Dalip Singh Saund | Asian American Pacific Islanders Heritage Month
By Shinedip Kundlas
Volume 2 Issue 7
June 13, 2022
Image provided by Heritageseries.us
Born in Amritsar, Punjab, Dalip Singh Saund became the first Sikh member of Congress and the first Asian American member of Congress. His commitment to his southern California district and its farmers was unwavering. He was also a county judge. His backstory of being born in India, a naturalized US citizen, and a successful businessman propelled him to the global stage. Saund became one of the most engaging politicians during the height of the Cold War while serving in the House of Representatives. Saund’s belief that American democracy holds promise was not shaken despite the many discriminations he faced when living in the United States.
On September 20, 1899, Dalip Singh was born and raised in the village Chhajjal Waddi in Punjab, India. His father worked as a construction contractor for the British-Indian government. The Saund family had lived through the period of British colonialism, where Saund’s parents didn’t attend school. Despite this, education was a keystone of Saund’s life. Though he came from an uneducated family, the Saund family was known for their conscientious and successful work with a background of Sikh reformism and activism. Through the active Sikh reformism and activism in his family, Saund learned the basis of activism.
During his college years at the University of Punjab, Saund supported the independence movement in India. He graduated with a BS degree in 1919 and went on to further his education in America. Saund intended to learn the fruit-canning business in America for a few years. On September 27, 1920, after traveling from Bombay to England and then to England, he arrived at Ellis Island, New York. While in the US, he earned his MA and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics in 1924. Due to his race, Saund could not find a teaching job and started farming in California. To circumvent a California law that prevented Asians from owning land, he got a friend to sign the deed on his behalf. In 1930, Saund was commissioned by the Khalsa Diwan Society to write “My Mother India”, a book supporting the Independence movement in India. His books highlighted the political and cultural problems in India. Saund closely studied the issues of the 1924 and 1928 presidential elections during his stay in California. After witnessing the struggles of the American people during the Great Depression while he was a farmer, he became a supporter of the New Deal. During the 1930s, Saund actively advocated for Indians to become citizen Americans, which Congress approved in 1946.
A couple of years later, Saund became an American citizen and ran for a judgeship the following year. He was elected even amid constant racism-a reporter once asked him whether “turbans would be provided to all those who entered his court”. In 1956, Dalip Singh Saund ran for his local district’s open congressional seat as a Democrat and won the election against Jacqueline Cochran (R-). Saund served three terms in Congress. His support marked his service for civil rights legislation, small farmers, and efforts to improve relations between Mexico, the US, and India. Dalip Singh Saund has continued to inspire generations of Asian and Sikh Americans with his contributions and dedication to the American people. Dalip Singh Saund died on April 22, 1973.
“Everyone though I had no chance… But I had faith in the American sense of justice and fair play.”- Dalip Singh Saund
Sources 1.) https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/21228 2.) https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2008/12/19/breaking-barriers-congressman-dalip-singh-saund/ 3.)https://www.smc.edu/administration/governance/academicsenate/committees/documents/sabbaticals/HariFellowshipProposal.pdf