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For newcomers to America, suburbia is the place to be

GLENVILLE, N.Y. -- Thiyagarajan Subramanian came to America and ended up in a contemporary colonial with a two-car garage.

He skipped the sort of city living linked to immigration for over a century.

Subramanian is typical of many immigrants across the country. They are more likely to bypass the cozy cocoon of urban enclaves to settle amid the plush lawns and strip malls of suburbia. Demographers tracking immigration trends say it's a signpost in a country simultaneously more diverse and more suburban.

It's happening coast to coast -- from Iranians spread through California's sprawling Orange County to Koreans settled among the pricey suburbs of Fairfax County, Va. The trend is especially pronounced among Indians -- a group thick with first-generation professionals like Subramanian, a 43-year-old information technology consultant who moved his family from India in 1995.

"I think they're the first ethnic group that the majority of whom have gone directly to the suburbs instead of following the traditional pattern of settling in the city and moving to the suburbs," said Kenneth Johnson, a demographer and professor of sociology at Loyola University in Chicago.

The suburbs around Albany, Schenectady, and Troy -- an area where nine out of every 10 people are white -- might not bring to mind the phrase "melting pot." But a diverse pool of workers has been lured by high-tech employers like Albany Molecular Research Inc., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, General Electric Co., and the state of New York.

Over the last few decades, a once-invisible population here has laid down roots.

Ravi Pilar, chairman of the Hindu Temple Society of the Capital District, said there were just a scattering of other Indian families when he moved to the Albany area from New Jersey in 1985. Now there are thousands. The temple alone has about 2,500 families. Membership in the Tricity India Association, a community group, more than doubled in the past decade to 1,200, according to president Jayanthy Sankrith.

She estimates that more than half the Indian adults in the area are new to this country. They are doctors, engineers, computer scientists, and business owners who are mobile, speak fluent English and make good money. They are not the type to congeal in one neighborhood.

Of the 2,539 Indians counted in Albany County by census takers in 2000, about two-thirds were in the suburbs. Suburbs with good schools like Clifton Park, Latham and Niskayuna are especially attractive to Indian families, said real estate agent Angana Patel.

"The first question they ask is, 'Where are the good school districts in the area?"' Patel said. "They want a decent home and an education . . . providing a decent place to raise their children."

The suburban trend is pronounced with Indians, but not unique. About half of all immigrants now live outside of central cities, a trend notable among educated immigrants looking for nice neighborhoods and good schools, said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies.

They are people like John Yang, head of US operations for Seoul, South Korea-based Waawoo Technologies, who was attracted to Fairfax County, Va., as a "nice, clean and quiet" area with excellent schools for his two children. And they are like the thousands of Iranians outside of Los Angeles in Orange County.

"You don't ever feel like a foreigner here," said Jason Mehrdad Jazayeri, an Irvine, Calif., resident who came to America in 1972 as a high school student. "Every time I go out, I see a few Persians. All of the friends we hang around with are Persians. There's a lot of Persian restaurants, there's good quality Persian stores."

Not everyone has such an easy time keeping cultural ties. Generations ago, an Italian immigrant in Schenectady, N.Y., would be able to walk past her church to grab some fresh mozzarella from the neighborhood deli, maybe chat on the corner with some friends in the mother tongue. These days, cultural connections often require a car.

For special occasions, the Hindu temple in Albany will draw in celebrants from Plattsburgh and Burlington, Vt., more than 130 miles away. Local restaurateur Sunil Kayalchirayil will sometimes go see Indian movies with a friend more than 100 miles south in Rockland County.

Subramanian and his wife make do speaking Tamil around the house with their children, watching a Tamil TV station and adhering to a Hindu diet.

"Even now my children don't eat meat," he said. "We're a Hindu family."

The Tricity India Association fills in some of the gaps by sponsoring events like its annual spring festival, which this year drew more than 2,000 people with its flaky, fried kheema samosas, henna tattoo booths, and student performances of traditional dances spiced up with hip-hop moves.

And there are a couple of Indian stores in Albany -- little one-stop cultural centers where shoppers can get the soupy bean dish called moong dal or Bollywood videos.

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