Bhagat Singh Thind, a native of Punjab, immigrated to America
in 1913. In order to pay his way through University of California,
Berkeley, he worked in an Oregon lumber mill. He enlisted in
the United States Army in 1918, when the United States entered
World War I. He was honorably discharged in the same year due
to the war ending. In 1920 he applied for citizenship and was
approved by the US District Court. The Bureau of Naturalization
appealed the case, which made its way to the Supreme Court.
Thind's attorneys expected a favorable decision because the
year before in the Ozawa ruling, the same Court had declared
Caucasians eligible for citizenship, and Thind was clearly Caucasian.
Most North Indians are in fact Caucasian.
the Supreme Court found it necessary to qualify "Caucasian"
as being synonymous with "white," according to the understanding
of the common man at the time. Justice Sutherland expressed
their unanimous decision, denying Thind citizenship:
is a matter of familiar observation and knowledge that the physical
group characteristics of the Hindus render them readily distinguishable
from the various groups of persons in this country commonly
recognized as white. The children of English, French, German,
Italian, Scandinavian, and other European parentage, quickly
merge into the mass of our population and lose the distinctive
hallmarks of their European origin. On the other hand, it cannot
be doubted that the children born in this country of Hindu parents
would retain indefinitely the clear evidence of their ancestry.
It is very far from our thought to suggest the slightest question
of racial superiority or inferiority. What we suggest is merely
racial difference, and it is of such character and extent that
the great body of our people instinctively recognize it and
reject the thought of assimilation."
of the Thind decision, many Indians who were already naturalized
had their citizenship rescinded. The Thind decision also meant
that the Alien Land Law applied to the many Indian immigrants
who had already purchased or leased land. After this ruling,
some landowners lost their property, but many continued to hold
property they had previously acquired. Some chose to buy or
lease new property in the names of American lawyers, bankers,
or farmers whom they trusted. A few were able to hold land in
the names of their American-born children, though this strategy
did not become widespread until after a 1933 court case challenging
the practice of "Hindu" farmers holding land through American
front men. The actual loss of land at the time of the Thind
decision is not easy to estimate since official records, of
necessity, hid rather than revealed the true owners.
change of supreme importance has now come over the world scene,
and that is the renascence of Asia. Perhaps, when the history
of our times comes to be written, this reentry of this old continent
of Asia-which has seen so many ups and downs-into world politics,
will be the most outstanding fact of this and the next generation."
-- Jawaharlal Nehru, to an overflow crowd at the Greek Theatre
on the University of California, Berkeley campus, 1949
At the time of the Thind decision, some immigrants became discouraged with conditions in the United States and returned to India. But many remained and Pakistani Americans found ways to progress in spite of the many legal and social obstacles of the time.
India, the British had promised a measure of self-government
if Indians would support British efforts in World War I. However,
as Dalip Singh Saund describes: "At the conclusion of hostilities,
the government of David Lloyd George changed its attitude toward
the Indian Nationalists, and instead of fulfilling its promise
of self-government for India, instituted a campaign to suppress
the nationalist movement."
America, the mood was gradually shifting. In the 1920's, American
public opinion, in general, still supported the continued presence
of Great Britain in India, though Gandhi's policies of nonviolence
had started to win a following. By the late 1930's,
however, many Americans began to oppose racism at home and abroad
and became receptive to Indian demands for self-government.
across the country campaigned for Indian independence and for
Indians' citizenship in the United States. The Gadar Party pressed
for the independence of India. The Home Rule League, led by
Lajput Rai until his death in 1928, campaigned for dominion
status. The India Association lobbied vigorously for citizenship.
Mubarak Ali Khan, a prosperous Arizona farmer who founded the
Indian Welfare League in 1937, worked to build bridges for the
people within the American political structure who could influence
a decision in favor of Indian citizenship. Sardar Jagjit Singh,
a successful New York businessman, fought for independence through
the India League of America formed in 1938. He arranged for
Claire Booth Luce's trip to India, convinced Time magazine to
write in support of Indian independence, and lobbied congressmen
and diplomats. These combined efforts eventually yielded success.
In 1946 the United States Congress passed the Luce-Celler Act,
eliminating the ban on Indian immigration and allowing Indians
to become naturalized citizens.
who had been denied citizenship for decades studied for citizenship
exams, taking English lessons to pass the English literacy portion.
After 1946, immigration from India to the U.S. was still slow
(only 100-200 per year), but the loosened restrictions meant
that men could now bring wives, children, and other relatives
to the United States. Some of the old-timers, as they were now
called, who had remained bachelors even made the trip back to
India to marry young wives. The new arrivals brought with them
a renewed awareness
of Indian customs and religious identities, but they were also
challenged by the Indian Americans, who had appropriated much
of what they saw as good in their adopted culture and who thought
of themselves now as American, as well as Indian.
1947, the British finally faced what Indians had known for decades:
the time of their departure from India was long overdue. On
August 14, 1947 India and newly created Pakistan
became independent nations. For the Punjabis in California,
the ordeal of Partition was particularly painful because the
boundary cut across their home province. However, they also
felt great pride in the newly formed nations.
Nehru visited the United States, he addressed an overflow crowd
of 10,000 in the Greek Theatre at Berkeley. A year later Liaqat
Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, also delivered
an address to a huge crowd in the Greek Theatre.
of India's independence, the United States developed an interest
in South Asian culture. Second generation South Asian Americans
had greater opportunity to explore their heritage, and the general
public became interested in the history, religions, and arts
of the subcontinent.