Thursday, November 26, 2009

Indian Immigrants in the American West

As a scholar of the American West (a hat I don't wear very often on this site, but one in which I have a ton of training), I have always been fascinating by the stories of nineteenth and early twentieth-century Chinese immigrants in the most isolated parts of the region. How did they get there? How did they survive being able to communicate with no one? What stories they must have--except there were so few people they could tell them to.

I am similarly interested today in the story of Indian immigrants to the region. Wherever I go in the West, Indians are running hotels. How do they end up in eastern Oklahoma, central Wyoming, or western North Dakota? What is up with that? Why? Is there some Indian hotel mafia assigning people to these places? How did they get involved in hotel operating to begin with?

Yesterday, I was driving to Albuquerque, where I am spending the holiday. I had just crossed into New Mexico on I-40 and I was getting hungry. I was thinking that another bland Subway veggie sandwich was in the offing. But as I approached the exit for San Jon, New Mexico, I saw a bunch of signs promoting an Indian truck stop. Wondering what on earth this could be, I pulled over. The Indians had closed the gas station, but were running a convenience store/restaurant. Indian food in San Jon, NM!!! What? The entirety of the buildings at this exit are the truck stop and a road maintenance station. I don't think the town really exists anymore. Where these guys are living, I do not know. Tucumcari, an isolated place in its own right, is about 20 miles west. Maybe they live there and commute to this god forsaken place on the high plains everyday. But I was absolutely floored by this whole scenario. The food wasn't the best Indian I've ever had, but it was certainly good enough to wish that Indians did this across the country and that I wouldn't have to eat at Subway ever again.