Why South Asians Love Reagan

What the popularity of the father of modern conservatism among South Asian Americans tells us.

Meghna Rao

October 4, 2019

Why South Asians Love Reagan
J.R. Jayewardene, who has been both Sri Lanka's prime minister and president, presents an elephant to Ronald Reagan. (Wikpedia, 1984)

When Ronald Reagan, the square-jawed, dirty blond 40th president of the United States, passed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, something surprising happened. Nearly three million undocumented immigrants — those who had entered the U.S. before 1982 or were seasonal agricultural workers — were suddenly granted citizenship.

The immigration reform, originally intended as a crackdown, also tightened border security and made it harder for employers to hire undocumented immigrants. Yet, the reform made Reagan popular with certain South Asian Americans, like Abdul Patwary, who owns Dual Specialty Store in the East Village, and immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 1982. “He legalized us and many of our family members,” said Patwary. “Otherwise, the citizenship process may have taken very long. He understood that we had lives here.”  

Patwary shares a sentiment common among South Asian Americans, from convenience store owners to doctors. Many venerate Republican darling Reagan, considered the father of modern conservatism, though they overwhelmingly support Democrats today.