Category Archives: Indian-Americans and U.S. Politics Blog

Hard to Believe We Made It

This is the immigration story of Mr. Prabhakar Joshi, sent to USINPAC in response to the White House’s appeal for immigration stories to help frame robust immigration policies. The same has been sent to the White House as well.  

The year was 1963. We were citizens of India. My wife, Savita, got an admission and assistantship to work on her doctorate program in the Texas Woman’s University (TWU), Denton, TX. She did not want to go alone and I did not want to leave her. United States would not grant me a visa unless I had a work offer in hand. So my wife and I sent a letter to her major professor, Dr. P.B.Mack, to offer a job. She immediately agreed to give part-time work and sent us a letter to that effect. We were jubilant.

But that would not clear our road. My supervisor would not let me leave the Home Department, Govt. of Maharashtra state, because he claimed that he gave me promotions and I was working in Special Branch dealing with secret and confidential matters. I was frustrated. I petitioned to another officer holding a parallel position. He agreed and sent the papers to the ultimate authority, the Secretary of the Dept. He approved. We were jubilant again.

Then there was another hitch. The Reserve Bank of India would not let us take more than $7.40 each. Why? China had attacked India and the government wanted to save all the dollars. We wrote to a pen-friend in Louisiana, who was a Secretary to Governor. She promised $200 instantly when we arrive in the USA.

Passport was a hassle. Without using the good offices of my father who was the president of Thane Congress and my father in law who was a State senator (member of Legislative council), Bombay, & the chief of a national political party we received our passports and visas faster than the normal speed.

After a lot of thinking, we took leave from our work places, the Home Dept. for me and the SNDT, University for Savita, and decided to embark. Took loans to meet our huge expenses and got to a travel agent. Asked him to send us by a ship to England to save money and then by air to USA.

Our journey on a ship was very enjoyable except one night’s sea sickness. Finally, when arrived in New York, we got those $200 at a telegraph office. Took a taxi to the bus station. The driver asked for a tip. We asked for the change. Took the change and told him that since you are forcing us for a tip we are not giving any.

We bought 2 bus tickets to Denton, TX. A few dollars were left. Therefore did not eat on the way; only one cup of coffee for both of us. In Denton, a pen-friend had booked a one bed room apartment for us. Paid rent and all the money was gone.

Next day went to register at the Univ. of Texas. They won’t complete the process unless the fee was paid. We asked to see the treasurer, who in turn sent us to the Univ. President. He allowed us 10 days after which our names would be removed from the univ. if not paid.

We went to a bank; showed our credentials and offered my wife’s golden jewelry in exchange for the loan. The loan was approved. We took only the amount necessary for our fees and refused to take more.

Thus we got enrolled. I used to walk to the Univ.  two miles, one way, with a bag full of books in hand, in cold and in summer. After a month, a car stopped and asked me “are you at the Univ. of TX? I answered yes. He asked why did I walk? I told “ walking is a good exercise”. He smiled and offered a ride—every day. Next year, we bought a bicycle for $8 at a Police auction. My wife would sit on the bar while I drove for shopping. Some waived from their windows. In two years we completed our degrees and got employed. Then we brought our 8-year old son, Chandrashekhar, who was left with my parents/his grandparents. This much story is enough this time.

(Do you have an immigration story you would like to share? Write to USINPAC at

Aneesh Chopra to run for Lt. Governor of Virginia

Aneesh Chopra, the country’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) appointed by President Obama, recently announced his plans to run for Lt. Governor of Virginia. Among the most prominent Indian-Americans in U.S. politics today, Aneesh Chopra had been strongly supported by USINPAC to facilitate his appointment as the CTO. As he begins his campaign for the new office, USINPAC once again pledges its wholesome support to his efforts.

Aneesh Chopra

Indian-American Aneesh Chopra is running for the office of Lt. Governor of Virginia

The son of immigrant Indian parents who worked hard to achieve the American dream, Aneesh Chopra is an example of the caliber, dedication and hard work of the Indian-Americans. The community’s growing participation and importance in American politics is personified by the likes of Chopra.

Chopra is uniquely placed to work on some of the most important issues such as health care that face the people of Virginia. Having previously worked in the health care sector, he has studied and understands the working of the health care system in Virginia as well as in the US. He has worked extensively on the Medicaid and believes that the health care system should be upgraded to improve the quality and lower the costs. His record in improving education during Gov. Kaine’s administration had been impressive and promising and portends innovative solutions to Virginia’s educational challenges.

Aneesh Chopra, during his previous stint as the CTO “helped design the President’s National Wireless Initiative, including the development of a nationwide public safety broadband network, establish a set of Internet Policy Principles including the call for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, and led the implementation of the President’s open government strategy focused on unlocking the innovative potential of the federal government to solve problems and seed the jobs and industries of the future.” He looked for ways to engage people in using technology, such as electronic health records for veterans, access to broadband for rural communities, and modernizing government records. Prior to being the CTO for President Obama, Aneesh Chopra led the charge in Virginia and was noticed by the President for the work he did. Commenting upon his work in Virginia, Eric Schmidt (Google) said, “Aneesh built one of the best technology platforms in government in the state of Virginia.”

Today, as more and more Indian-Americans seek elected office and participate enthusiastically in the political process, USINPAC understands that more work is required to bolster and inspire these young Indian-Americans. Over the past 10 years, USINPAC has untiringly supported several Indian-American candidates for local, state and federal office. The support has been an elaborate involvement in the candidate’s campaigning process and included organizing fundraisers, awareness drives and grassroots activities to maximize the candidate’s reach. Prominent names among those elected, who were supported by USINPAC, included Ami Bera (only Indian-American in the U.S. Congress today), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana Governor), Nikki Haley (South Carolina Governor), Kumar Barve (Majority Leader, Maryland House of Delegates), Kamala Harris (California Attorney General) and Swati Dandekar (former Iowa Senate member).

As Aneesh Chopra works on his campaign for the race of Lt. Governor of Virginia, USINPAC wishes him well and looks forward to working with him towards his election.

Politics & Pills – The Startup Visa

For years dozens of Silicon Valley’s brightest and most highly respected entrepreneurs like Paul Graham, Brad Feld, Reid Hoffman, and Eric Reis have been trying to convince Congress and the White House for the urgent need of a “start-up visa” that would create a special visa category for foreign entrepreneurs who have raised capital from qualified American investors  (There’s even a documentary film on the subject, ).   For three years the issue was buried as a casualty of election politics over ‘outsourcing’ and related issues.

Amazingly enough, a bipartisan Senate bill expected to be introduced this month, aims to get 75,000 new “entrepreneur visas” every year to founders who raise $100,000 for new ventures that hire at least two employees within a year.  The bill also would create 50,000 visas per year for foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).  Upon hearing the news, the valley cheered…for five minutes.  Because then the boom was quickly lowered.

President Obama and top Senate Democrats have said they are highly supportive of visas for STEM graduates and high-tech entrepreneurs, but are insisting those issues must be tied to package that includes establishing a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in America illegally.

Last November, the House passed a stand-alone bill that would have given visas to immigrants in high-tech fields.  President Obama opposed the bill, and the White House said at the time it “does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the president’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.”

Passing the Start-up Act in many ways is a step towards the America that needs to be re-captured:  As the global leader in innovation and technology, that creates hundreds of thousands of well paying jobs in growth oriented fields. The America which is able to compete with emerging markets in Asia and attracts the best talent.  The poison pill of linking skilled and unskilled immigration is another step down into the morass, where political expediency and vote-bank politics always trumps the need to solve difficult problems.  It’s a poor choice for America that desperately needs jobs and growth.

The Crazy Lone Gunman

Guest post by Inderpal Singh Mumick

Another senseless shooting, this one in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Every few weeks or months there seems to be a random shooting somewhere in America. The story line never seems to change much. A “sick” person, acting alone, decides to take the lives of many. In July, twenty people met an untimely end in Aurora, CO. Their “fault” – wanting to see the first showing of the latest batman movie. A year ago, Gabrielle Giffords was injured, and six innocent victims died just because they came to meet with her. And last month, Oak Creek upped the ante further by taking the unjustified, cold-blooded shootings to a place of worship. Six people are dead simply because they went to pray at a Gurudwara (Sikh place of worship).

Personally, the tragedy hit home like none other to date. This was a shooting in a Gurudwara, the place I go for peace. Much more than just a place to pray, the Gurudwara is a part of life. When our first son was born, my wife and I went to the Bridgewater Gurudwara to ask for God’s blessing, and to find out the first letter of his name, as is customary in Sikhism. The Guru Granth (holy book of the Sikhs) opened to a page starting with “K”, and we named him Kieraj. When our girl was born, we did the same (“R” led to Ruhani), and repeated it for our youngest son (“S” became Saran).

Was it an attack on the Sikhs, and our way of living? Were Sikhs being discriminated because of our unique identity? Sikh men wear turbans, and all Sikhs do not cut their hair. Was it meant to be an attack on Muslims? Many people in the western world confuse Sikhs to be Muslims. Either way, it was an attack on a place of worship, and an attack on one place of worship is an attack on every place of worship.

As a society, we need to reflect on what is going on in our beloved country that is leading to such hatred, craziness, and terror, so that we can find ways to prevent more tragedies.

I know I speak for my whole community when I say that our hearts go out to the innocent victims who gave up their lives on that unfortunate day, and to Lt. Murphy who acted with valor, and did not hesitate to protect his fellow Americans though they looked different from many other Americans, and worshipped in a different way. May WaheGuru (God) bring a speedy and painless recovery to him, and to the other injured individuals who are hospitalized.

The only way we can move forward is to think of the positive. One positive outcome of this horrid event is that various communities have come together like never before. The pastors, the bishops, the imams, the monks, the rabbis, and the community leaders have all shared the pulpit to deplore the violence and to ask for tolerance and love.

However, coming together is not enough. Education is the key to preventing future tragedies. We need to educate our law enforcement officers, the TSA, the airlines staff, the judiciary, the armed forces, the legislatures, and the teachers. Most of all, we need to educate school children and others in the younger generation. It is the younger generation that has the power to ensure that peace and tolerance will push out hate and ignorance. In Berkeley Heights, NJ, where I live, students are assigned a project in middle school where each student researches one religion, and presents it to the class. They make posters and powerpoints to share their learning. My two sons were the only Sikh boys in their middle school and therefore looked different from everyone else; yet they have been well assimilated into the school and into the community. Our daughter has just been elected President of her class. Kudos to Ms. Judith Rattner, the superintendent, and Mr. Frank Geiger, the principal of the middle school. I encourage every school in the country to adopt such a project in their curriculum so that they can foster a positive and tolerant environment.

Sikhs may dress differently, but are very much a part of our mainstream society. They are scientists, engineers, doctors, police officers, teachers, army men, businessmen, executives, governors, and prime ministers. The first Asian American congressman, Dalip Singh Saund, was a Sikh. Nikki Haley, the current governor of South Carolina, was born a Sikh. The current prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, is a Sikh. Sikhs are hard working, peaceful people who believe in one god for all. Sikhs believe in equality amongst all people, regardless of race, religion, caste, and gender; thus, our Sikh values have much in common with our American values.

It is our duty as a community to eradicate the hatred that has been built against Islam, especially after 9/11. If Sikhs are being attacked because of being mistaken as Muslims, it begs the question: Why are we tolerating the hatred against Muslims? Muslims, like any other faith in this melting pot of America, have also made countless contributions to our society. Salman Khan founded Khan Academy (, helping educate children around the world for free. All three of my children use the Khan Academy regularly, as do their friends and classmates. The most well known actor in India today is Shahrukh Khan. His blockbuster movie “My Name is Khan” is an eye opener on how Muslims feel in America, and the challenges they face.

At a memorial service in Oak Creek, WI, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said,
“In the recent past, too many Sikhs have been targeted and victimized simply because of who they are, how they look, and what they believe. That is wrong. It is unacceptable. And it will not be tolerated.”

The people who carry out the heinous acts are “crazy.” If they survive the attacks, as they did in Arizona and Colorado, they are declared too mentally ill to even stand trial. At the same time, these “mentally ill” people are able to purchase guns and ammunition. Why is it that a mentally ill person can buy guns and tons of ammunition? Will we give a pilot license to a mentally sick person and allow him to fly an airplane. Will we allow a pilot to keep his license if he becomes mentally ill.

Eric Holder has called for a national discussion on changing laws to prevent future shooting attacks. Should we require a certification of mental stability to buy a gun or to buy ammunition? Should there be a re-certification every few years?
Let us have a debate, and let us work to prevent future shootings by “The Crazy Lone Gunman,” who, unfortunately, has made himself a familiar presence in our society.

(This post was originally published at and has been republished here with the author’s consent.)

Good Intentions With Bad Consequences: Affirmative Action

Guest post by Kush Desai

Each year, thousands of aspiring high school seniors send thousands upon thousands of college applications in to their dream schools. Laden with application fees (which alone can add up to several hundred, if not, thousand dollars), these applications are sent in with high hopes of a good education and future – and fears of outright rejection and failure.

But of the many merit-based factors that can affect a college admissions decision, from SAT scores to GPAs to extracurricular activities, none is as uncontrollable as one’s ethnicity. Statistically under-performing ethnic groups – like African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans – can receive a ‘boost’ in undergraduate admissions. Statistically over-performing ethnic groups – such as East, and, in our case particularly, South Asians – are considered more rigorously for admission.

Simply, affirmative action policies are futile attempts to correct a much bigger and complex problem. They aim to somehow establish a new equilibrium of racial representation and achievement in academics and education. How significant is affirmative action’s influence? Consider this: when Texas abolished its affirmative action policies in 1996, Texas’s prestigious Rice University’s freshman class had 46% fewer African Americans and 22% fewer Hispanic students compared to previous freshman classes ( Such jaw-dropping statistics are indicative of how important affirmative action is for many ‘under-performing’ minorities, many of whom come from poverty and otherwise difficult circumstances.

But in this otherwise virtuous and munificent undertaking, hardworking and intelligent members of ‘over-performing’ minorities are in turn discriminated against. Princeton University sociologist, Thomas Espenshade, reported in a study that while Asian applicants to prestigious universities received an admissions ‘penalty’ equivalent to about 140 points on their SATs, black and Hispanic students received an admissions boost equivalent to about 310 and 130 points, respectively, on their SATs (

We, as the Indian-American community ought to be outraged.

While I myself am a proponent of some sort of affirmative action policy, I think currently many modern affirmative action policies are outdated and ineffective. More importantly, the affirmative action policies of providing ‘boosts’ and ‘penalties’ for members of certain ethnicities deal with the results of the problem, not the problem itself. Education is a lifelong process, and one’s demographics and socioeconomic circumstances go a long way.

Consider Indian-Americans singularly, as a case example. The USINPAC website proudly reports that the median household income for Indian American families is “nearly double the median income of all American families”. Across the board, wealthier households – regardless of race – produce more educated children. They tend to live in cities and towns with better schools that can open more doors for college admissions. Wealthier households may simply have more resources available for their children’s education – SAT classes, prep books, tutors, the ability for mothers to stay home and ensure proper management of their children’s time, etc. Additionally, many Indian-American parents themselves belong to the well-educated classes of Americans, saturating career fields in medicine, research, IT, and, increasingly, finance. More educated parents are more likely to stress the importance of a good education to their children. For households who do not necessarily fit into this wealthy minority mold, Indian and Hindu culture stress the importance of and respect for education, a paradigm indicative in the Upanishads’ famous line “acharya devo bhava” or “the teacher is God”. At common cultural and religious events, Indian-American children and families are likely to associate with other Indian-Americans who are better off and who can brush off the right ideas of work and education. Many teens (including yours truly) may lament the “monkey see, monkey do” competitive mentality of their parents with regards to SATs and college admissions, but it is a social habit that has helped induce widespread educational success.

Given these circumstances, it should hardly be surprising to discover that Indian-American students are routinely competing for seats at America’s finest universities. It would be unfair to punish these students for simply being born with a leg up in the education process.

On the other hand, underrepresented minorities are typically poorest. They are often confined to reside in poorer inner-city neighborhoods. These inner-city neighborhoods’ schools – as a result of low property values – are often underfunded and ridden with issues akin to poor urban areas in every nation: gang influence, troubled family life, and the stresses of people living paycheck-to-paycheck. In many cases, high school students are forced to drop out of school and take up low wage work to help their struggling households. Unlike with Indian-American students, there is no coherent and binding cultural/religious tenet upholding the necessity of education or much – if any – association with better educated and mentoring kin. It should hardly be surprising that minorities who are often subjugated to such circumstances fail to truly compete with their Asian-American and white peers, all of whom are much more likely to have better resources and support.
But it is from here, where students receive the foundations of their education, where affirmative action ought to take root. Better school funding, organization, and out-of-school help and welfare programs may help these poorer minorities to bridge the wealth-education gap. It is a solution that gives real gains to minorities, and it is a solution that does not punish Asian-American students either.

To summarize, current affirmative action policies – those of ‘helping’ underrepresented minorities at the expense of over-represented minorities – are outright unjust. There are better alternatives out there, alternatives that work with minority students at the very foundations of the problems of under-representation. In the ensuing political discourse and widening public interest in American education, I hope people become cognizant of such woes. As the wise axiom of social rights activist Malcolm X once put it: “education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today”. While we focus a great deal on the visas and passports of immigration, it is time we focus on the Indian-American youths’ “passport to the future”.