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President Obama Honours Sikh-American Trail-Blazer





On Tuesday, May 8, 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama heaped praise on Sikh-American Dalip Singh Saund, the country’s first Sikh-American member of the Congress - in fact the first one from the subcontinent, nay, from Asia, to enter the corridors of power in Washington D.C. 

In his address at the annual gala of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, the U.S. President described the late Dalip Singh Saund as a “trailblazer”.

“They were trailblazers like Dalip Singh Saund, a young man from India who came to study agriculture in 1920, stayed to become a farmer, and took on the cause of citizenship for all people of South Asian descent,” the President said to applause.

“And once Dalip earned his own citizenship, he stepped up to serve the country he loved - and became the first Asian-American elected to the Congress,” he added.

Dalip Singh was born in 1899 in Chhajalwadi village of Punjab. He came to the U.S. in 1920 to study food preservation at the University of California at Berkeley. He eventually switched to mathematics and earned a Master's degree and a Ph.D. in the subject.

Despite his educational qualifications, Dalip took a job as a lettuce farmer since farm labour was the only work South Asians  were permitted to do in the U.S. in the 1920s. They were also not eligible for U.S. citizenship at that time.

Following an amendment to the law, Dalip Singh became a citizen in 1949 and in 1956 was elected as a lawmaker representing California in the Congress, where he served three terms.

Obama noted that many Asian-Americans who first arrived in the U.S. faced hardships, racism and were treated like second-class citizens. “But they didn’t give up. They didn’t make excuses. They kept forging ahead. They kept building up America,” he added.

It was at this point that Obama related the inspiring story of Saund. In the 2008 and 2010 elections, six to eight Asian-American and Pacific Islander candidates ran for seats in the US Congress. This year, the number has tripled to 25 candidates, one running for the Senate and at least two dozen contending for the House.

A record number of Sikh-Americans and others from the subcontinent are also running for office this year.

Sikh-Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have also seen the fastest and most dramatic increases in their numbers in the past decade, according to the 2010 US Census.


[Courtesy: Tribune. Edited for]

May 10, 2012



Conversation about this article

1: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), May 10, 2012, 12:00 PM.

Dalip Singh Saund was my taya ji, one year older to my grand-dad, S. Ganga Singh Giani, and his buddy too. We in India grew up hearing about his stories, and when he died in the U.S.A., I was a student at St. Xavier's College, Calcutta University, and the political science Bengali professor, P. Guha, paid a glowing tribute to him.

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