From paving the way to the naturalization of people of Indian descent to writing laws that guaranteed gender equality in education, Asian American politicians have made a lasting impact on the institutions of the United States.
In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, NBC Asian America looks back at some of these political trailblazers including Dalip Singh Saund.
He emigrated from India in 1920 through way of Ellis Island, and attended the University of California, Berkeley, for his masters and Ph.D. in mathematics. After getting married, he and his family moved to the farming community of Westmorland, California, where Saund became interested in politics. But because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen, his ability to participate was limited.
In the 1940s, he organized efforts to open citizenship to Indians living in the U.S. and eventually Congress passed a bill in 1946 allowing Indian immigrants to pursue naturalization. Saund officially became a U.S. citizen in 1949. The following year, he ran for a judgeship and won, but the election was vacated because he had been a citizen for less than a year. Saund successfully ran again two years later and served for four years.
In 1955, Saund announced his campaign to run for the House of Representatives as a Democrat and was re-elected twice. He was a supporter of the 1957 Civil Rights Act and used his own story to advocate its passage.
“No amount of sophistry or legal argument can deny the fact that in 13 counties in one state in the United States of America in the year 1957, not one Negro is a registered voter,” Saund, who died in 1973, at 73, said during a speech in support of the law. “Let us remove those difficulties, my friends.”