June is Immigrant Heritage month. It has me thinking a lot about my own personal roots and purpose and how immigration contributes to the advancement of our society. Let's face it, California wouldn't be the economic powerhouse it is without immigrants. What is great about immigration and travel is that they spark innovation. Did you know Steve Jobs frequented India for his inspiration? In fact, it was during the huge growth years of Silicon Valley that 25% of businesses were founded by immigrants. These businesses created 560,000 jobs and generated $63 billion in sales. This does not even take in consideration all the support jobs that immigrants also fill.
Just think about it, the people with the best ideas are often those who spend a lot of time in other countries experiencing life in different ways. Their breakthroughs are based on a culmination of perspectives and experiences. My father is one of these people.
When I think about my own father, I think about the quiet integrity he had with all his relationships, personal as well as professional. He was there with me through so many ‘adulting’ moments – from getting my first car loan to nailing his speech at my wedding. Only recently I realized how much of an influence he was in the decision to start Indigo Handloom.
When my father was a young man his signature was to always be a little dressed up, always with a little flourish. As a boy, his family struggled and he was given one pair of shoes and one crisp white shirt for an entire school year. Each night, he would come home and wash and iron his shirt and shine his shoes. No one would ever know he came from a relatively poor family.
Even when he came to the U.S. from India as a Ph.d student, he went to class in a suit and tie. No slouching student wardrobe for him. One summer, he got a job as a car mechanic in Detroit. There was a training and he’s the only one who wore a tie to work. He was all about wearing a little ‘extra.’
My father got a job as a car mechanic in the summer of '67
In his first job in a remote Himalayan region of India, he splashed out a bit. In this region, called Nagaland, the local people did a thick cotton weave with tribal patterns. They only made shawls – in which they wove patterns in about their culture. These shawls were their currency and were given as gifts for every occasion and also worn. We still have some of them – and I used to study the woven symbols as a child trying to make sense of it.
My father convinced some weavers to make patterns in the fabric to make neckties, vests and even a full jacket. We still have some of these treasures. When I was younger, I took one of the jackets and wore it until holes appeared in the elbows and then patched it and wore it until new holes showed up.
The basilica shirt is really a product of various cultural influences and an ode to my father's signature style. Even though I grew up in a Hindu household, I have always been enchanted by stained glass. Made with handspun khadi cotton (of which Ghandi is known for), woven on handloom and masterfully embroidered in rural India, its intricacies remind me of a Christian church. This shirt is the perfect example that mixing ideas creates innovation and beauty.
I can’t tell you how proud and grateful I am for my father’s courage to leave India to come to the U.S.
It’s a dangerous time in our country. We have 10,000 immigrant children held in custody because of our bigoted president and his followers. We have 100s of thousands living in limbo waiting for the next blow to our immigration policy.
It’s easy to find fault with someone who is different, but if you look at the history of this country, embracing the difference is what makes us so ‘great.’ There is so much that is left out of the conversation because of the politically motivated barrage of misinformation out there.
What is not said in the discussion is how difficult it is to leave everything you know – your parents, siblings and friends – to come to a new country and start over. For my father, he started over at 39 years old. Imagine dropping everything and starting again with only $15 in your pocket.
If the is argument is that immigrants are taking jobs which native born Americans can fill, then who will be starting new businesses and drive the economy? Many times, immigrants are the even more invested in the success of their adopted countries that native born Americans. Between my parents, myself, my brother, uncles and two cousins, we have created 1000s of jobs by opening new businesses and managing research grants.
I’m not sure why it took me so long to see the connection in how much my father influenced my motivation for helping artisans and weavers and starting Indigo Handloom. Right now, my father is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s so our relationship is increasingly about memories rather than everyday conversation. I’m so grateful for his kindness and example he set for all of us. I still aspire daily to be more like him.