HomeSpun, Indian American

Happy Indian Independence Day!

On this anniversary of India’s independence, as an Indian American I am thrilled to be part of a project at the Smithsonian that will be the first exhibition to recognize our incredible legacy. Just as our ancestors fought for the right to determine their own destiny, this exhibition will allow us to tell our own stories.

Today, we launch a campaign that invites you to share your photographs. When immigrants from India started settling in the U.S. during the early 1900s, most all popular images of these pioneers repeated the exotic stereotypes of the Orient that were already in wide circulation. For example, the Chicago-based McLaughlin Coffee Company marketed trading cards (pictured right) with highly exotic “East Indians” whose imagery was far from the lived experience of Indian immigrants in America at the time. While some may consider these representations to be from a different era, they continue to influence the popular understanding of Indian identity. I feel that more can be said about Indian immigrants and Indian Americans when images such as those in Hollywood films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom continue without an exhibition and curriculum to tell our story.

How to Submit:
1. Upload to our Facebook page or send them to

2. Identify what is going in and who is in the photo

3. Identify where the photo was taken and when

A picture is worth a thousand words. Share your family photos and contribute to our collective storytelling. Upload photos to our Facebook page, send them to, or mail it to the address below. Please include your name or your family’s name, the year the photo was taken, and the occasion. We will be accepting submissions until September 15, 2012.

Join and like our campaign on Facebook. Your connection with us on this social platform will encourage everyone to be part of this project. Click here to learn more about the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project.

Happy Independence Day!

Warm regards,
Masum Momaya, Curator

Mailing Address:

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program
Capital Gallery
Suite 7065, MRC: 516
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012



The history, art, and culture of Sikh Americans are part our mission.  Sikhism in the U.S. will be part of HomeSpun: Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program’s initiative to create an exhibition chronicling the story of immigrants from India and Indian Americans.   While details continue to emerge, we remain profoundly saddened by the tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  Sikhs are part of the fabric of this nation, and Sikh immigrant and citizenship stories, the ones that we seek to tell as part of HomeSpun, are the faces of the Asian Pacific American experience.

HomeSpun, Staff Update

Curator Masum Momaya Joins the Indian American Heritage Project

Masum Momaya

The Asian Pacific American Program is delighted to welcome Dr. Masum Momaya as Curator for the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage ProjectDr. Momaya brings a wealth of experience as a researcher, educator, curator, writer and advocate to this role, beginning more than 20 years ago as a teenager organizing youth service projects in the Indian American community.

Prior to joining the Smithsonian, Dr. Momaya was a curator at the International Museum of Women and engaged in curatorial work for the Indo-American Heritage Museum.  Her professional work, which includes exhibitions, publications, podcasts, lectures, and workshops, uses multimedia technologies and artistic representations to document the experiences of minority communities around the world.

Dr. Momaya earned a doctorate in Human Development and a master’s degree in Education from Harvard University, a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Feminist Studies from Stanford University, and pursued advance studies in the University of Oxford’s Development Studies Program.  She is a graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs and a recipient of a National Science Foundation Research Fellowship.

Dr. Momaya will be continuing the work of the former curator, Dr. Pawan Dhingra, who accepted the position of Chairman and Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology at Tufts University.  Dr. Dhingra will continue to be part of the Indian American Heritage Project in his new role as Senior Advisor.

Message from Dr. Momaya:

I am honored to join the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and continue the groundbreaking work in presenting the history, struggles and contributions of the Indian American community.  Dating back to 1790, the experiences of Indian Americans in the United States are as multifaceted and vibrant as the story of our nation itself, and this is what we will share with visitors when the exhibition opens at the Smithsonian and then travels to museums, libraries, community centers and other public spaces throughout the country.

Ultimately, the reach and impact of HomeSpun depends on the contributions and energy of community members. If you know of any objects or recordings you consider significant to the Indian American story, please let me know. And, please consider making a tax-deductable donation to HomeSpun. This initiative depends greatly on resources from individuals!

HomeSpun, Indian American, Staff Update

Pawan Dhingra’s Latest Book

Life Behind the Lobby by Pawan Dhingra

By Aaron Sayama, Summer 2012 Intern

Pawan Dhingra is the founding curator for the HomeSpun: Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project and is the Chair of the Department of Sociology at Tufts University. His latest book, Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream, examines the relationship between the Indian American motelier and the idea of American exceptionalism.

Drawing from first-hand field research, Dr. Dhingra fuses Indian American motelier narratives with various theoretical perspectives to create a balanced and full portrayal of Indian Americans in the motel industry. Dr. Dhingra deftly explores the different means Indian Americans create professional appearances to sustain the growth of their local businesses.

The book concludes with Dr. Dhingra calling for the reassessment of three main threads uncovered while conducting research: the narratives of success, immigrant adaptation, and regionalism. These threads of research follow traditional and received logic about how and why immigrants succeed within America: the utilization of ethnic networks, the notion that attainment—of education, of income—leads to adaptation, and the role regions play in constructing the lives of immigrants. Indeed, Dhingra’s insightful call for a more nuanced approach to how “immigrants construct meanings about and navigate their environment” leaves open the door to more scholarship that complicates the traditional, vertical trajectory of the entrepreneurial immigrant.

Collection, HomeSpun

Collection: Taxi Cab Artifacts

Christine Chou at the National Museum of American History

Christine Chou at the National Museum of American History

By Christine Chou, Spring 2012 Intern

What is more synonymous with New York City than the yellow taxi cab? The Big Apple is home to the country’s largest concentration of taxi drivers – about 60% of whom are of South Asian descent. Their presence in the industry is so strong that the South Asian taxi driver has now become a common figure in popular culture and an inescapable part of metropolitan life.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program along with the National Museum of American History’s recent acquisition of New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) artifacts for the HomeSpun Project will help showcase the working lives of Indian Americans, whose experiences and struggles form an important part of this country’s social and economic history. These items will also be used to address the broader topic of workers’ rights and labor movements in the United States.

Established in 1998 by Bhairavi Desai, NYTWA is currently the nation’s largest taxi driver union, with over 15,000 multi-ethnic members. The organization’s mission is to improve the working conditions of taxi drivers in New York City, who work 12-hour shifts with no health insurance, retirement benefits, or paid time off. According to the Department of Labor, taxi driving is the most dangerous occupation in the country. The fatality rate is 30 times higher than in any other profession, and taxi drivers are also 80 times more likely to be robbed on the job.

NYTWA provides its members with access to healthcare and legal services, and also fights to overcome harsh regulations, police discrimination, and industry exploitation through political advocacy, media campaigns, and democratic organization.

The collection of artifacts, donated by NYTWA co-founder Javaid Tariq, tells the often unseen side of life as a taxi driver. Some highlights include:

  • Trip sheets, which drivers use to record every instance of where and when they have taken passengers. The sheets are a representation of how drivers work both day and night, even during times when the rest of the world is sleeping or taking a much-needed holiday. This is most vividly illustrated on one such sheet, dated January 1, 1996.
  • Taxi meterA taxi meter, a key symbol of the economic situation facing taxi drivers, who begin each morning in debt. The red color of the meter display is a reminder of the daily debt owed to their leasers, which can average around $120 per 12-hour shift. In fact, taxi driving is one of the few jobs where one can work a full day and still lose money.
  • Citizens’ Band radioA Citizens’ Band radio used during the successful New York taxi drivers strike on May 13, 1998 in protest of severe new regulations proposed by then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. With almost 40,000 participating drivers, the city was emptied of yellow cabs that day. Because cell phones were still uncommon, drivers would instead use CB radios to coordinate with their fellow drivers and the executive director of NYTWA during the strike.

These objects and many more may be included in the HomeSpun Project as a part of the Speaking Up! exhibition opening next year. Mr. Tariq’s generous donations have been successfully added to the National Museum of American History’s Work & Industry Collection.

Related Links:


HomeSpun Update: Reception

On April 10, over 20 members and leaders of the Indian American community came together for a HomeSpun reception at Diya restaurant, hosted by Gautam and Varsha Chandra. Over dinner, the attendees heard from Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture, Konrad Ng, the Director of the APA Project, and Pawan Dhingra, the curator of the HomeSpun Project. They discussed the importance of highlighting the Indian American voice within the American story, and the progress that the exhibition has made. That progress includes a number of historical items that APAP has secured, like the campaign materials from Dalip Singh Saund, the first Indian American Congressman. The Staff is continuing to work hard, collecting objects and raising money, to make sure that the HomeSpun story is able to reach as many people as possible.

If you would like to host a HomeSpun reception, please contact Sameen Piracha at


HomeSpun Embassy Reception

HomeSpun Embassy Reception

By Pawan Dhingra, HomeSpun Curator

On February 23, the Smithsonian APA Program hosted a special preview of Speaking Up!, the upcoming exhibition for HomeSpun: Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project at the Embassy of India in Washington, DC. Click here to view more photos.

Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao remarked, “[t]o say that the Indian American community has truly come of age is no exaggeration,” and pointed to how the Smithsonian Institution strengthens the India-US partnership by highlighting the accomplishments and experiences of Indian Americans.  Before a crowd of major donors, HomeSpun Advisory Council members, and representatives from the senior administration of the Smithsonian Institution, Curator Pawan Dhingra shared some of the objects, images, and events that will be featured in the exhibition.  Gautam Chandra, a founding member of the HomeSpun Advisory Council, closed the preview event by underscoring the importance of HomeSpun to the community and the importance of community support to its success:

“My children were born here, like many of yours or your grandchildren. This is their homeland. And the last thing we ever want our children to feel like is that they’re strangers in their homeland. This project is a very important project to make sure that this doesn’t happen.”

We are now entering the next stage and we need your support; please consider partnering with the Smithsonian Institution in telling the Indian American story. Your gift to HomeSpun will ensure that Indian American history, art and culture are part of the Smithsonian experience.  Each tax-deductible contribution is an opportunity to leave the next generation of Indian Americans a legacy to be proud of. Click here to donate.

Speaking Up! is scheduled to open in Spring 2013 at the iconic Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley Center.