Neal Katyal, United States' principal deputy solicitor general currently serving as the acting solicitor general, believes that Hindu Americans have come a long way since his father arrived five decades ago to a segregated America.
Katyal, 40, who is among the top five contenders to be the next solicitor general, was presented with the Pride of the Community Award by the Hindu American Foundation at its annual Capitol Hill reception.
"My parents came here from India, with just $8 in their pockets, because that was all the money they were allowed to bring," he said.
"My dad (who is now deceased) arrived in Newport News, Virginia, at a time when he literally got off the boat and there were signs for black restrooms and signs for whites," he said.
Katyal, an alumnus of Yale Law School and erstwhile professor at the Georgetown Law School, said to much laughter, "He didn't know which one to use."
"And when I think about it, that wasn't that long ago -- half a century ago -- and where we are today, I think about the fact that the office that I am in now in the Justice Department -- the office of the solicitor general filed briefs in the last century that said to the court that 'teeming millions of Hindus could never immigrate to America because they could never assimilate."
He said, "Everyone in this room has proved that the prophecy was in some fundamental sense wrong."
Katyal acknowledged, "I am aware (that) there are lots of challenges, both to our community and to other communities, particularly Muslim Americans today."
"And, so I applaud what this organisation does not just on behalf of Hindu Americans but on behalf of all of us, tries to advance the cause of justice, equality and basic respect for one another. That's what I try to do and I know this organisation does as well," he said.
Katyal later told rediff.com that with respect to the quote regarding 'teeming millions of Hindus," he was quoting then solicitor general James M Beck's brief in the Bhagat Singh Thind case, in 1923, who had reasoned, "The people of India were a subject-race, and while the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity were being preached in Europe and America, there is no reason to believe that any one seriously extended their applications to the people of India, or believed that those people were of a kind to be assimilated in citizenship in Western civilization."
He said, "The question was not of race but of whether the group enjoyed 'political fellowship with the white men of the Western world'."
Katyal said that Beck had concluded that "immigration of the teeming millions of Asia into America is unthinkable."