May 30, 2023
“Thank you, come again,” Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, The Simpsons’ Kwik-E-Mart clerk, chirps as customers exit his convenience store in the fictional town of Springfield. We know little about Apu other than he goes by his first name (as his last name is gobbledygook the writers made up), he graduated first in his class at Calcutta Technical Institute (out of 7 million), he is nauseatingly polite (even to robbers in his store), and he has eight children.
Hank Azaria, actor and comedian, said he came up with Apu’s voice and character after interacting with Indian convenience store workers in Los Angeles. But the first and only regular Indian character and owner of Kwik-E-Mart — a stand-in for 7-Eleven franchisees in the 1980s and 1990s — remains a stereotype.
In the 1980s and 1990s, convenience stores provided a soft landing for thousands of South Asian immigrants in the U.S. Since then, they have come to own 50% of the country’s convenience stores, and as much as 70% of 7-Eleven locations. So how did South Asians end up so intertwined with the story of America’s largest convenience store chain? The answer has a bit to do with cars, immigration policy, and 7-Eleven’s unique growth strategy.