From a Pogrom to Prosperity

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A great example of the American Dream from reader Kavinder:

I was reading your archive note about the status of the people and their children who were given legal status under President Reagan. I am one of those children. My father came to the Unites States from India during the mid 1980s in search of better opportunity and to escape the aftermath of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots—he was a Sikh living in Punjab at the time—leaving his wife (my mother) behind.

Here’s a quick interlude from an August 1988 Atlantic piece to illustrate what Kavinder’s father was fleeing:

Sikh man surrounded and beaten (Wikimedia)

On October 31, 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was murdered by two Sikhs belonging to her personal bodyguard. One of her assassins, Beant Singh, was killed. Beant Singh has now followed Bhindranwale into the martyrology of the Sikh insurgents. For three days after the murder of the Prime Minister, Hindu mobs attacked the Sikh population in New Delhi, causing something like 4,000 deaths. During this period the authorities did little or nothing to protect the Sikh population. Indeed, although the governing Congress Party has always declared its resolute opposition to communalism, it is believed that some Congress officials, in those frenzied November days, instigated and directed the rampaging Hindu mobs.

Back to Kavinder:

The entry point for my father into the United States was via Canada to Buffalo, from which he was able to get on a plane to New York City. At first my father lived in the Bronx by Jerome Ave. and manned a newspaper stall in downtown Manhattan. He later was able to get other jobs, such as working for a paving company in Astoria and as a gas station attendant in New Hyde Park. After given legal status, my father worked full time at the gas station and lived in Jamaica Queens off Hillside Ave. He was also able to bring my mother from India.

This was when the Indian American community in New York City was not as large as it is today. In essence, my parents were among the first group of immigrants who came to formally distressed areas of New York (especially Queens) and transformed them into vibrant communities.

A few years after given legal status, my father applied for permanent status and got his green card. At the same time he was able to save up to $100,000, and a few months after I was born, we moved out of New York City and to Toms River, NJ. With help from family back in India, my father bought a home and a distressed corporate-owned gas station in Toms River.

Twenty-five years later, my dad still operates that same gas station with purchasing the real estate of the property (now valued at over $1,000,000) and two rental properties in New Jersey. His children—my sister and myself—went to public school in Toms River. My sister went to Rutgers University and is currently in her fourth year in medical school. I went to New York University for my undergraduate studies and have also started medical school.

Our situation is not all that unique, as many of my father’s friends who were also given legal status under Reagan also went to achieve similar levels of success. It is because of my family history that I am a passionate believer in a open immigration system. My father did not come to the United States with a college degree but was able to achieve a high level of success and have two children who are also on the pathway to upward mobility.

I hope my story was of interest to you.

Very much so. If you have a similar story of your own, please let us know. A few previous immigrant stories from readers are posted here, in our series on reaching adulthood.