On January 3, 1957, Dalip Singh Saund stepped into the United States House of Representatives and our history books as the first Asian American to serve in the United States Congress. He would serve until January of 1963 when a debilitating stroke left him unable to speak or walk without assistance. He paved the way for people of South Asian descent to become American citizens.
Dalip Saund was born in Chhajulwadi, Punjab Province, India, on September 20, 1899. He received his bachelors degree in Mathematics from the University of Punjab in 1919 and came to the United States in 1920 initially to study agriculture at UC Berkeley. He earned both a master’s degree and Ph.D. in mathematics and graduated in 1924. He decided to stay in the U.S. and became a lettuce farmer in the Imperial Valley of California.
Saund organized the India Association of America which campaigned to end naturalization restrictions against South Asians living in the U.S. The campaign was a success in 1946 when President Harry Truman signed the Luce-Celler Act. Saund took the oath of citizenship on December 16, 1949.
Less than a year later, he was elected as justice of peace for Westmorland Township, CA, but because he had not been a citizen for a full year, he was denied the seat. He ran again in 1952 and won serving as justice of peace until January 1, 1957 when he resigned to take his job as U.S. Representative of California.
This is just a brief snap shot of the life and career of Dalip Saund. There’s a much more extensive biography at the PBS site for their Roots in the Sand documentary which is where I found the materials for this post. I’m kind of amazed that there was a specific prohibition against South Asians becoming citizens. Our history kind of weirds me out sometimes.