Indian seniors look back

“When I came to this country, there were hardly any Indians,” said Lucky Jauhal, talking about her work experience at a semiconductor company in the valley.  She was young, barely 23, and one of only two women in her division in the early 1970s.

Her supervisor did not believe them capable of mastering the use of a specialized machine and said so quite blatantly. “You Indians cannot even speak English. And you’re gonna run the machine. I’ll see if you can pass the test.”

Jauhal passed the test with flying colors and went on to have a successful career in the company with her can-do attitude. “I’ll show them what Indians can do and what Indians will do,” she remembers, but recalling that story today still brings tears to her eyes.

Lucky Jauhal talks about her early experiences in the U.S. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Weekly Round Table for Indian Seniors

Jauhal shared her story with India Currents at a weekly round table discussion with other seniors at the India Community Center (ICC) led by Dr. Yudhi Ahuja in Milpitas, Calif. on July 25, 2023.

India Currents joined one such session to promote awareness of the Stop the Hate (STH)  from the State of California, as part of a community engagement initiative. In the last year and a half, India Currents has created culturally relevant narratives and outreach for the State’s (STH) program.  At the ICC event, India Currents shared details about the state’s anti-hate initiative and engaged with the Indian American seniors to learn about their lives.

Professor Yudhi Ahuja leads a discussion with a group of seniors after a presentation by India Currents Magazine. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Many of the seniors at ICC (India Community Center) Senior Center in Milpitas immigrated to the US in the 1960’s or 70’s and have raised their families and built their careers in this country.  Their experiences chronicle the Indian American experience in the US. 

Dr. Yudhi Ahuja teaches business management in San Jose State University after a long and notable career in academic research in India. He also leads a weekly round table discussion with other seniors at the ICC on issues relevant to their lives.

Elders treated like housekeepers

One topic that came up a couple of times in the group discussion was the issue of elder abuse. This is an issue that is rarely acknowledged, the seniors admitted. 

They described parents who came from India without any resources. “Very often, they are treated no more than housekeepers. And that’s very, very tragic. What do you do in that case – they are being sponsored by the children?”

The seniors explained that mistreated older parents feel shame in reporting this abuse because it would reflect badly on their own family. In the discussion, seniors talked of abusive adult children who strip their parents not only of their dignity and respect but also their government social security. The seniors are left with nothing and have no one to turn to, they added.

What do you know about computers?

Vijay Syal immigrated to the U.S. 30 years ago after a successful engineering career in India.  

Early on in the interview process for his first job, he was asked “ Do you know computers?” 

“I don’t have the knowledge of computers but I’m a fast learner,” responded Syal. He began working as an Inspector for Caltrans and quickly realized that obtaining a Professional Engineer License would be an asset to his career. Syal passed the exam on his first attempt and leaped three steps ahead to Executive Engineer.

Earlier, these positions were not given to “non-Caucasians because they felt that it required a lot of public speaking,”  which his bosses assumed people like Syal were incapable of doing.

Assumptions like that made Syal more determined to support people of color, especially fellow Indians.

“I interviewed so many people – there were a lot of vacancies and we filled them up”.  if he interviewed an Indian, and even if they didn’t meet every single requirement but most, he gave them the job. If he was questioned about his decision, he had a very simple answer, “I will work with them.” 

His career continued to flourish. On one occasion he thanked his manager for his promotion and was told “You don’t have to thank me. You are the best.”

Vijay Syal shares his thoughts on hate crimes. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Are you an engineer or a doctor?

In the last 45 years, Amarjit Bakshi said he has lived in many cities in the U.S. and the first question he is always asked by strangers is “Are you an engineer or a doctor?”

Seniors in the room chuckled and nodded in agreement at this admission.

“I didn’t feel any discrimination,” he added, but the one time he did was when he was called for jury duty. “This was about 10 miles away from Dallas. When I went into that room, I was the only brown person. And you know, I’ve been in this country for 35 years, as an educator and working in the private industry. And I thought I understand English. But when the judge started giving the instructions, I did not understand 95 percent of things. The accent was so thick, and guess who was the first person who was excused? Me!.” 

Amarjit Bakshi talks about his experiences in the U.S. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

We all are immigrants in America

The seniors all agreed that things have changed in the past 30-40 years since they first immigrated here. 

“I think in America –  it is not the same as it was before, especially the Bay area,” said Syal.

Bakshi concurred. “Indians – because of their hard work, honesty, they have reached a point where you know, we are respected.”

He gives America credit for one thing. “If you can do the job, they will let you do it. And the proof is people sitting in this room.” They have set the standard for the work ethic that Indians are known for.

In a country of immigrants, the one privilege that has served Indians well is the benefit of education. Other communities have not fared as well said Bakshi, due to the fact “most of us in this room – we are very protected because most of us are highly, highly educated.”

A group of seniors listen to a presentation by India Currents Development Manager Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney on the history and mission of India Currents Magazine. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

The seniors were proud of the hard work and honesty that has helped them thrive in America and even more delighted by the strides the next generation is making in every sphere.

For the seniors, spending time with each other at the ICC and reminiscing about their lives makes them feel like it’s a home away from home, said Syal.

The Stop the Hate Initiative

According to the 2022 Hate Crime in California Report released by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, crimes targeting victims because of their race or ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or disability increased nearly 33% from 2020 to 2021 and then an additional 20% from 2021 to 2022.

The STH initiative is especially important to immigrant communities like ours because we do not report incidents. But doing so helps the state allocate resources and provide support for its citizens.

CA vs Hate is a non-emergency, multilingual hate crime and incident reporting hotline and online portal. Reports can be made anonymously by calling (833) 866-4283, or 833-8-NO-HATE, Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm PT or online at any time.

Hate acts can be reported in 15 different languages through the online portal and in over 200 languages when calling the hotline. For individuals who want to report a hate crime to law enforcement immediately or who are in imminent danger, please call 911.

This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is the Donor Engagement Advisor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at She brings her passion for community journalism and experience in fundraising, having...

Sree Sripathy joined India Currents as a staff photographer and CatchLight Local Fellow as part of CatchLight's California Local Visual Desk program in June 2022. Reach out with story ideas or comments...