1918-ish: Kala and Vaishno Das Bagai are forced out of their Berkeley home


1918-ish: Kala and Vaishno Das Bagai are forced out of their Berkeley home
Kala Bagai (1892-1983) was one of the first South Asian women on the West Coast, and an early immigrant activist and community-builder.

Read more about her time in Berkeley at https://www.berkeleyside.org/2020/03/12/opinion-berkeley-might-name-a-street-after-kala-bagai-this-is-her-story and listen to her oral history at https://www.saada.org/item/20130716-2997

Kala Bagai was born in Amritsar in colonized India, immigrated to the Bay Area from Peshawar in modern day Pakistan. She survived anti-immigrant attacks in Berkeley, and then went on to build, in Southern California, one of the earliest South Asian communities in the United States. Her story is an opportunity to share with our children a powerful example of resilience and community in the face of oppression.

Kala Bagai and her husband immigrated to the U.S. from present-day Pakistan in 1915. The Bagais built a small business in the Bay Area and bought a home in Berkeley. When they arrived at the home with their children and their belongings, their neighbors physically barred them from moving in.

She survived local racism only to have an anti-immigrant court ruling stripped all South Asians of their citizenship. Her husband, now a stateless person, killed himself out of despair. But Kala Bagai persisted in the face of oppression, raising children, remarrying, and going on to become a critical California immigrant leader. Nicknamed “Mother India,” she worked tirelessly to build bridges through arts and community until her death in 1983.

The city of Berkeley named a street after her, Kala Bagai Way, in 2021.
Article about her time in Berkeley