Hospitable To Others: Indian American Motel Owners Create Boundaries And Belonging In The Heartland

Pawan H. Dhingra, Oberlin College


Asian Indian Americans own almost half of the nation's motels but have received almost no academic attention. This article's main goal is to explain how these ethnic minorities created a sense of belonging in their local towns (primarily in Ohio), apart from their co-ethnic communities, despite tensions with locals. Indian Americans felt marginalized from others due to their occupational, racial and ethnic statuses. But, they still created connections to non-ethnic locals and to surrounding institutions along these three statuses. How informants did so and what belonging meant varied based on their level of resources. Still, all persons found ways to connect to their local environment, separate from their ethnic group. Such belonging involved both recognizing and chipping away at surrounding hierarchies, but while simultaneously affirming them. The findings suggest that rather than a clear trajectory, adaptation can be a process of simultaneously advancing both an integration and social inequality.