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Indians Overtake Mexicans As Largest Foreign-Born Population In St. Louis Area

Members of the Hindu Temple of St. Louis with traditional percussion instruments.
Raja Rajasekaran
Members of the Hindu Temple of St. Louis with traditional percussion instruments.

New data analyzed by St. Louis University demographer Ness Sandoval shows that local residents from India now outnumber those from Mexico. St. Louis is among 14 U.S. cities where this is the case.

Today, about 15,000 residents born in India live in the St. Louis region. Slightly fewer people born in Mexico live here. The data Sandoval studied comes from the latest five-year American Community Survey.

“The important point from this study is that the foreign-born population of the region is changing,” Sandoval said. “The data shows some important trends. The Indian-born foreign population has been growing since 2000.” 

The Hindu Temple of St. Louis. According to census figures, about 80% of Indians are Hindu while about 15% are Muslim.
Credit Madalyn Painter | St. Louis Public Radio
The Hindu Temple of St. Louis. According to census figures, about 80 percent of Indians are Hindu while about 15 percent are Muslim.

In fact, the Indian-born population has grown 194% since the turn of the millennium, Sandoval said. In the same period, the Mexican-born population growth rate has remained more or less the same. Sandoval said new immigrants from other Latin American countries continue to make their homes in the region, however, helping drive an overall increase in the Latino population. 

“Part of that is foreign-born, but a large majority — about 2 out of 3 — are American-born,” he said.

In addition to the study released on Tuesday, Sandoval and his team are analyzing data that will reveal where migrants to the St. Louis region are coming from. Sandoval has a theory that the region may not be Indian-born residents’ first stop in the U.S.

“My hypothesis is most of this growth is coming from secondary migration,” he said. “It’s coming from people moving from places like New York, Washington, San Francisco. They’re finding opportunities for their occupations and skill sets.” 

A warm welcome

Unlike secondary migration arrivals, Faheema Hassan arrived in the region directly from India in 2013. Born in the state of Kerala, she came here with her three children, having lived most of her life in the Middle East.

Hassan, a Muslim, said her family received a warm welcome in Ballwin and from the Parkway School District.

Ballwin resident Faheema Hassan came to St. Louis with her family in 2014.
Credit Faheema Hassan
Ballwin resident Faheema Hassan came to St. Louis with her family in 2013.

“When I first came here, two of my kids were middle school age. When they went to school, they found it very friendly; the community was very helpful,” Hassan said. “They never felt lost. They could easily adjust to the new school system.”

According to Sandoval’s research, Hassan is like many Indian-born residents who have chosen to live in west St. Louis County communities.


Opportunities and advantages

Raja Rajasekaran also lives in Ballwin. He moved to the St. Louis region from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu more than 30 years ago to work for Monsanto. He and his wife, Bharathi Rajasekaran, raised a family and became active in the local Hindu community, especially at the Hindu Temple of St. Louis.

Raja and Bharathi Rajasekaran with sons Sarvesh and Prasanna.
Credit Raja Rajasekaran
Raja and Bharathi Rajasekaran with sons Sarvesh and Prasanna.

Rajasekaran is enthusiastic about the quality of life and opportunities many new arrivals can take advantage of here.

“It’s a great place for raising children,” he said. “And there is the affordability of St. Louis compared to many other growing tech places, like San Francisco, San Jose, Austin.”

Since moving to the St. Louis region, Hassan has met many new Indian-born residents who moved here from other U.S. cities. 

“I’ve seen people come here for jobs,” she said. “And most of the people, they do like it here. Because here, life is very calm. It’s not a busy place like New York and other places. And within the community here, we are very close-knit.”

Rajasekaran is proud of the contributions he says the Indian community has made in metro St. Louis.

“The talents of the Indian immigrant community contribute to the economy of the greater St. Louis region,” he said, pointing to business ownership, real estate investment and working for the region’s major corporations. 

And, Rajasekaran said, life in metro St. Louis has benefited the Indian community — affording members exposure to people and experiences not common in India.

“That taught us to be open-minded, to embrace other cultures, other viewpoints and respect their belief systems and practices,” he said.

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Follow Holly Edgell on Twitter: @hollyedgell

Send comments and questions about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Holly Edgell is the managing editor of the Midwest Newsroom, a public radio collaboration among NPR member stations in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.