectively laying the foundation for a diverse and complex South Asian population in the Americas. Under separate quotas for India, Pakistan, and Ceylon, most early immigrants were Sikh relatives. By the late 1950s, however, an increasing number were pioneer immigrants from a variety of ethnic groups, gradually eroding the near-Sikh monopoly.
See also Bangladeshi immigration; Indian immigration; Pakistani immigration; Sri Lankan immigration.