In 1945, two Indian Americans stood up in Congress to fight racism against South Asians in America and won. Their stories are little known, but recounted in a new book from Harvard Press , Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America.
The story begins with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1917. The act created a zone from which all immigration would be banned. Much of Asia and Pacific Islands were included. Then in 1923, The US Supreme Court ruled that Indian Americans who came to the US before 1917 were ineligible for citizenship.
In 1945, Indian American Ibrahim Choudr wrote a forceful letter to Congress.
I speak for the many. I am not speaking for the transient element—the student the business man, the lecturer, the interpreter of India’s past and present, whose interests and ties in this country are temporary, the man or the woman whose roots are in India and who eventually returns home. I talk for those of us who, by our work and by our sweat and by our blood, have helped build fighting industrial America today. I talk for those of our men who, in factory and field, in all sections of American industry, work side by side with their fellow American workers to strengthen the industrial framework of this country… We have married here; our children have been born here… I speak for such as myself, for those of my brothers who work in the factories of the East and in Detroit… I speak for the workers and the farmers of our community whose lives have been bound to this country’s destiny for 23 years or longer. I speak for these men who while they themselves have no rights under oriental exclusion have seen their sons go off to war these last years to fight for a democracy which they—their fathers—could not themselves enjoy. I speak for men who… expect to die in the country to which they have given their best years… [W]e simply ask you for justice—American justice.
In 1946, Congress passed the 1946 naturalization bill which made Indian Americans eligible for citizenship and amended immigration policy to give priority to skilled laborers.