Ever since Oliver Wendell Holmes published his article "The Brahmin Caste of New England" in 1860, the term "Brahmin" in the United States has usually been understood to mean the Boston Brahmins. This elite group claimed descent from the families constituting the Masachusetts establishment who originally settled New England, and are described in a poem of the period
So this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk only to the Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God
(Boston Toast by John Collins Bossidy)
Now, nearly 150 years after Oliver Wendell Holmes thus christened the elite of New England, Asian Indians are staking their own claim to perpetuating an elite hereditary class in a country that otherwise aspires to classlessness and intergenerational mobility.
This comes at a time when the mantra of equality of opportunity is wearing thin in the United States. The composition of the meritocracy of the 21st Century, to be determined by access to higher education, is increasingly consolidating within its existing ranks as the cost of that education continues to escalate. It is no coincidence that 90% of the students in the elite American Universities come from the top 50% of the income spectrum.
In this process, Asian Indians in America now occupy pole position in the race to establish a new power group. With annual household incomes higher than the white majority and spending more on their children's education than the national median, they already count 60% of their number as graduates (another statistic well above the average for other ethnic groups). They are set on a course to consolidate their privileges still further as their children, after graduation, usually follow the more lucrative and socially prized professions.Their numbers will be strengthened by new students from India, most of whom have historically remained behind after graduating. There were 70,000+ of students from India enrolled in American universities at last count, and their numbers are forecast to grow by 20% over the next five years.
We are surely witnessing the emergence of a new upper caste in America, grouped by ethnicity in a way not seen since the 19th Century. Unlike the 19th Century Boston Brahmins though, the flourishing Indian elite class will not be localised like the Boston Brahmins, but spread out throughout the entire country. Business, Law, Medicine, Engineering and Financial Services will be the areas of activity in which they will excel, giving them a prominent voice in their local communities.
Asian Indians have already made sure that when the word "Indian" is spoken in America, everybody understands that these are not the same people that Columbus named when he set eyes on the inhabitants of the new land. The question remains whether they will also exercise their growing wealth and position to exercise a positive influence the society around them. Their 19th Century New England predecessors did so to great effect by creating academic institutions like the Ivy League universities, and the ideologies of the Boston Brahmins continue to be associated with the most progressive policies. If the new Indian "Brahmins" achieve anything resembling the same effect wherever they are concentrated around America, it may soon be accepted that not all the Brahmins in America are the ones that Holmes observed in Boston. The Indian Americans of the 21st Century may well justify Holmes's own words "...now and then a seedling apple, or a seedling pear, springs from a nameless ancestry and grows to be the pride of all the gardens in the land."