DARE TO ASK: Why is Patel big name in motel biz?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why are so many Indian people either owners or managers of independent
motels, and why do a large percentage have the last name "Patel"?
Dick A., Santa Rosa, Calif.
One or two families get their foot in the door, then through hard work,
networking, informal credit and pooling resources they get their brothers,
sisters, cousins, friends and relatives involved. Before long, a certain ethnic
group seems to "dominate" a certain type of business. There is no conspiracy or
devious plan involved.
Mihir, 25, Indian-American male, Illinois
Patels are businesspeople, so wherever they go they continue to do what they
know, and what they are taught is their place in society. But not all Indians
own hotels and 7-Elevens.
Avanti, 18, Asian female, Mississippi
The typical immigrant family has one major asset: a willingness to put the
whole family to work. You want people you can trust at the cash register. You
make a go of it, and perhaps bring other relatives over and help them set up. In
a similar way, my father became an accountant because he had relatives who were
successful accountants at a time when jobs were scarce.
Jerry, 52, New Britain, Conn.
A Patel play-by-play, translated from an abysmal phone conversation but
highly successful e-mail exchange with researcher Govind Bhakta, author of
Patels: A Gujarati Community History in the United States (UCLA Asian American
Family names aren't a huge deal for a lot of Indians.
For lack of a better surname, some choose the caste to which they belong.
People of the same caste often inter-marry.
Voila - in the heavily populated Gujarat State in India, where Patel is a big
caste, there are about 40 million Patels.
Immigration reforms in the United States brought a lot of Patels here in the
'60s (there are about 2 million today).
To adjust to a strange new land, they sought work where their families could
stay together in one place.
Older Americans at the time who ran independent motels were looking to retire
and get out of the business.
Many Patels were keen businesspeople.
Boom - they took over these operations and kept costs low by hiring other
Patels, whom they then helped to open their own franchises, leading to many
flourishing Patel-owned motels.
Bam - as recently at the 1980s, law enforcement officials embarked on a
fruitless probe to find a "Patel crime family" modeled on the Italian mafia.
Over the years, second- and third-generation Patels have diversified into
many other fields.
Many are now teachers, engineers, electronics workers or health care
Bam again - the Patel-owned motel phenomenon has probably peaked.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.