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Indian Immigrants Embrace Suburban Life In Loudoun County

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Indian students learn elaborate footwork and spins in Bratati Saha’s Kathak dance class.
Rebecca Sheir
Indian students learn elaborate footwork and spins in Bratati Saha’s Kathak dance class.

In a spacious basement dance studio in Loudoun County, a dozen Indian women and girls are learning a rhythmic, barefoot dance called Kathak. The girls range from third to sixth grade, and if you ask them what they like best about the dance, most say it's the way Kathak connects them to Indian history and traditions.

"This dance can help me do it at school, or at the other performances, like the festivals," says Shreya, a fourth-grade student. "So we get to show everyone our culture."

Bratati Saha, an Indian immigrant who's been living with her husband and son in Ashburn, Va. since 2007, runs ARPAN Dance Academy. The dance classes, such as Kathak, gives adults an opportunity to show off the Indian culture as well.

"For the last five years that we moved here... we do see a lot of Indian culture, a lot of Indian people, a lot of Indian food," says Shree, who's been learning Kathak for about a year. "I have American friends that love Indian food. They wanna go out and eat Indian foods; I'm always taking them out!"

Growing diversity in the D.C.

The District's suburbs can be incredibly diverse in terms of ethnicity, culture, nationality, and language. In fact, more than a million immigrants dwell in the District's metro area, with more than one in five hailing from outside the United States.

When it comes to foreign-born residents, the fastest-growing suburban area is Loudoun County. At the turn of the 21st century, Loudoun's immigrant population was roughly 20,000. A decade later, it was 70,000. And one immigrant group whose numbers have been skyrocketing in the county is the Indian community. Back in 2000, approximately 1,200 Indian people called Loudoun County home. By 2010, that number had multiplied ten-fold, to 12,000.

Loudoun County offers Indian culture and community

Loudoun County's sizable Indian community not only enables people to show their culture to others, says fellow student Devika, but they also get to share it with one another.

"I think that a lot of Indians, that drives them to come to this area because they have somebody that they know already from their own country," she says.

It's what's known as "chain immigration." And Devika says when these individuals and families arrive in a place like Loudoun County, they find affordable homes, quality schools and jobs.

"There are more tech companies around here so that's one of the main reasons why all the people who are in IT are moving in here," says Devika, who works in IT herself.

In fact, you'll find one of the nation's highest concentrations of high-tech firms in Loudoun. It is, after all, home to the Dulles Technology Corridor, a.k.a. "the Netplex," a.k.a. "the Silicon Valley of the east coast."

While Kumar Iyer isn't part of the area's high-tech industry, as owner of Rangoli Indian Restaurant, he's done pretty well for himself in the county. Since he took ownership six years ago, Rangoli has won numerous awards.

"We've been rated the best Indian restaurant in entire Northern Virginia," Iyer says. "We've been in the top 50 best bargain restaurants of entire D.C. metro area. We won the best retail business of the year award from the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce."

The list goes on and on, and as an entrepreneur, Iyer says Loudoun County is an ideal environment for what he calls "the entrepreneurial blood in the Indians to open businesses -- not just the small hotels and restaurants and convenience stores and gas stations, but there are so many entrepreneurs starting their own dot-com companies and being successful. And then they bring in their kith and kin, and it just tends to grow."

In the Capital region, 15 percent of the Indian population resides in Loudoun County. And after years of moving around the country, Joshi, Shreya's mother, says she and her family are here to stay.

"I was in Texas, Louisiana, California and Delaware," she says, "but it feels really great to be in this area. It's welcoming, which assures us, okay, we are not like someone's stranger. We belong here and our kids belong here."

As for her own kid, she says she's proud of how Shreya is thriving.

"At the same time she is learning new things from here, and she's contributing to the society," Joshi says. "So that's the view that she has developed. I think that's a very healthy view of how immigrants would look at it when they come here and try to settle here."

And come here and settle they have - by the thousands upon thousands, helping to transform this formerly rural corner of Northern Virginia in to a vibrant suburb, with more than a hint of Indian flavor.

[Music"DimTana" from Contemporary Kathak Tarana]

Photos: Indian Community

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