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Expanding connections, building on contributions of Minnesotans from India


TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press

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At 5 a.m. on Aug. 2, in Kerala, South India, I received a call from my wife informing me of the I-35W bridge collapse. I turned on the TV and, with millions around the world, my heart ached as we saw and heard what every Minnesotan was seeing and hearing. A globe connected in tragedy and hope, in despair and possibility.

This instantaneous connection with India through modern technology is but the latest in the history of ties between India and Minnesota.

Tom LaVenture of Asian American Press recently chronicled the life of one of the earliest immigrants to Minnesota from India, Mohan Singh Sekhon. In 1931 at the age of 18, he boarded a Japanese freighter to Seattle and ultimately found his way to St. Paul, where he studied at Hamline University. He later completed his medical degree at the University of Minnesota. As a physician, he was part of the "greatest generation" that served the country in World War II. His daughter, Sylvia Sekhon, followed in his footsteps and is a pediatrician for HealthPartners.

The Sekhon story repeats itself in the lives of the Asian Indians who have made Minnesota home: a community of around 30,000, having a subtle but important presence in various aspects of life in Minnesota.

These immigrants have integrated into the Minnesotan fabric the old fashioned way - hard work, dedication and a constant aspiration to achieve the American dream. In politics one can see this in Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, an active member of the DFL Party, and in Gopal Khanna, a member of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Cabinet leading e-governance efforts in the state.

Around the suburbs of the Twin Cities one can find various business leaders providing jobs and new services to Minnesota and the nation. One of them, Mahendra Nath, has the honor of being enrolled in the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame. Others, such as Frank Monteiro, have received accolades from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Prakash Puram serves on the President's Export Council.

In art, music, theater and dance, Minnesotans appreciate the energy brought by the Pangea, Ragamala and Kathak theaters. On your next air flight you might see a production of Blood-Orange Media, whose series "Indique" is getting a lot of attention. And our own Raghavan Iyer takes Betty Crocker on the East Indian Express - introducing local audiences to the next Minnesota hotdish - chicken tikka masala!

The other day on Minnesota Public Radio I heard Dr. Chari, an adviser to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and professor at the University of Minnesota, present a calm yet credible analysis of the impact of the current financial crisis on the long-term health of the country. Fred de Sam Lazaro is a frequent presence on the "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" as he brings the global to the local through his reporting.

The recent announcement that an India-based steel company was investing more than a billion dollars in Minnesota with the potential of more than 2,000 jobs in rural Minnesota came close to the announcement that another company, Suzlon, had invested in wind energy in Minnesota. This news brought an interesting twist to the outsourcing debate. While some Minnesotans lamented the loss of jobs outsourced to India, there came the news that this same wave of globalization could bring jobs and investments to Minnesota.

When Pawlenty announced his October trade mission to India, the local Asian Indian community mobilized to explore ways it could enhance Minnesota-India relations.

Out of this was born the Knowledge Exchange, a mechanism to connect Minnesota's knowledge assets to India and the world's need for intellectual capital. Earlier this year, the Knowledge Exchange hosted the chair of India's Knowledge Commission, Sam Pitroda, who was impressed with both the knowledge assets as well as the collaborative spirit of Minnesota.

As part of the Knowledge Exchange, I recently returned from India with an invitation from a cabinet member of India's national government to Pawlenty to bring the Minnesota delegation to Northeast India to explore possibilities. The group also launched a directory of Minnesota India collaborations at the annual India Association of Minnesota picnic. This directory was presented to the soon-to-be established India Center at the University of Minnesota and illustrates the many ties that connect India and Minnesota.

Whether in a rural Catholic parish as a pastor or as a leading entrepreneur in Minnesota, this small community provides us a constant reminder that immigrants continue to propel Minnesota to newer frontiers and unimaginable possibilities.

Bruce Corrie is chair of Undergraduate Business at Concordia University in St. Paul and can be reached at [email protected]

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