Indian-Americans, ‘Horsetown USA’ clash over building plans

Source: Associated Press

By Ami Taxin

NORCO, Calif. (AP) — The Southern California city of Norco markets itself as “Horsetown USA,” and it’s not unusual for cowboy hat-wearing residents to head out for lunch or run errands on horseback in its Old West-styled downtown.

Local leaders celebrate that rural, equestrian lifestyle and are protective of it. Those who build must ensure their property includes Western architectural features such as a metal roof or overhang.

But some Indian-Americans are questioning the sincerity of that standard after the City Council rejected a proposal for a Hindu cultural center on a hilltop partly on grounds that the large, domed building wouldn’t fit in. They think the decision — which came after residents urged the city to keep its culture and questioned why proponents chose the site — is discriminatory.

Dr. Krupali Tejura, a radiation oncologist who grew up in nearby Corona and works at an area hospital, got involved in the debate because she was offended by those who argued the center didn’t fit.

“How does a community or a city decide it doesn’t fit in with their lifestyle? How far does this go?” she asked.

Mayor Kevin Bash rejected that assertion.

“We turn down a lot of businesses. If they don’t want to have a Western theme, guess what? They don’t get built,” he said, adding the center also was too big for such a steep lot and there were drainage concerns.

Norco’s 26,000 residents are tucked among the vast suburbs south and east of Los Angeles. Once overwhelmingly white, the area has seen a surge in Hispanics and, more recently, Asians.

Southern California’s Indian population is relatively small — accounting for only 1 percent of the population in a four county-area spanning Los Angeles and its southern and eastern suburbs — and is spread out across different cities.

But census data show the community has grown in recent years, especially in Riverside County, where Norco is located. There is a Sikh temple in Norco inside a grange hall-turned-church and a Hindu temple in the neighboring county, and Indian movies are shown at a Corona theater.

The controversy over the proposed cultural center has focused attention on how Norco can keep its Western theme and rural lifestyle while incorporating newcomers, and how those who arrive in the city can adapt to their surroundings while retaining their culture.

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