Saund, Dalip Singh: First Asian-American in Congress

By Tannock, Ray | The World and I, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Saund, Dalip Singh: First Asian-American in Congress


Tannock, Ray, The World and I


For a man who never considered himself a political figure, Dalip Singh Saund became one of the most influential Asian Americans of our time, but to understand Saund one must first understand his beliefs and the relevancy to his pursuits. Saund believed in Sikhism, a religion that taught him equality among all human beings and the virtues of charity, selflessness and detachment from material possessions. Saund wrote in an autobiography that "his religion taught him that love and service to fellow men was the road to earthly bliss and spiritual salvation."

Saund, like many from India, found encouragement in the promise of the British: a free India. These promises never came true. The sting of racism, the belief in the rights of his people and country and the values of his religion encouraged Saund to attain groundbreaking achievements in the United States.

Saund found a great deal of inspiration in the writings of Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt as well as Mohandas K. Gandhi, the great Hindu exponent of the non-violent struggle for independence. It was these inspirations that would forge the foundation of the same non-violent approach for independence found through Gandhi, the prudent pursuit of freedom found through Lincoln, the idealistic viewpoint of Woodrow's internationalism-- calling for the United Sates to fight for democracy, progressivism, liberalism --and the progressive pursuit of Roosevelt to bring down the discriminating strongholds of the rich and powerful to achieve a harmony among man and country.

In the 1920's, racist sentiment was high in the United States. Because Saund was Indian, his employment opportunities were very limited; he eventually settled in California's Imperial Valley as a farmer. During that time Indians were not allowed to own land, so his farm had to be placed in his wife's name; she was white. Saund farmed lettuce and also distributed chemical fertilizer, which provided a very good living while he attended school; yet, it was the ever-present racist sentiment that prevented Saund from achieving citizenship.

As a result, Saund helped form the Indian Association of America, which he was elected National President of two years after. It was this group that was responsible for lobbying a law that allowed Indians to become citizens in 1949. Saund attained his citizenship that same year and was also elected as a Judge of Justice Court at Westmoreland Judicial District. However, he was denied the seat for not having citizenship for a full year; he was re-elected in 1952 where he served until 1957.

Despite the laws in the United States at the time, Saund remained true to himself and his beliefs in unity, and a country free of racism--where men could co-exist harmoniously; moreover, a country where Indian Americans had equal rights. Saund's new-found success in political activism would prove to be a deciding factor in his future.

After his stint as judge, Saund became involved in the Democratic Party and served as a delegate in 1952, 1956 and 1960--which led to his campaign for congress, where he experienced more racism, adversity and anti-immigrant sentiment.

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