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California’s “Little India” One of the Largest Ethnic Indian Communities in US

Artesia, California - population 16,000, was settled as a farming community by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century. Today Artesia's rural past is a faint memory, its main street paved, the shops along it owned for the most part by merchants from the Indian subcontinent. But plans to officially recognize the city's altered social landscape have received unexpected resistance from many in the community.

TV Report transcript

Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia, California… named after the European settlers who crossed the continent to settle a farming community here.

Today the ethnic and commercial character of this avenue is far different. In the past two decades immigrants from India have taken over most of the businesses here.

"This is all-Indian product, and all handicraft. Everything is hand-made."

Rudy Bermudez represents Artesia in the California State Assembly.

"About 20 years ago the Indo-American community came to Artesia. They found the land very affordable...they ended up buying up the land, starting with one store, then a whole street, then it became five streets, and now "Little India" is busting at the seems and moving north and south of 183rd and 188th on Pioneer Boulevard."

Bhupinder Singh Batra watched Artesia's "Little India" develop as owner of the "Bombay Spices" shop.

"I am here for the last 20 years and I have seen this place growing, and growing fast. Now we can say we have more than 80 stores, and there are 35 stores more coming up…"

And the effect of all this growth…

"This has been a boon for the city of Artesia. Over 25 percent of the sales tax revenue generated for the entire city is generated from Pioneer Boulevard - it's a boon for all. Without Little India, this city would have a huge whole in its budget."

Now assemblyman Bermudez has a plan to spur additional growth here by adding the words "Little India" to the freeway exits on the approach to town.

"It's our hope that motorists will get off the 91 Freeway, onto Pioneer Boulevard, get out of their cars, and find wonderful restaurants, wonderful jewelry stores, fantastic spice stores, book stores, video stores and do shopping here. It will bring more motorists and patronage to Pioneer Boulevard. Everyone will prosper, every store-keeper."

But not everyone in Artesia favors the plan. Opponents say the "Little India" sign will leave people with a false impression of Artesia according to the President of a local Portuguese cultural center, Paulo Menezes.

"Artesia is composed of Hispanic, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, all sorts of diversity as you can see, including Indian. Now the Indian community does have quite a few shopping centers in Artesia, but it's only a small percentage in the whole big picture of all the shopping centers."

And he's right. Although they dominate the commercial district in town, only about 5 percent of the residents of Artesia are of Indian descent. Still, they argue, the "Little India" sign will be good for everyone here.

"This is going to make it beneficial to the city, to the businesses - and not only the Indian businesses, all the businesses in Artesia."

Assemblyman Bermudez believes opposition to the sign can be overcome by an appeal to community spirit.

"This sign is not about celebrating just one culture, one community. It's about celebrating the vast diversity of this city. And it just happens to be that one of the richest destinations in California, Southern California, is here on Pioneer Boulevard - and it's "Little India."