AP

In Dallas suburbs, Friday Night Lights make way for cricket

Dec 15, 2022, 8:04 AM | Updated: Dec 16, 2022, 7:23 am

Pavan Kumar Machiraju walks off the field after batting during a cricket match between the Dallas C...

Pavan Kumar Machiraju walks off the field after batting during a cricket match between the Dallas Cricket Connections and the Kingswood Cricket Club, as the Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple is seen in the background, in Frisco, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Andy Jacobsohn)

(AP Photo/Andy Jacobsohn)

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — With the ornate spires of the Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple anchoring the skyline behind them, a cricket batsman and bowler eyed each other across a brown grass field. Amid gusty winds, players waiting to bat watched intently from nearby bleachers.

No, this is not a scene in India, where cricket became a national obsession after arriving on the wings of British colonialism. Try North Texas, where Friday Night Lights have made way for weekend afternoons on the pitch.

Welcome to the new Lone Star State, where cricket matches, a Hindu temple and Indian grocery stores co-exist with Christian churches, cattle ranches and Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys empire. More than a decade of expansion has given the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex the largest Asian growth rate of any major U.S. metro area, in the nation’s fastest growing state. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, Indians account for more than half the region’s Asian population boom, with the Dallas suburb of Frisco alone experiencing growth to rival Seattle and Chicago.

While some Texans still bleed football, these days a growing number bleed cricket.

“In ’98, I came to the U.S. Then I stopped playing cricket because I didn’t have any availability here. Down the road four or five years later, I saw somebody playing cricket in Plano,” said Kalyan “K.J.” Jarajapu, a temple volunteer watching the Frisco-sponsored cricket league match. “I never imagined that there would be cricket for sure or there would be a cricket world like I saw back home in India here in (metro) Dallas.”

The share of Asians among the foreign-born in the U.S. has risen recently, from 30.1% during the 2012-to-2016 period to 31.2% in the 2017-to-2021 period, as the share of immigrants from Latin America and Europe has fallen, according to the American Community Survey.

Immigrants from South Asia believe they’ve found the best of East meets West in Frisco and other Dallas suburbs. They’re living a new and improved American dream, with access to their preferred houses of worship, authentic food and a community radio station. But the dream also comes with painful realities about racism, pressure to balance two cultures and the mental health challenges of finding your way in an unfamiliar world.

Named in 1904 after the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, Frisco, 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of downtown Dallas, started as a train stop and an agricultural hub. Today, it’s a global technology force. Companies including Toyota, FedEx and Goldman Sachs have drawn job seekers from afar, including a pipeline of IT workers from the tech hub of Hyderabad, India.

Combine good jobs with reputable schools, affordable housing and warm weather, and the formula for growth is set.

Texas-based disciples of Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji came together in 2008 to purchase a 10-acre (4-hectare) plot in Frisco and build a modest Hindu temple. Within three years, it was hosting hundreds of worshippers.

Jayesh Thakker, a temple trustee and joint treasurer for the India Association of North Texas, said they raised enough money to build a 33,000-square-foot (3,065-square-meter) temple in 2015. Nearly 30 artisan workers came on special visas to ensure every detail honored Indian Hindu architecture.

“They built it first as an American structure and then they ‘Indianized’ it,” Thakker said.

New housing and schools soon followed. Laxmi Tummala, trustee and temple secretary, is also a realtor. Many of her clients settle for less just to live nearby.

“‘All that other stuff I wanted, it doesn’t matter if it’s going to put me 25 minutes or 30 minutes away. I want my kids to have this exposure,'” Tummala said.

Immigrants aren’t the only newcomers. Between 2015 and 2019, more than 17,000 people flocked to Frisco and surrounding Collin County from Dallas County and more than 8,000 from nearby Denton County, according to the Census Bureau.

Outside Texas, the biggest sources of new Collin County residents were Los Angeles and Orange counties in California, with 1,600 residents and 1,000 residents respectively.

But almost 6,000 new residents in the area came from Asia.

The Islamic Center of Frisco has benefited, too. Its board is planning to more than double the size of the 18,000-square-foot (1,672-square-meter) mosque by 2024. With more than 3,500 people attending prayers and 460 children attending Sunday School, the board moved to acquire more space in 2019.

Azfar Saeed, the center’s president, remembers that nearly two decades ago only 15 people came to pray in a 400-square-foot (37-square-meter) shopping center suite on any given day.

“At that time, nobody knew Frisco. People were like, ‘Where are you going?'” said Saeed, who was born in Pakistan. By 2010, “people just started moving right and left here.”

The pandemic brought another shift. Suddenly, people from California or Chicago were able to work remotely but live elsewhere. Houston saw a tremendous influx of Asians in the last decade, with the second-highest growth rate after Dallas among major U.S. metros.

“The moment people went remote it felt like people were like, ‘OK, I have a tiny house in California for $800,000 and I can buy a mansion here in Texas. Let’s go,'” Saeed said, chuckling.

Where there is a large Asian population in the U.S., anti-Asian hate seems inevitable. In August, a woman’s racist rant against four Indian American women in Plano was caught on video. The unprovoked attack escalated as she hit and threatened to shoot them. She was later arrested.

The incident caught the attention of people in India thanks to social media. South Asian groups here attended meetings with local law enforcement.

“It was very sad and it was surprising,” said Tummala, the temple’s secretary. “But we definitely don’t take that and say ‘OK, everybody in Texas is like that.'”

Some have found outlets for talking about their struggles, including on the region’s only South Asian radio station.

The app-based Radio Azad, in Irving, was started by Azad Khan in 2011, five years after he immigrated from Pakistan. The station broadcasts music and current affairs. Multiple languages are represented, including Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Farsi and Telugu.

As the area population has grown, so has Radio Azad’s listenership, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

The anonymity of call-in radio shows on Azad — which means freedom in Hindi and Urdu — has allowed for difficult questions. Nearly three years ago, CEO Ayesha Shafi started monthly mental health segments, and listeners embraced them. They’ve tackled assimilation, bipolar disorder and domestic abuse.

“You can talk about issues that you’re facing and actually hear somebody who’s like you, who understands where you’re coming from and will actually listen,” Shafi said.

Depression rose to the forefront after the murder-suicide of a Bangladeshi family in April 2021 in Allen, roughly 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of Frisco. Two adult brothers fatally shot their parents, sister and grandmother before taking their own lives. One brother had written on Instagram of dealing with depression since 2016.

“As parents, we find that anxiety has become so common and it’s not happening to just anybody’s kids,” Shafi said. “As we created awareness, as we shared our shows … they would realize, ‘Omigod, this is happening to our kids.'”

Reena Yalamanchili dealt with the feeling of not belonging as a child, despite being born in the U.S. The 17-year-old, whose family lives in nearby Coppell and attends the Frisco temple, remembers kids making fun of the lunch her mother made.

“It kind of made me feel embarrassed about my mom’s cooking, or like Indian food or my culture in general,” Yalamanchili said. “Obviously, I don’t feel like that anymore.”

She thinks most children grow out of those attitudes, and there is strength in numbers.

“There’s a lot of people in the same boat as me,” she said. “There’s a lot of shared traditions.”

Everywhere you look, South Asian cultures are merging into the Texas zeitgeist. The movie theater in Frisco shows films in Telegu, Tamil and Hindi, while at Tikka Taco in Irving, diners can get tacos stuffed with tandoori chicken, lamb or paneer tikka.

Sometimes Indian politics spill into the Dallas suburbs. Scores of people joined protests this week outside Frisco’s City Hall on behalf of Christians in India who claim a Frisco-based group supports Hindu nationalists threatening their churches.

On a more festive front, Hanuman Temple now collaborates with the City of Frisco for Holi, an annual Hindu festival also known as the Festival of Colors. Celebrants daub each other with vividly colored powders. The temple also organizes food donations, health fairs and other community services.

“We don’t want to just be here and be isolated,” Tummala said.

You can find a Diwali celebration in several Dallas suburbs around October or November. The biggest holiday of the year in India, the commemoration of light over darkness was celebrated by more than 15,000 people in Southlake’s town square. Police even wrote a script for officers doing security to explain its significance if anyone asked.

“Five years ago, they wouldn’t have known what it was at all,” Shafi said.

Southlake Mayor John Huffman, who spoke at the event dressed in traditional Indian clothing, believes close to a fifth of the crowd were non-Asians. He credits its success to the Southlake Foundation, a nonprofit started in 2019 by Kush Rao, who immigrated from India. The organization oversees cultural events and community service activities such as trash clean-up and free lunches for city staff.

“I feel like they’re setting the bar in a lot of ways and saying, ‘We’re going to give back to the Public Works Department not because we’re getting anything in return but because we appreciate what they do for the city,'” Huffman said. “They have been very intentional about telling their fellow South Asians to get out and engage in the community.”

Back in Frisco during Diwali, blocks of homes near Hanuman Temple twinkled with lights through the pouring rain. Hanuman Temple’s majestic pyramidal gateway glowed red. And dozens of families didn’t let the wet weather stop them from worshipping and chanting mantras to deities.

Cricket fan Jarajapu, directing cars in the water-logged parking lot, wasn’t surprised so many came.

“I have seen the transformation of Frisco city,” Jarajapu said. “It has become very vibrant with diversity, culture and especially a lot of Asians. I’m very proud to be living in Frisco.”

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Associated Press video journalist Noreen Nasir contributed to this story.

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Terry Tang is a member of The Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter: @ttangAP

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Schneider reported from Orlando, Florida. Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter: @ MikeSchneiderAP

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In Dallas suburbs, Friday Night Lights make way for cricket