Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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IMMIGRANT VOICES

Mahesh Shah: Journey to California

by Roy Chan

  Mahesh Shah was born in Mumbai, India in 1943. He grew up in Mumbai and studied science at Wilson College. He was then admitted to Banaras Hindu University where he studied Mechanical Engineering for four years. After graduation, many of his friends wanted to study further in the United States, and so Mahesh also looked into Masters programs in U.S. universities. He eventually applied and was accepted to a number of programs including ones in Chicago, Texas, and Berkeley. Without knowing much about these U.S. cities, he decided on the University of California, Berkeley because he heard it was too cold in Chicago and that cowboys might shoot him in Texas.
 

In
Mahesh Shah with his grandson, Naveen

Mahesh Shah with his grandson, Naveen

September 1965, Mahesh set out on his journey to the United States. He flew to Hong Kong and then to Osaka, Japan before finally landing in San Francisco. When he landed at the airport, he saw a television for the first time in his life. Mahesh made his way to U.C. Berkeley with a friend and stayed the first few nights at the International House. He was a vegetarian, and couldn’t eat much of the food at the dormitory. So he and a friend moved to an apartment near campus. At first, studies were difficult for him because he had to adjust to comprehending American English in class since he was taught British English in India. He would eventually adjust and do well at Berkeley. He became a teaching assistant on campus and worked part-time at an engineering consulting firm in San Francisco. He also found the Vietnam War protests on campus quite exciting.

 
One story he remembers well is when his friend was at a cafe and was served tea with a tea bag. He had never seen a tea bag before in India, and so he opened the bag up to mix it with the water to make tea. His professor sitting with him explained that he had to put the entire tea bag into the water to soak. Learning this new concept of making tea, he then saw bags of sugar on the table and proceeded to put the sugar bags right into his tea cup as well! It was a funny story that Mahesh repeats often.

After graduation in 1966 with an eighteen month training visa, Mahesh moved to Los Angeles because many of the engineering jobs were in Southern California. He first worked as a Mechanical Engineer for a company in Riverside and then moved to Pasadena where he worked for Xerox. When he applied for a green card, it came in just 2-3 weeks. Just a week later, he received a draft notice. Because he was working on Xerox’s electro-optical system which was used for military purposes in the Vietnam War, he was granted an exemption from the draft.

Mahesh then made a trip back to India for a 6 month vacation to see his family. During this time, he was in an arranged marriage. He would return to California with a new bride! In late 1969, their first child, Mona, was born. Later they would also have a son, Mitul. Starting a new family made it difficult for them to return to live in India. So they settled in the San Fernando Valley for 18 years and then later moved to San Diego after their children grew up. Every year, Mahesh and his wife visit India to see relatives and friends there. Looking back, Mahesh is glad that they raised their children in California but were still able to instill Indian culture in their home.
Place of Origin
Mumbai, India

Place of Settlement
San Diego

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