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With Fifth Anniversary, FIS Announces Initiatives

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: “The immigration reform bill that President John F. Kennedy persued in the late 60’s and was passed in 1965 changed the face of America,” said Charles Foster. “It did away with the system of quotas based on national origins that favored immigrants from the UK (65,000), Germany (50,000) and other European countries that never filled them at the expense of India, which had a quota of only 100 per year.”

This perked up the ears of the guests, many of whom were first generation immigrants themselves from India. Almost 100 people had come to attend the fifth anniversary celebration and fundraiser for the Foundation for Indian Studies, held this past Friday, August 19 at the Junior League on Briar Oaks Lane just inside the West Loop.

Foster continued to explain how this single act allowed for large scale immigration to the US from the rest of the world, based on job skills. As they came and settled, the Indian community specifically grew more prosperous and entrenched in various spheres of commerce, gaining leadership roles in Bose, Citibank and Pepsico to name a few.

Foster is a well-known figure in the world of immigration law and advised President George W. Bush on immigration reform issues. He continues to promote changes to the immigration laws.

Foster was even portrayed in the 2010 Hollywood movie, “Mao’s Last Dancer” which tells the story of famed Houston Ballet star Li Cunxin, a Chinese national, who was forcibly detained inside the Chinese Consulate after informing Chinese authorities that he intended to remain in the United States. Foster refused to abandon his client at the consulate fearing the Chinese would spirit Li out of the country against his will. What followed was a tense and sometimes surreal 21-hour negotiation.

But the evening belonged to the work that has gone into making the Foundation of Indian Studies a self-perpetuating program at the University of Houston, ever since its inception with the urging of Krishna Vavilala, Chair of the FIS, “who is a persistent visionary,” said Parul Fernandes, the Vice-Chair and Director of International Studies at UH.

“I didn’t have anything better to do,” quipped Vavilala as he stepped to the podium, “so I’m doing this now to support the community.” He explained how UH had taken the FIS program from 2 to 6 courses, with the urging and support of President Renu Khator, to enable earning a minor in Indian Studies and revealed the latest initiative, an Indo-American Oral History Project that will save the words, voices and faces of a select group of community leaders on digital archives to be stored on the servers of the Houston Public Library.  A short video showed clips from the recordings made of first three selected – Dr. P. N. Rao, Dr. Raj Bhalla and Dr. Paul Mehta.

“This is the most environmentally friendly project, no trees will be razed!” continued Vavilala, “and we need to capture these people in their Sunset Years. We are living long but are losing our memories!” A committee will select the candidates and there will be two interviews each month, but there is a need to expedite and to raise the money for recordings.

Others at the celebration included Indian Vice-Consul Anil Matta, Judith Hyatt with the Library, Dr. John Roberts with the FIS, Dr. Jerald Strickland, Vice Chancellor for International Studies at UH and John Antel, Provost and VP of UH. Strickland joked that Vavilala was very persistent and annoying in demanding a MOU be signed within 3 days with the University of Hyderabad in order to get the FIS started. Still, all marveled at his tenacity and determination in bearing fruit to the project.


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