Dalip Singh Saund, the First Asian American in Congress

The remarkable story of how an Indian immigrant went from second-class citizen to elected official.

Dalip Singh Saund dalip singh saund
Oil on canvas, Jon R. Friedman, 2007 Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives (Wikimedia Commons)

Ayesha Le Breton


May 6, 2024

During a 1952 election in Imperial County, California, the fate of a stocky 53-year-old Indian candidate, Dalip Singh Saund, was uncertain. A longtime acquaintance believed Saund would be an excellent judge, but couldn’t vote “for a Hindu.” Strangers were also unforgiving. “If you’re elected, will you furnish the turbans, or will we have to buy them ourselves?” someone asked. “I don’t care what a man has on top of his head. All I’m interested in is what he’s got inside of it,” was Saund’s response. He won. 

As the newly-elected Justice of the Peace, Saund became the first foreigner to hold high office in Imperial County. Five years later, he would create history, becoming the first Asian American and Sikh member of Congress — all this despite arriving in the U.S. at a time when the country wanted nothing to do with Asians. 

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