still-01Bupinder Sahi

Interview by Ashley Peel

Profile and Video Recording by Tara Bhattacharyya

Interview conducted on: 3/31/09, Carlisle, PA

Bupinder Sahi was born into a Sikh family in a part of the Punjab which became part of Pakistan after the partition between India and Pakistan in1947. During partition, Bupinder and his family were forced to move to New Delhi. Being the youngest amongst his brother and sister, Bupinder’s father pressured him into having a good education, just like his siblings. Bupinder knew he wanted to study outside of India to achieve a better education in mechanical engineering.

In June of 1970, at the age of twenty-five, Bupinder came to America by himself, to study for his Master’s in mechanical engineering. Although he was a newly married man, Bupinder and his wife decided that it would be best for Bupinder to come to America by himself until he was settled in with a job and a place of his own for his wife to come and live. Bupinder came to America with only fifty-eight dollars in his pocket, which was given by his father. Landing in Newark International Airport, Bupinder knew no one nor had a place to stay. Spontaneously deciding to go to Baltimore, Maryland, Bupinder had a chance encounter with a stranger who knew an old classmate of his who was living at the time in New York City. Immediately Bupinder phoned his old classmate, and his friend insisted on having Bupinder stay with him until he found a place of his own. Left with only fifty dollars after purchasing a bus ticket for New York City, Bupinder’s friend generously paid for his rent and food expense. The second day of Bupinder’s arrival in New York City, he went to a job agency at 4:30 in the morning. Landing a temporary job at a department store in the storage unit, Bupinder earned $1.90 per hour. He worked hard to save money for a place of his own and a plane ticket for his wife. After six months being in America by himself, Bupinder landed a job in Brooklyn at AT&T, allowing him to save enough money for his wife to come live with him.


Working at AT&T, required Bupinder to go back to school to earn a Master’s in mechanical engineering. Fortunately for Bupinder, the company paid for his tuition at Brooklyn Polytechnic. Soon after, Bupinder’s son was born. Bupinder and his family packed up for New Jersey to be closer to their friends. Finally, Bupinder and his family moved to Harrisburg when he received a job at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Living in Harrisburg, he and his wife have been very involved with the Indian community. He recalls that in the early years, social gatherings occured weekly, allowing people in the Indian community to reminisce about times in India and connect with their culture, “predominately Indian songs and Indian jokes, and ethnic jokes or just sort of an old memory lane, and that’s what most of the gatherings are about.” Bupinder shares stories of the community, such as starting a Bollywood film collection, where families were able to enjoy watching Bollywood films in their own home, before satellite television or Netflix became available. The Indian community often had annual picnics, where they enjoyed eating Indian foods and playing cricket in the park. Bupinder jokes about the Indian food at these social gatherings as the biggest attraction. The community also provided moral support. Not only did the Indian community offer great social gatherings, but also created a second “home” for many people. Close friends of Bupinder’s are like family to him, which relates back to his own culture in India where friend’s children call adults “aunty and uncle.” However, Bupinder notes, once the Indian community started to expand, people began dividing into subgroups.

“And if a kid comes home and the parents aren’t home, it’s just natural that they would drift away to the neighbor’s house or the guy across the street and [say], ‘I’m hungry, aunty, I didn’t eat my lunch yet,’ and they’d be treated just like their own kids and same thing over here. So that creates a bond.”

When it comes religion, Bupinder comes from a Sikh family, where traditionally the men grow out their hair and beard, and wear a turban. However, after four months living in America, Bupinder decided to shaved off his beard and hair “out of curiosity.”

In the beginning of living in America, he and his family would often travel to New York and D.C to attend the gudwara. Over the years, gudwaras have been established in areas outside of the major cities, in such places as the rural area between Allentown and Harrisburg, where Bupinder and his family used to visit once a month. With the burden of driving every weekend, Bupinder and his family stopped attending the gudwara and now practice their religion at home. Bupinder claims he is not a very religious person; however, he does his own prayers each morning at home. He notes, “I don’t need to go to temple or somewhere just to prove myself whether I am religious.” When transmitting his religious values to his son, Bupinder states that Sikhism is all about discipline and equality for all human beings. According to Bupinder, the important Indian values include being a good person and doing good deeds in life. Bupinder thinks of himself as an American, since he has lived in this country for over 32 years. When asked about his future plans, Bupinder states, “my future plan is that I am looking forward to my retirement…[and] looking forward [to] having grandchildren.”