When he arrived in the U.S., he needed to catch a connecting flight to Madison Wisconsin; he had very little time because the flight had taken off late from London. At customs, my father ran into some issues with one of the on duty officials. The Customs official in Idlewild looked at my father’s passport, he immediately questioned his nationality. My father was quite fair-skinned, and to this official, he did not look Indian. But, my father had no idea how to respond to this question. He just looked at the official and told him he needed to catch a connecting flight and that his English had an Indian accent and this should be proof. My father was bewildered as to the concept of race, as he only understood nationality. The man got angry and started yelling at my father, who did not catch everything he said.
My father stated that his passport showed who he was, and that this question of race had never been asked before. Unfortunately, the customs agent proceeded to get frustrated and dumped the contents of my fathers luggage on the floor. My father did not understand what happened but he immediately picked up the clothes and started packing again. He did not even understand that this man was done with his tirade. So he stood there, the man got angry again and asked my father if he was deaf? Finally my father took his passport and got out. By this time he had missed his connecting flight.
My father would always say that he was ready to simply go back to India right then and there. He had enough money to buy a ticket, but instead, a man who had been standing behind him walked up to him and offered to buy him a drink at the Airport Bar. He was a German immigrant, who had come to the U.S. after World War II. He was returning from Europe and he saw what had happened. He started talking to my father, and told him not to be shaken. He explained to my father that the reason all this happened is because the custom agent doubted my Father was Indian.
The episode was based on stereotyping Indians based on color. Thus, when he didn’t get anywhere he got aggressive. He started telling him that when he came to the U.S. many people hated Germans and he had a rough time. But now things were changing for him. He was amazed that my father was going to college and he told him that he had made it this far, so that he should definitely not give up because of some “Idiot”. He would help my father get another ticket and made sure he got on that flight without issue.