Mahatma Gandhi District
History and museums
The Mahatma Gandhi District is an ethnic enclave in Houston, Texas, United States, named after Mahatma Gandhi, consisting predominantly of Indian and Pakistani restaurants and shops and having a large Indian/Pakistani population. The area is commonly referred to as "Hillcroft," after Hillcroft Avenue, a major thoroughfare which houses much of the Mahatma Gandhi district. It is also occasionally called "Little India."
In 1985 the Gahunias, an Indian American family, opened Raja Sweets in an area which at the time did not have a concentration of Indian American businesses; the family arrived in Houston in 1981. Within a three-year period, India Grocers opened a location in the area. As time passed, more and more Indian American and Pakistani American businesses moved to the area. Existing Indian American businesses in the area expanded.
While being made up of Indian shops and having a large Indian population for a long time, it was not officially named until January 16, 2010 when the City of Houston held a naming ceremony. The Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, and the Consul General of India in Houston, Sanjiv Arora, announced the name change. The Indian American community proposed marking the area as a South Asian enclave for a seven-year period until the founding of the Gandhi District. The India Culture Center and several South Asian merchants originally wanted to rename a stretch of Hillcroft Avenue to Mahatma Gandhi Avenue; however that required signatures of 75% of commercial property owners of the given part of the street. Manisha Gandhi Mehta, a spokesperson for the opening event that was held on January 16, 2010, said that the organizers of the district found difficulty in getting non-South Asian merchants to agree to the renaming of the street. In 2009 the head members of the India Culture Center and several South Asian merchants agreed to pay $10,000 for the street signage that designates the area as the district.
The district is along Hillcroft Boulevard, bordered by U.S. Highway 59 (Southwest Freeway) to the south and the Westpark Tollway to the north. Katharine Shilcut of the Houston Press said that "the three roads combine in such a way as to form a little triangle within the tangle of streets and strip malls,..." Aku Patel, the owner of 22, a jewelry store, said that continued development along Hillcroft was going to happen, but that the district would find difficulty in expanding to the other side of U.S. Highway 59 (Southwest Freeway) because a large Hispanic and Latino American population is already there. Patel said that instead the district will expand along Harwin Drive in an east-west direction.
Shilcut said that the Gandhi District's central location within the City of Houston, the district's increased visibility, and the increase in Greater Houston's Indian American and Pakistani American population caused the district to prosper. Yatin Patel, a Zambian-born ethnic Indian who is the owner of India Grocers, said in a 2011 Houston Press article that originally the Gandhi district did not have a significant Indian-American presence and consisted of several Indian stores and restaurants.
Since the Indian and Pakistani businesses moved to the district, it became a center for the sale of Indian cuisine, Bollywood films, saris, and gold jewelry. Katharine Shilcutt of the Houston Press said that the high education and income levels of Indian Americans caused businesses in the district to thrive. Shilcut added that "it was clear the rest of the city had taken note" when the district received its formal name. Lynn Ghose Cabrera, the cofounder of "Desi Living," a blog covering Greater Houston's South Asian diaspora, said that "If you talk to longtime Houston Desi residents, they'll tell you that the establishment of the Hillcroft area as the 'Gandhi District' is a milestone. It's one signifier among many that as a community, we've come of age."
Yatin Patel said in a 2011 Houston Press article that as of that year, about 20–25% of his business originates from people who are not ethnic Indians. He attributes the increased business from non-Indians to the increased proliferation and exposure of Indian cuisine in the United States and his store's Caribbean and English products. Sharan Gahunia, a member of the Gahunia family, said that by 2011 Raja Sweets had a lot of African American, Chinese American, and Latino American customers even though her restaurant does not Americanize the food. After the owners of Raja Sweets decided that they needed to designate a day off and the restaurant began closing on Tuesdays, other Indian restaurants on Hillcroft began closing on Tuesdays.