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First Indian-American Congressman to be honoured

October 29, 2007 09:10 IST

A portrait of Dalip Singh Saund, the first Indian-American Congressman, will be unveiled in the US Congress at an official ceremony next month.

The unveiling ceremony honouring Saund, who was also the first Asian in Congress when he won a seat in 1956 by representing California, will be held on November 7.

Born on September 20, 1899, to a Sikh family in Chhajulwadi, Punjab, he came to the US in 1920 to attend the University of California at Berkeley.

In 1924 he graduated having earned MA and PhD degrees in mathematics.

He thereafter remained in the US, becoming a successful farmer.

However, life was not easy for an Indian in the 1920s. Anti-immigrant sentiment was running rampant across the country, as reflected in the passage of laws such as the Quota Immigration Act of 1921, the Cable Act of 1922 and the
National Origins Act of 1924.

In 1923 the Supreme Court had issued an opinion that Indians while designated as Caucasians were ineligible for citizenship because they were not "white".

Subject to prejudice and discrimination, prohibited from owning the land he farmed, his American wife having been stripped of her citizenship for marrying an "alien" man, Saund, however, did not waver in his pursuit of the American dream.

He became a founding member and the first president of the India Association of America.

The primary task of the association was to secure citizenship rights for Indians.

Building a national organisation, establishing an effective lobby on Capitol Hill, the association was able to convince Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce of Connecticut and Congressman Emanual Cellar of New York to introduce legislation granting naturalisation rights to Indians and Filipinos.

The act was signed into law by President Truman in 1946.

In 1956 Saund was elected to the US House of Representatives. He served for three Congresses.

In May 1962, he suffered a severe stroke, which left him unable to speak at all or walk without assistance, thus ending his Congressional career. He returned to California and died on April 22, 1973, in Hollywood.

The portrait unveiling is part of a programme to enhance the fine arts collection of the House and to include important members of the House.

The other US representatives to be honoured under the programme are James Madison of Virginia (1789-1797); John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts (1831 -1848); Abraham Lincoln of Illinois (1847-1849); Jeannette Rankin of Montana (1917-1919; 1941-1943), the first woman elected to the US Congress; Joseph Rainey of South Carolina (1869 -1879), the first African American elected to the US Congress; and Romulado Pacheco of California (1877-1883), the first Hispanic-American elected to the US Congress.

Meenakshi Ganju in Silicon Valley
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