News Releases

Smithsonian Explores the History of Indian Americans

“Beyond Bollywood” Will Chronicle More Than 200 Years of Indian American Contributions to the U.S.

March 27, 2014

This is an updated version of a release originally published Jan. 15, 2014.

In a first-of-its-kind exhibition at the Smithsonian, the Asian Pacific American Center will open “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation,” detailing the history of Indian Americans and their contributions to the United States from the 1700s to the present. The 5,000-square-foot exhibition will open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History Feb. 27.

“The vibrant life, culture and history of immigrants from India and Indian Americans is the story of America,” said Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.  “This wonderful exhibition deepens our understanding of the American experience as lived by the Asian Pacific American communities who have journeyed from being exotic outsiders to being the faces and voices of the future. We are excited to present an exhibition that we hope will excite and inspire generations.”

The exhibition features Indian Americans’ migration experiences, working lives, political struggles and cultural and religious contributions. Highlighted artifacts include a dress worn by First Lady Michelle Obama designed by Indian American Naeem Khan; the 1985 National Spelling Bee trophy awarded to the first Indian American winner, Balu Natarajan; and Mohini Bhardwaj’s 2004 Olympic Silver Medal for gymnastics.

Public programs include performances featuring Indian American art, comedy, cuisine, dance, film, television, literature and music. The Center will also offer online education curriculum and an opportunity for individuals to share their family stories through a digital portal.

Approximately 17 million people in the United States are of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, and the number is expected to climb to 41 million by 2050. One in every 100 Americans has a family connection to India. Indian immigrants helped build the nation’s railroads, worked in lumber mills, toiled on farms and established prosperous trading routes that are still in use today. Through a vibrant collection of photographs, artifacts, art and interactive learning stations, visitors will experience the Indian American story and explore the many dynamic roles Indian Americans have played in shaping America.

“Beyond Bollywood” is the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s largest exhibition and will be on display on the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History through Aug. 16, 2015. A traveling version will tour around the country to libraries, museums, universities and community centers as a part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service beginning May 2015 for four years.

The exhibition has been funded in large part by donations from philanthropists and corporations from across the country. Lead gifts came from Dr. and Mrs. Kanu Shah and Sadhana and Rick Downs, with additional major gift support from TV Asia, the Epker-Sinha Foundation, Citigroup Foundation, Umang and Ruth Gupta, Gautam and Varsha Chandra, Washington Gas, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, Goldman Sachs, Robert N. Johnson, Sunita and Dan Leeds, Haresh and Alpa Bhungalia, Amita and Purnendu Chatterjee, Girish and Indu Jindia, Rohit and Joy Kirpalani, Anil and Sonjui Lal Kumar, Dr. Mahinder and Sharad Tak, Southwest Airlines and the Network of Indian Professionals Foundation.

For more information on the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center, visit

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Related photos: 

Beyond Bollywood - Dalip Singh Saund

Beyond Bollywood - Dalip Singh Saund

Photo courtesy of Eric Saund

Congressman Dalip Singh Saund, with Senators John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, 1958. On Feb.

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Beyond Bollywood - DJ Rekha

Beyond Bollywood - DJ Rekha

Photo courtesy of Eco Magazine

DJ, producer, and activist Rekha Malhotra, popularly known as DJ Rekha, is credited with popularizing bhangra (Punjabi folk music) in America. On Feb.

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Beyond Bollywood - Sharma Family in San Francisco

Sharma Family in San Francisco

Photo: Prithvi Sharma

The Sharma family in San Francisco, 1983. On Feb.

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Beyond Bollywood - Worker Harvesting Beets

Beyond Bollywood - Worker Harvesting Beets

Photo courtesy of the California State University, Chico, Meriam Library Special Collections

An Indian immigrant worker harvests beets in Hamilton City, California for the Sacramento Valley Sugar Company, c. 1907-1915. On Feb.

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Beyond Bollywood: Ghoush family photo

Ghoush family with car, ca. 1970

Photo courtesy of the Ali Akbar Khan / Foundation Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program

Family photographs collected from around the United States are featured in Beyond Bollywood. Here, Pandit Shankar Ghosh, Shrimati Sanjukta Ghosh, with Vikram (Boomba) Ghosh at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, Lagunitas, Calif., ca. 1970. 

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Beyond Bollywood: Indian immigrants work on railway construction

Indian immigrants work on railway construction, ca. 1906

Photo courtesy of Southern Oregon Historical Society (#1603) / Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program

Indian immigrants work on the construction of the  Pacific and Eastern Railroad in Oregon, ca. 1906.

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Beyond Bollywood: Indian Youth Against Racism

Indian Youth Against Racism rally

Photo by Corky Lee

Indian Youth Against Racism, a group from Columbia University, documented violence against Indians in New Jersey and implemented educational programs on South Asian cultures in Jersey City schools. The group also helped pass a bill in the New Jersey legislature raising mandatory penalties for "bias” crimes.

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Beyond Bollywood: Swami Vivekananda and guests at Green Acre School

Swami Vivekananda and guests at Green Acre School in Maine

Photo courtesy of Eliot Baha’i Archives and Maine Memory Network / Smithsonian Institution Asian Pacific American Program

Indian contributions to the American religious landscape are showcased as part of Beyond Bollywood. Here, Swami Vivekananda and guests at Green Acre School, Eliot, Maine, ca. 1894. This school, a meeting-place for the study of world religions, was just one stop on a tour in which Vivekenanda introduced the West to Hinduism and yoga.