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.