Edison Brimming with Indian Culture

By Candace Kelley

If you visit the movie theater in Edison, you can see a Johnny Depp movie or the latest Bollywood release. And the concession stand has popcorn and Samosas, a popular Indian pastry. The township is brimming with Indian food, clothing and music.

It’s a place Neerod Upadahyah calls home. He says he wouldn’t be anywhere else in the U.S. mixing spices and making Indian delights, but right here.

A trip to the grocery store means locals can easily pick up ingredients imported right from India to make traditional dishes — and preserve their culture.

“Most of us have our own houses where because we feel that’s where our kids can grow up and have the same communal things that we have,” said Sirisha Tummala.

The town’s population is 100,000 and Indians make up 25 percent. Little India — here in the center of town on Oak Tree Road — a place that makes many residents feel at home.

“All Indians know about Oak Tree because if they want to buy Indian, they come to Oak Tree, like see the dresses, the beautiful dresses,” said Lakshmi Sudha.

The community saw major growth in 1965 when a new immigration law allowed more people to come to the United States from countries outside of Europe.

Chandrkant Patel chairs the Indian Business Association, right next door to Edison in Iselin. He says the rows of stores with dazzling dresses built up slowly and that 25 years ago, there were just 10 Indian stores that lined this popular street.

“That time for three or four years, we had a lot of struggles, we do in this area, because very bad area at that time. Lots of bars, and lots of gangs,” Patel said.

But he and others took a chance and built up the community by purchasing shops at a time when malls were becoming increasingly popular. Oak Tree Road and surrounding areas are thriving with more than 400 Indian-owned businesses.

Back then, he says it was difficult for some of the locals to accept the influx of Indians and he and others fought racial discrimination. While they still fight against being marginalized, he says Edison and surrounding areas are much friendlier.

Those we spoke to say that back home in India, everyone knows about Edison, New Jersey because Indians changed the town’s culture. And this community is now part of their history.