1- Letter To My Great-Great-Great Grand-Son/Daughter
2- Saying The Final Goodbye
3- In The Beginning
4- History of Indian Immigrants in America
A LETTER TO MY GREAT-GREAT-GREAT
Roy P. Thomas, MD
My dear great-great-great gandson/grand-daughter,
This is a very personal letter.
Possibly you found this old letter as you were cleaning out your late grandmother's closets after her death.
Let me introduce myself to you first. I am your ancestral father who lived 5 generations before you, and I am writing this letter in the spring of 2004 AD.
I would very much like to see you in person. But as there are about 150 years separating us, it is an impossibility.
My great- great- great-grandfather, Poothicote Kochitty Kuruvila, was born in 1785. That is about 157 years before my birth in 1942. So most likely, as you read this letter, you are living somewhere in the middle of the 22nd century.
Then why should I write to you, you might ask?
I am sure that you have a lot of information about my generation from census records, microfilms of old newspapers, and from history books.
But that is only a small part of me. I would like to tell you a few more personal things about me, because you are part of me, and I am part of you, though we don't personally know each other.
Without me, you wouldn't have a biological existence, and without you, an evidence of my biological existence would also be extinct.
I am writing to you about the times and places I have lived. I don't know where you are living when this letter reaches you.
I do not know your color or nationality. I will not even try to guess how many different ethnic groups contributed genes to your genome.
If the genomes are the omnibuses through which one-generation travel to the next, then part of me has already traveled to you. I hope the contributions I made to your gene pool are good ones. (I fervently pray that my type II diabetes genes skipped you.)
I am an Asian Indian immigrant who came to United States of America in 1971. I have been fortunate to live in the 20th and the 21st centuries. It was a very turbulent, but important period in the history of man on this planet, or at least that is what we think.
The place where I was born was a small village called Mepral in the state of Kerala, on the Southern tip of the Indian sub-continent.
There was no electricity or running water in our village when I was growing up as a child.
Computers, space travel, discovery of the atom, and even ballpoint pens, all these happened after I was born, not that I have anything to do with any of these discoveries.
People who were witnesses to my birth say that I was crying loudly when I came in to this world. When I think of the state of the world back then, I had all the reason to cry. The world was in the middle of the Second World War, the worst manmade disaster in the history of our planet. 160 million people were burned, drowned, shot, or starved to death in the madness of that war. Our generation came close to destroying the world with nuclear weapons a few times, but somehow sanity prevailed in the end.
We are polluting the air and water as never before. Unless our generation or the next makes some drastic changes, our planet may become inhospitable for human life and you may not be there to read this letter.
But I also had reasons to be happy at my birth, because I was born to good loving parents, and I had grandparents who considered me as a precious gift from God. I hope you also have loving parents and grandparents.
I have lived more than half of my life in America, the richest country so far in the history of man. Several million people pass through the world's busiest airport in Chicago as visitors every year, but somehow I decided to call this city my home. I have lived here for the past 29 years. This country has been good to me and I am blessed with many material things.
But am I happier today than when I didn't have all these material things in the country of my birth? I don't think so. Whatever material things I lacked in my younger years were more than compensated by the abundance of love from my family and the community in which I grew up.
I am a physician by profession and I started my medical studies in 1961. Those were the days when we mostly depended on our hands, stethoscopes, knee hammers, and an occasional X-ray to make the diagnosis. The treatments for heart attacks most of the time were morphine, nasal oxygen, and strict bed rest. Angioplasty, telemetry, and even ICUs were far in the future. Those days before the fiber optics, we used metal rods to dilate the urethra for an enlarged prostate, and a rigid metal sigmoidoscope to take a peek at the colon. I still have in my mind, to this day, the images of the frightened patients in terrible pain when they underwent these procedures.
During the past 30 years, I have seen medicine making marvelous strides in front of my own eyes, as it did never before in the history of mankind. Today, when our children, who chose our profession, use virtual colonoscopy to detect the tiniest polyp, or 3D guided ablation inside the heart to correct an abnormal rhythm, or use anti-angiogenesis drugs to choke the blood supply to a tumor, we know for sure that there is more than a generation gap between our medical school days and theirs. Wilhelm Roentgen, Willem Einthoven, or William Osler never thought of these things even in their wildest dreams.
I do not know what all advancements are made by the time this letter reaches you. Has science discovered a cure for all cancers? Has human life expectancy reached 150? Do women conceive and deliver the natural way, or is human cloning the preferred way? Have you overtaken the speed of light? Do you make any pleasure trips to any other planets? I would love to know about all these things.
My ancestors lived in Kerala, a beautiful land of lush greens, blue lagoons, coconut trees, and tranquil backwaters, a tropical paradise for several millenniums. This has always been a land of peace, tranquility, and tolerance, welcoming people from all over the world since the beginning of recorded history, and many have left their cultural religious footprints in this soil. I was not running away from persecution or tyranny when I left this land of my ancestors. I was only looking for better pastures.
When I left my ancestral home, did I make a break with the continuum of my people's history? My great- great- great-grandfather was born in Kerala, died, and buried there 150 years ago, and never traveled more than 100 miles away from his home in his entire lifetime.
I don't know how my decision to leave my ancestral land affected you. I hope it didn't give you more problems than I bargained for.
By the way, this letter is originally published in the souvenir of the Association of Kerala Medical Graduates in America, an organization to which I am closely associated since its inception in 1979. Are there any remnants of this organization in your time? Are there any people who claim that they are the descendents of Kerala immigrants to America? I hope there are.
These and many other questions I would like to ask you, but I do not have your correct address. Come to think of it, if and when this letter reaches your hands, I do not know where my address will be either.
Saying the Final Goodbye April, 1999
Roy P, Thomas, M.D.
I was leaving my home in India after the death of my mother. My brothers are in America and my sister also lives far away. My father had died 24 years ago.
As the doors of our house were being padlocked, I took one last look at the pictures hanging on the walls. The photographs were of my father, Thomas, who was born in 1904, grandfather, Varkey, born in 1876, and great grandfather, the Very Reverend Thomas, born in 1846. The property where the house stands was purchased by my great-great-great-grandfather, Kuruvilla, who was born in 1785.
Mepral, a small farming village in central Kerala, has been our ancestral home for over 300 years. In their lifetime none of my forefathers ever ventured more than 200 miles from home. So in 1971 when I left India for another country on a different continent, it was an event with far reaching implications, although at the time I did not realize it.
As I stood on the porch of our house, my mind traveled through the past decades, faster at a speed beyond the limitations of physical science.
It was a week earlier we had buried my mother. In this house all 4 of her children were born and raised. She was a loving, but formidable woman. She took care of our family, which included grandparents, uncles, and a large number of laborers working for us in the fields. She tended to the cows, the chickens, and ducks, as well as helping my father with his job as postmaster, the only government job in our village..
She had only high school education, but at that time it was a good education for a woman. She could write to her grandchildren in English, and could recite Shakespeare, Homer, and Alexander's soliloquy even at the age of eighty. When we were young, she woke us up at 5 am and after morning prayers, sat with us tutoring the day's lessons. Even in my first year of college, she would copy my class notes and quiz me on all the subjects.
I always remember her racing after running chicken to catch it and make it a dinner for us in the pot. Once she caught one, she always needed help from someone else to behead it, as her gentle soul could not watch even the death of an animal.
She was always running, running after kids, running after hens, running after cows, and running from one task to the next.
Now the running was all over. As I stood beside her mortal remains, I had to accept the inevitable.
In the coffin she was wearing the mundu and chatta, the traditional white cotton attire of the Christian women of her generation. She belonged to the pre sari era as sari came to Kerala from the north as the dress of the women only in the middle of the 20th century. My mother wore a sari for the first time in 1975 when she visited us in America.
Though we persuaded her to stay longer, after 3 months in America she returned to her beloved village. She used to write me long letters in her beautiful handwriting even when diabetic neuropathy was bothering her late in life. I replied in very short letters or by brief phone calls, or sometimes none at all.
I always had an excuse- I was busy. Only sons are capable of such cruelties. We have a childish faith in the eternal strength of our parents. We believe that they can always take any thing harsh form us and still love us unconditionally.
Today I would like to write letters to my mother and ask her many things, never asked before, about her, her parents, and about the times in which she lived. But she is no longer here to answer my questions.
That brings to mind, my children and their children, born and yet unborn. Will they have much knowledge about my parents and their time in the old country? Though they are the ones who contributed to their genetic code, will they know any more about them and their times than about the world of the Pharaohs?
We first generation immigrants are guilty on one count, not telling our children about their heritage. As we live in this affluent surrounding, we never fail to remind our children of how much more difficult life was in our earlier years. If our children ask for costly things, we are eager to remind them, how we survived on staple rice and curry, and how we walked to school miles away, or how we never had a car or a television. Soon the parent will become the "old man" at home who is an ancient bore. But we rarely tell our children what we were like before we became parents, and what our feelings are towards our parents and to our cultural heritage.
Our children also will grow old and finally age will prompt them one day to ask the same questions themselves. But we may not be here then to answer them.
When we are young, all of us resent instinctively to being creatures designed or defined by our parents and their times. It is so boring and unattractive an option. But somewhere along our lives, one day we will realize that we all come from the past, we are in a braided cord going back in generations, and our life is more than a solitary journey from the cradle to the grave.
In the Beginning :- Roy P. Thomas, MD
Is this all a mere chance that I am here in this particular point in time to write this story? A part in me tells that life is a brief glitter of light between two unknown darkness at either end. But my instincts tell me that chance, genes, or environment can not explain what I am. The good Lord who fashioned me for a brief existence on this earth is still shaping me, and he has not finished with me yet.
I am told that when I came out of my mother's womb on January 9, 1942, I was crying very loudly, but I have no recollection of it. But considering the situation of the world at that time, I had all the reasons to cry.
The world was in the middle of a grim and ghastly war. The bombing of Pearl Harbor had happened a month earlier. The London blitz was lighting up the skies over Europe. Mahatma Gandhi had declared the "Quit India " movement against the British, which was the beginning of the end of colonial rule in most of the world, but the slaughter of millions of innocents was going on. Thousands of people were burned, drowned, maimed, or starved to death every day all across the world in the name of nationalism.
I could have been crying with joy as well on that day, because I was a wanted and precious baby. My mother was thought to be barren because she did not conceive a child even after 5 years of marriage. I was considered a heavenly gift for my parents after many years of fruitless attempts to have a child to carry on the family name. Anyhow it is suffice to say here that in the fullness of years according to the infinitesimal wisdom of the good Lord, I was issued uneventfully in a small corner of British India as a subject of the local Travancore Maharaja and the English emperor, His Royal Highness George VI. Oblivious and unaware of the historic events taking place all around the world, I slumbered through my infancy sucking on to my mother's breast for the major portion of my daily protein supply.
I was not given a choice in selecting my place of birth. I had to be near my mother when she gave birth to me, and so I was born where I was born. But during that turbulent period, I could not have selected a more remote and tranquil place to be born than Kerala in southern India. They call it now "God's own country." The people who have lived in this southwest corner of the subcontinent for thousands of years speak the Malayalam language and they are a mixture of Dravidian, Caucasian, West Asian, and Semitic races. Those days it was a paradise of tall coconut trees spreading its canopies for shade everywhere and miles and miles of green rice paddy fields. Kerala measures 360 miles long and has average width 0f 45 miles. It stands on the shores of the dark blue Arabian Sea.
Pumpa is the widest and the most well known river in Kerala, taking its origin from the mountains in the east and flowing to the ocean in the west. During the monsoon season, it is muddy, violent, and flows with a fury. Human and animal carcasses used to float over its surface. But during the summer months, it was clear, calm, and tranquil like the people who live here. Men wore white mundu which is a loin clothe reaching up to the ankle with colorful lines on its borders. Most Women wore spotless white saris and they carried black umbrellas everywhere to protect them from sun and rain. The earth had an abundance of green foliage, but the air was always hot and humid. People traveled by river on valloms, the wooden boats covered with a canopy of woven bamboo reeds.
During its course to the ocean, the river Pampa passes through a village called Niranam, where according to ancient tradition stands one of seven churches established by St. Thomas, the apostle of Christ in 52 A.D. My great- great- great -grandfather, Kochitty Kuruvilla, was buried inside this church in 1852. That was the last time the honor of being buried inside a church was accorded to a layman in the Orthodox Church in Kerala. Kochitty Kuruvilla was a high ranking Christian judicial officer, appointed by the local ruler on the advice of colonel Monroe, the British resident ruler of south India at that time. Also in one of the unmarked graveyard in the same church rests the mortal remains of my maternal grand mother.
Five miles west of Niranam, on the banks of the river Pampa was the ancestral home of my mother. Her family's name is Thevaril. There were no paved roads to this village 30 years ago. Today, there is a bus stop in front of the house and it is also known as the Theveril bus stop
My mother was the 6th among the eleven children in her family. The family was neither rich nor poor, but of modest means. Although it was one of the bigger houses in the area, there were only two bedrooms in the house. Most of the space in the house was taken for Ara, which was used for the grain storage. Every year the harvested grain was kept in the Ara till it was sold or used at home. My grandfather, grandmother, their children, grandchildren, in-laws, and servants, together more than 15 people, lived in the house. Because of the hot humid weather, many preferred to sleep outside.
One of the bedrooms in this house was reserved for my arrival to the world. There was no electricity, running water, indoors plumbing, or telephones in those days.
It was the tradition in those days that the eldest child was delivered at the mother's house. Hospital deliveries were very rare during those days.
I arrived on time with no medical intervention and grew up without the help of a pediatrician's chart. If any medical intervention was needed for my arrival, I would not have made it because there were no hospitals or doctors in the village and no transportation available other than the slow moving valloms, manually driven by bamboo sticks. In those days prolonged labor invariably resulted in the death of the child, and obstructed labor resulted in the death of both mother and child. Maternal and infant mortality rates were so high that many men were married 2 or 3 times. People liked to have large number of children born so that at least some of them would survive to adulthood.
Looking back, more than the perils at birth, it was surviving to adulthood, escaping all dangers on the way that was the more difficult. Diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, and many other childhood diseases took their toll. Polio killed or crippled at random. Though Fleming already had invented penicillin, it took several more years for it to reach up the dirt roads of Kerala countryside. I had my share of many diseases including rheumatic fever. I survived all them with no help from modern medicine. All serious illnesses were treated mostly by prayer.
Occasionally I had treatment according to the ancient Kerala system of medicine called Ayurveda. It consisted of 10 to 15 plant leafs or its roots crushed and made in to bitter syrup. But the thing I hated the moat was fish oil which I was often asked to take by mouth after illnesses to regain strength. It tasted and smelled horrible. Even today when I think of it, I get nauseated. If an illness was very serious, people used to bring a homeopathic practitioner from the neighboring village. Though he had very little knowledge of scientific medicine, it was believed that he could most correctly predict the time of death, especially if the patient was suffering from a ruptured appendix or in obstructed labor. As antibiotics were not available, serious bacterial infections were often fatal.
My maternal grandmother, Achyamma was married once before. Soon after her first wedding, her husband was struck by lightening while he was supervising his workers in a paddy field and he died instantly. Ever since that tragic event, grandma was afraid of lightening. She was never convinced that the chance of one of her children or grandchildren dying from lightening was very remote.
If that lightening had not killed her first husband, she would not have been married to my grandfather, and if so, my mother would not have been born, then I would not have been born, and my children and grandchildren would not be born. So in one way, all of us owe our existence to that terrible lightening. It is also to this grandmother, my two children owe their genes for respiratory allergies. She was a very saintly person who led a life of piety and procreation. Most of the time due respiratory allergy she stayed at her parent's home at Karippayil in Vanggal. Whenever she visited Thavaril, my grandfather would get her pregnant and she would return to her home. In fact she was barefooted all the time and pregnant most of the time.
My maternal grandfather, Kochupappy was a very industrious hard-working man, who successfully farmed the land and supported a large family. He was a stout, baldheaded man with slight garnishing of gray hair on the sides. His lips often twisted with mischief and he uttered an occasional profanity, which was considered as an endearment by the family members to whom it was directed, but his twinkling eyes always displayed playfulness. It is to this Appachen that I owe my genes for diabetes.
He was very hot tempered, and occasionally would even spank his farm workers for a gross impropriety. But his workers always looked forward to these minor beatings because soon after such an incidents he would become very remorseful and would shower his victims with special gifts. He was also a very practical man with a good sense of humor. The day he died, his children and grandchildren were all around his bed. He looked around and called every one by name. When he found every one was near his bed, he murmured, " If you all hang around here, watching me die, who will watch the harvested grain in the fields."
When he died at the age of 78, I was 12 years old. One vivid picture still staying in my mind is his funeral. As his body was taken to the cemetery from home, hundred of his farm workers belonging to the untouchable castes gathered on both sides of the road. They started beating their chest in unison, crying loudly, and lamenting the passing of their master. This was a custom during those days when a prominent person died. More important the status of the deceased, more louder the lamentation. After the funeral, the children of the deceased would compensate these moaners in kind for their public expression of sorrow. But I can vouch that my grandfather's workers were crying in all sincerity and their facial expressions and tears in their eyes attested for it.
I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I had two healthy mammary glands to feed me until I was 3 years of age, and then I had to reluctantly give them up to my newborn sister Susan. During the pre-vaccine era, I received all my immunity from my mother's milk.
My maternal grandmother, Ammachi, died before I was one year old. As she was about to die, she asked for me and my mother put me beside her in the bed. My grandmother raised her frail hands and slowly placed them on my head and blessed me, saying in a gentle voice, " The merciful Lord will keep him safe all the days of his life." She repeated these words 3 times. A few minutes later, she took her last breath. None of her other grandchildren could receive the blessings as no one had expected her to die so soon. My mother proudly used to recount this incident for the rest of her life and considered it as the reason for many of my blessing life. As during the patriarchal times, when Abraham blessed Isaac, and Isaac blessed Jacob, blessing children and grandchildren as people got to the final days of their life was common among the Christians of Kerala. I was 22 years old when my paternal grandfather also blessed me on his deathbed. We all treasure those very important moments in all our life.
HISTORY OF INDIAN IMMIGRANTS IN AMERICA-
KERALA, & PANJABI ROOTS
ROY P THOMAS, MD
It was President Ronald Regan in his inimitable style called Indian immigrant community in America, a model minority. In a very unprecedented step, US congress in 2005 unanimously passed the resolution, Resolution 227, to honor the immigrant Indian community for its great achievements and contributions. The Indian community in US reached the present status through hard work and perseverance in spite of many hardships and obstacles on its way.
When I first came to Chicago in the mid 1970s at a much younger age, I attended a meeting of the elders of the Indian community under the auspices of the India League of America. This organization predated most other Indian organizations in America and few of the octogenarian members at the meeting had actively supported the Indian independence movement under Mahatma Gandhi from here. After meeting these venerable old members, I wrote in an Indian news weekly that a historical record of these first generation Indian Americans should kept for the future generations. Soon I got a call from a professor of history at the University California. She asked me point blank that who told me that the group I met in Chicago was the first generation of Asian Indians in America. She said that she was a 4th generation Indian in America, and the only other Indian that could possibly claim earlier roots in America than her may be some one from Kerala.
She told me that her research showed that the first sighting of an Asian Indian in the American soil is found in the diary of a Reverent William Bentley of Salem, Massachusetts, recorded on December 29, 1790. His name is unknown, but he came to America with one John Gabaut who was a frequent visitor to Malabar Coast for trading in Indian spices. In all probability this unnamed man may have been a Malayalee and he came with Gabaut to US by an East India company ship. There is also a record of 6 young Indians participating in a July 4th Independence parade in 1851 in Salem, Massachusetts. They also came in East India company ships from the Malabar Coast. All these people disappeared in to the darkness of history leaving no traces behind.
Malabar Coast was often considered as part of Madras by many contemporary writers in the West. It is likely that these were indentured workers who first came to England and then moved to America. In course of time, it is possible that few of these young men got married to local black women and settled in racially segregated areas in America. Only a genetic search of the African American community will reveal the contribution Kerala has made to their genome, if any.
Tapan Mukerjee and John (Sunny) Wycliff who have done research on the immigrants from India of this period believe that as most of these indentured workers had Christian first names and as there was religious prohibition against orthodox Hindus crossing the oceans, these young men from Malabar Coast were Christians. They also describe another interesting immigrant from India in 1796, but this was not a human being, but an animal, an elephant. One Captain Jacob Crownshield bought a 2 year old elephant from India for $200and sold it in here for $600
The next record of the arrival of Indians to USA is found in a report in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 6. 1899. The newspaper reported the arrival of 4 young Punjabis from India arriving in Nippon Maru ship landing on San Francisco Pacific Mall. They were former soldiers in the British Indian army. In the early part of the 20th century many peasants from Punjab came to work in the timber mills of California and agricultural lands of Washington State. Few Indian students and political activists against the British rule in India also arrived in America during the same period.
The hard working Indian peasants acquired land and began to prosper. They were called Hindus, though most of them were Sikhs by religion. They were discriminated in the new land and were often victims of racial attacks. An organization called Asiatic Exclusion League was formed by the local population to prevent further immigration of Indians to America and to restrict the Indians and their descendants all ready here from owning property or gaining citizenship.
Some among the new immigrants formed a revolutionary movement called Ghadr Party to liberate India from British rule. Soon the 1st World War broke out and US government very successfully prosecuted and eliminated this group.
This small group of Indians in America had a further set back by the immigration act of 1917 which reserved the right of naturalized citizenship to whites only and barred the entrance of Indians to USA. Few Indians had applied for US citizenship on the basis of a previous US Supreme Court ruling that said White means Caucasian. These Indians argued that on strict scientific grounds Indians are racially Caucasians and so eligible for citizenship. On this basis one A K Mazumdar was given the citizenship by the local immigration officials in California. He was the first Asian Indian to receive US citizenship. But all hopes were shattered soon as the Supreme Court clarified its ruling that what they meant by Caucasian was a person of European origin only. In a twisted logic the court argued that though Indians are Caucasians, they are not whites, though dark, they are not blacks, and so either way ineligible for US citizenship. Mazumdar's citizenship was thus revoked.
US Congress passed the Barred Zone Act in 1917 which barred legal resident Indians here the right to buy property. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed this bill saying that it violated fairness and natural justice. But unfortunately his veto was over ridden by a 2/3 majority in US Congress and the law remained in effect till 1946.
The racial prejudice of the American society of that period is illustrated in a well known incident. Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate in literature and the most world renowned Indian poet of the 20th century was subjected racial insults by the immigration officials at the US- Canadian border in 1929. He protested and cancelled his American journey. He returned to India and made the famous statement that US immigration officials would have insulted even Jesus Christ if tried to enter America as he was an Asiatic with brown skin.
Indians here continued their attempts to get fairness from the government. It is to be gratefully remembered that this small minority, which numbered only 1,476 according to 1940 census, got the support of great men like Pearl Beck, Louis Fisher and Albert Einstein. Finally Republican Clara Luce and Democrat Emmanuel Celler successfully moved a bill in the US Congress giving the right of citizenship for people of Indian origin. It was signed in to law by President Harry Truman in 1946. In 1956 Dalip Sing Saud, a leader of the small Indian community who lead this struggle for justice was elected to US Congress from California and reelected 2 more times with big majorities.
The 1946 act allowed only 100 people from India to immigrate every year to USA and the limit remained at 100 till 1965. Some students, priests, and pastors also came to USA during this period.
Early Malayalee immigrants to Chicago like Professor K S Antony, Philip Kalayil, Mathew Chadrathil, George Eraly, and John Mathai belonged to the few who got the US visas at this time.
Actual immigration of Indians in large numbers started only after the Immigration reform act of 1965 which was signed in to law by President Lyndon Johnson. This law took away the visa quotas for each country and made immigration permits on the basis of US need for professionals and skilled workers. As Vietnam War was going on and as there was a great shortage of doctors and nurses in America, large numbers of these professionala got immigration visas from India. As I was immigrating to US in 1971, not only my visa was sponsored, but my airfare and accommodation were paid for by the hospital that offered me residency training in medicine.
Still much discrimination remained in the books and in the public attitude towards the new arrivals. Most of our doctors and nurses initially had to work in large cities and county hospitals which were not very attractive to locals. The best medical residency slots were always reserved for local graduates. Even after completing residencies, many had to work in inner cities for several years before they could join rich suburban practices. With a Bengali urologist friend once I went to invite the Mayor of Chicago in 1981for a function of the Indian physicians. His secretary told us very bluntly that as our group did not have sufficient voting members and our political contributions were negligible, mayor will not find time to spend with us.
My humiliation was partly relieved 14 years later when I watched President of the Unites States, Bill Clinton making a special trip to Chicago on Air Force One to attend the annual convention of Indian physicians. By this time about 42,000 Indian physicians had gained sufficient clout through organization.
There were many more obstacles in our way. Even as late as 1990, Medicare used to reduce payments to hospitals if there were more than a certain number of foreign physicians in their residency programs.
There was still confusion for the local population as well as in our own minds as to what racial group the Indian immigrant belonged. Indian in America all ways denoted Native Indians. So in the application forms, in the space after race, we often filled the column differently; some wrote we are Asians, Aryans, Dravidians, Caucasians, etc. After much deliberation, Census Bureau titled us as Asian Indians and we call ourselves Indian Americans.
As Americans came to know more about the Indian physicians, the public mood gradually changed. A Bengali physician was selected to operate on President Regan for his colon cancer, and President George Bush Sr. was treated by a Malayalee cardiologist as his heart went in to atrial fibrillation. Indian nurses, especially the Malayalee nurses, gained a reputation for their care and professionalism.
85 % of all Indian immigrants to US came after 1980. Census reports show that in 1900 there were 2050 Asian Indians in USA, 1923 it was 7000, in 1940 it came down to 1476, 1980- it went up to 815,447, 1990- it was 1.3 millon, 2005- 2.3 million, and in 2008 it is estimated that there are about 3.2 million people of Indian origin here, out of which about 500,000 are from Kerala. According to 2000 US census, Indian Americans are the richest ethnic community in US and their average household income is 25 % above the average American family income. 67% of Indians in US have college degrees and 40% have postgraduate or professional degrees. According to University of California at Berkley study 1/3 of Silicon Valley engineers are of Indian origin and 7% of them are founders of successful high tech companies. Our community in our generation produced 2 Nobel Prize winners, Dr. Khorana in medicine and Dr. Chandrasekar in astrophysics, and the Kerala born EC Geoge Sudarshan came very close to getting one. Our rostrum includes, VinodKhosla, the founder and CEO of the Microsystems, Sabhir Bhatia, founder and CEO of hotmail.com, Vinod Dham, the founder and CEO of Intel Pentium process. Our people lead several large multi national corporations like United Airlines, US Airways, and Citibank etc. as CEOs or as presidents. When IndraNooyi became the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world, Pepsi Cola, it was a proud moment not only for our community, but for all the women across the world.
Zubin Mehtha is still America’s most favorite music conductor. Night Shyamalan made his mark as an excellent movie producer. Dr. Deepak Chopra, Fareed Zachariah, and Dr. Abraham Varghese have excelled as writers. Kalpana Chowla literally took the fame of this nation and that of her the ancestral land to celestial heights before tragedy struck that Columbia space mission.
Dalip Singh Saund was elected to US congress in 1956 when the Indian community was a very tiny minority in USA, but later many others continued political activity at various levels. Dr. Joy Cherian was appointed as Equal Opportunity Commissioner by President Regan in 1987. It was a crowning achievement for our community when a second generation Indian immigrant, Bobby Jindal was elected as the governor of the State of Louisiana and is being considered by many as a potential future President or Vice President of the United States of America.
We are proud that our children and grandchildren who are also doing extremely well in colleges, universities, and in various professions in this country.
As we are proud of our achievements, we are grateful to this great nation which gave us the opportunity to fulfill our dreams. It is possible only in one country in the world, United Sates of America, for a new immigrant group like ours to achieve so much in one or two generations.. . America has shown the world how a free society can correct its past short coming and bring people of all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds together in the forward march of the human spirit.
Jai Hind and God Bless America