Life Behind the Lobby
Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream
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Indian Americans own about half of all the motels in the United States. Even more remarkable, most of these motel owners come from the same region in India and—although they are not all related—seventy percent of them share the surname of Patel. Most of these motel owners arrived in the United States with few resources and, broadly speaking, they are self-employed, self-sufficient immigrants who have become successful—they live the American dream.
However, framing this group as embodying the American dream has profound implications. It perpetuates the idea of American exceptionalism—that this nation creates opportunities for newcomers unattainable elsewhere—and also downplays the inequalities of race, gender, culture, and globalization immigrants continue to face. Despite their dominance in the motel industry, Indian American moteliers are concentrated in lower- and mid-budget markets. Life Behind the Lobby explains Indian Americans’ simultaneous accomplishments and marginalization and takes a close look at their own role in sustaining that duality.