Dalip Singh Saund was the first Asian American to serve in Congress when he was elected as a U.S. representative in 1956.

442: The First U.S. Representative of Asian Descent

Known simply as 'Judge,' Dalip Singh Saund was committed to his home district in Southern California and supporting the lives of farmers there

Dalip Singh Saund was the first Asian American to serve in Congress when he was elected as a U.S. representative in 1956.

Painting by Jon R. Friedman, courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives

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Words by Samantha Pak

The 442: A JoySauce column named after the military unit, designed to school you (in all the best ways) on accomplished Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders of the past. Asians have been shaping American history, culture, food, politics, identity, and more for centuries—it’s time we acknowledge what’s been left out of most textbooks.

Have a historical tidbit you’d like to share? Let us know!


As the United States grows more diverse, our government bodies are slowly catching up to better represent the population—including when it comes to Asian Americans in Congress.

While there’s still a long way to go, Asian American representation in the government has come a long way. And it all started with Dalip Singh Saund (1899-1973), who paved the way as the first Asian American to serve in Congress when he was elected as a U.S. representative in 1956.

Born in Punjab, India, Saund arrived on Ellis Island in New York in 1920. From there, he made his way west, settling in the Golden State where he attended the University of California, Berkeley and earned a master’s and doctorate degree in math.

Saund followed politics closely but according to the U.S. House of Representatives’ History, Art & Archives, his political activities were limited because at the time, he couldn’t become a U.S. citizen. In the 1940s, he was part of a group that worked to get this right granted for people of Indian descent. This all came to fruition in 1946 and on Dec. 16, 1949, Saund became a U.S. citizen. He became involved in local politics almost immediately and within two years, was elected as a judge.

Saund used his judgeship as a launching pad into national politics, using the moniker “Judge Saund” in 1956 when he ran to be a U.S. representative from California’s 29th Congressional District. Saund, a Democrat, won the race with about 52 percent of the votes and went on to be re-elected twice, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1957-63.

His election marked two more milestones: the first Sikh American and first Indian American elected to Congress.

As a former farmer who struggled during the Great Depression and managed to pull himself out of debt, Saund remained committed to his home district and focused on supporting and improving the lives of farmers.

In May 1962, Saund had a stroke that landed him in the hospital. This served as the end of his political career because even though he won the party primary a month after his stroke, he couldn’t campaign for his re-election. Saund lost to Republican Patrick Martin, having received only 44 percent of the vote.

Saund had a second stroke about a decade later and died in his home in Hollywood, California on April 22, 1973.

Published on September 20, 2022

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Words by Samantha Pak

Samantha Pak (she/her) is an award-winning Cambodian American journalist from the Seattle area and assistant editor for JoySauce. She spends more time than she’ll admit shopping for books than actually reading them, and has made it her mission to show others how amazing Southeast Asian people are. Follow her on Twitter at @iam_sammi and on Instagram at @sammi.pak.