The Bagai family’s goal was to settle into their new home and start fresh.
Our friends at the South Asian American Digital Archive provide incredible documentation and stories about the South Asian American community. With their help, we’re going to shed a little light on one family’s immigration journey. introducing the Bagai family. The Bagai family arrived in San Francisco in 1915 after fleeing India, which was under British rule. The family consisted of Vaishno Das Bagai, Kala Bagai, and their three sons. At a time where most South Asian immigrants were men, the San Francisco Call & Post dubbed Kala the “first Hindu woman to enter the city in ten years” and referred to her nose ring as “the latest fad from India.”
The Bagai family’s goal was to settle into their new home and start fresh. Unfortunately, during a time of growing anti-Asian sentiment, they faced multiple cases of harassment, denial to their own homes, and also endured racist laws such as the Alien Land Laws which specifically prevented Asian immigrants from owning land in many of the West Coast states in the United States. What made things harder for the Bagai family was the ruling of the 1923 Supreme Court case: US vs. Bhagat Singh Thind that denied citizenship to South Asians on the grounds that they were not white. Though Vaishno Das Bagai had gained his citizenship previously, this ruling ultimately led to his denaturalization.
The lasting effect of losing his citizenship, Vaishno Bagai took his own life in 1928. In his note, he wrote, “Is life worth living in a gilded cage?” The denial of this right that had been given to him and his family is an issue that we are still seeing today where many immigrant families are finding it increasingly difficult to apply for citizenship. The process is not as easy as it looks and the red taping of the process can take up to 20 years, as it did for Kala Bagai when she and her family were finally naturalized.
Make sure to connect with SAADA to find more stories about the South Asian community. We’ll be continuing our coverage of APAHM throughout the month. Follow @action to keep up!