Since starting the research for this film, I have met a pivotal figure of Saund’s congressional campaign who lives in California– Dr. Amarjit Singh Marwah. Dr. Marwah was a key supporter and member of Saund’s 1956 campaign committee, helping Saund to win the election. Today, he is recognized as a prominent philanthropist in the Sikh American community who recently donated $500,000 to establish a new state-of-the-art dentistry clinic at Howard University College of Dentistry (HUCD), his alma mater.
Dr. Marwah invited me to his Gurdwara –The Hollywood Sikh Temple– to present the story of how Dalip Singh Saund ran for Congress and defeated Jackie Cochran Odlum in 1956, becoming the first Asian American Congressman in U.S. History. Before I spoke, Dr. Marwah shared his memories of the challenges Indians faced in the United States at the time when he arrived and when Saund ran for Congress. He spoke about how a small group of Indian Americans lobbied Congress for the right to become a citizen, and how this was achieved in 1946 with the passage of the Luce-Celler Act granting citizenship rights to a quota of Filipinos and Indians as wartime allies. Prior to that date, Indian farmers like Saund owned property by trusting their white friends with the land ownership deeds, or through their wives if they married someone who was a citizen.
To date, I have presented the story at three Gurdwaras in the Los Angeles area and also at the Gurdwara in Burke, VA near where my parents live. I have been excited to do this because I am getting great feedback on how I present the story. I have also made some important connections to scholars and researchers working on Sikh American history. After visiting the Khalsa Care Foundation in Pacoima, CA, I was introduced to a man in Los Angeles who met Dalip Singh Saund when he was on his Asia tour in 1957. He told me that he was a teenager growing up in Burma at the time, and his father convinced Saund to stop in Rangoon for a day to visit and witness the Sikh Sangat (community) in that country.
In Pacoima, CA, I shared a table with the registration for Sikh School which is starting up again this fall!
At the Sikh Foundation of Virginia, I mentioned that I needed help to build a website for this project, and I happened to be talking to a senior web developer – Surinder Singh – who has designed this website for all of us!
I am also seeking tax-deductible donations when I make these presentations. Without donations, the usual path to finish a historical film such as this would normally be 3-5 years to complete the research, then more time to raise the funds from grants and donors, to shoot the interviews required, to edit the film, and to license the archival materials from television, radio, and other archives. With some financial support now, I believe that this film can be completed by the 2024 election!
People who remember the election in 1956 will likely be in their mid-80s (at least) and I am under pressure to raise funds to find and interview them for the film as soon as possible. Dr. Marwah is a healthy 96 years old, and I plan to interview him again soon!
Also, a lot of people have expressed an interest in my posting the research as I find it. I want to explain that it’s not easy for me to post every photo or newspaper I find on this website because I would be required to pay a license fee to the copyright owners of these photos and newspapers. But I can certainly show these in person if invited to deliver a presentation.
Of course, for the film, I will need to license these materials, and that will be a costly part of the production.
For a story that is largely untold or under-told, this kind of outreach is incredibly important to my process. I want to hear from any of you who may want to suggest someone I should interview for the film.
Remember this film is also about Jackie Cochran Odlum, and it’s a nonpartisan film, so if your grandmother or grandfather voted for Cochran, I want to speak with them too!
If you can’t make a donation at this time, please stay in touch. I need to spend more time in Los Angeles over the coming year. This is a costly endeavor as you can imagine. Please consider supporting the film by donating air miles to me for production travel, or by offering a place to stay when I continue my research. Thank you!
Thank you to Priscilla Gonzalez Sainz who is a documentary filmmaker based in the Los Angeles area and to my mom’s college friend Sushma Mehta who both came to the Hollywood Sikh Gurdwara and helped me to start a newsletter for the film! Thank you to everyone I met at The Hollywood Sikh Gurdwara, Khalsa Care Foundation, The Sikh Center of Orange County, and The Sikh Foundation of Virginia who all welcomed me to their services. Thank you also to Dr. Seema Sohi, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is the one who led me to Dr. Marwah.