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US building to commemorate NRI

The US government dedicated a post office to Dalip Singh, reports Gurmukh Singh.

india Updated: Feb 22, 2006 16:58 IST

In a first gesture of its kind towards the Indian American community, the US governmentformally named a government building after an Indian American on Tuesday.

The main post office in this city of 90,000, about 80 miles from Los Angeles in Southern California, was officially named after Dalip Singh Saund who in 1956 became the first Asian Congressman in the history of the US.

The post office falls in the congressional district of Saund who went on to win to three terms. His fourth bid was aborted when he suffered a paralytic stroke. Saund died in 1973.

Presiding over the renaming ceremony in the presence of the local mayor Ron Roberts and many prominent Indian Americans, the local Congressman Darrell Issa paid glowing tributes to the late Congressman for his courage to beat the odds and become the first Asian to enter the US Congress.

Issa, who himself is of Lebanese descent, said he was honoured to introduce a bill to rename the post office after Saund. "It is not easy task to get such bills passed as Congressmen have different leanings. Some are to the left, some are to the right. But happily there was unanimity on this bill," he said.

President George Bush signed the bill into a law last July. The life of Congressman Saund, Issa noted, was an inspiration for right-thinking and fair-minded Americans to fight xenophobia. According to Issa, the American people had seen the internship of the Japanese Americans during the war.

Lauding the path-breaking role played by Saund, Congressman Issa said his example showed how one's different identity could become one's strength. He said Saund was a Democratic and he is a Republican. But that didn't matter to him when he introduced the bill to rename the post office after Saund. America,Issa added, has honoured its true hero and the people of this town should be proud of this.

Later, Congressman Issa told the Indian gathering that he will endeavor to have a postal stamp issued in the name of Saund. It may be recalled the US was the first country after India to issue two postal stamps in the name of Mahatma Gandhi in 1961.

Welcoming the gathering on the lawns of the post office, Mayor Ron Roberts said the renaming of the post office after Saund was a matter of pride for the town.

Speaking on behalf of the Indian American community, Inder Singh, who also heads the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, thanked Congressman Issa for taking the initiative to honour Saund.

He said, "Saund entered the same Congress in 1956 which a few years earlier had passed Asian exclusionary laws to bar them (Asians) from owning property , marrying a US citizen."

Singh continued: "Saund came to the US in 1920 to study at UC Berkeley where he earned a doctorate in math. But he discovered that his career options were limited due to anti-immigrant feelings in the US. Under the circumstances, the best job he could get was that of a farm hand from which, over a period of time, he graduated to become a farmer.

"Saund began fighting against the discriminatory laws against Indians and took lead in getting a bill passed through Congress to allow citizenship to Indian nationals. The bill was signed by President Truman on July 3, 1946, allowing Indians to get US citizenship," said Singh.

"July 3 was thus the true Independence Day for Indian nationals in the US. In 1949, Saund became a US citizen, and four years later he became the first Asian to be elected to the US Congress," he spoke.

Praising the late Congressman for his courage of conviction, Inder Singh said Saund didn't adopt a new religion nor did he Americanize himself. "He assimilated himself in the American mainstream but maintained his heritage. Today, Indian Americans seeking political office invoke his name. Saund is a source of inspiration and a worthy role model."

The local Indian community raised $10,000 for Congressman Issa to thank him for his efforts in getting Saund honoured.