In tracing the
presence of Zoroastrians in the US, Bhicaji F. Balsara must rank as a
pioneer of the immigration of Zoroastrians into this country. It was as
early as November 1900 that Mr. Balsara arrived in the US and settled and
later married in New York.
His greater claim,
however, must be his success in becoming naturalized as a citizen of the
US. He petitioned for citizenship in 1906 but was only granted the status
after he fought his case before two courts, the Circuit Court in New York
and the federal Court of Appeal. Objections to Mr. Balsara's petition were
based on a requirement at that time that only "Free white persons" could
be admitted to citizenship. In his petition Mr. Balsara claimed that his
'color is white and his complexion dark."
In its ruling in In
re Balsara, 171 Fed. Rep. 294 (1909), the Circuit Court had a serious
objection to accepting the words "white persons" to include all branches
of the race known as the Aryan, Indo-European, or Caucasian. To do so, it
stated, "will bring in not only the Parsees… which is perhaps the purest
Aryan type, but also Afghans, Hindus, Arabs and Berbers." The Court,
however, allowed Mr. Balsara's petition noting that "he was a gentleman of
high character and exceptional intelligence," but stated that a higher
court should examine the issue.
The United States
Government appealed the decision and the Department of Justice filed a
comprehensive 145-page brief arguing why a Parsee could n o t be
considered a "white person." The brief quoted many passages from books
written by Western travelers to Persia and India refening to the
inhabitants as being "swarthy of complexion." The Justice Department
argued that the law was intended to include Europeans and persons of
European descent, and no others.
In the decision in
United States v. Balsara, 180 Fed. Rep. 694,695 (2nd Cir. 1910), Circuit
Judge Ward offered the following description:
"The Parsees emigrated
some 1,200 years ago from Persia into India and now we in the neighborhood
of Bombay to the number at about 100,000 They constitute a settlement by
themselves of intelligent and well-to-do persons, principally engaged in
commerce, and are as distinct from the Hindus as are the English who dwell
The Court stated that
the tern 'while person' referred to the white race as distinguished from
the black, red, yellow. or brown races. In the opinion of the Court,
Parsees do belong to the white race and it was agreed that Mr. Balsara was
properly admitted to citizenship by the Circuit Court.
Mr. Balsara's victory
in the early 1900s seems that much greater in light of a later case
decided by the same Court, holding another Parsee ineligible for
citizenship. In the decision in Rustom Dadabhoy Wadia v. United Stares,
101 F. 2d 7 (2d Cir. 1939), the Court this time did not accept Mr. Wadia
as being a 'white person.' It had to follow cases decided in the meantime
by the US Supreme Court which declined to accept the niceties of racial
origins and interpreted the relevant law as being based on the common
man's understanding of the tern.
B. Shroff, Attorney at Law,researched this interesting episode in Parsi
history, at the Library of Congress in Washington. The reports cited here
may be found in any law library in the USA.] FEZANA JOURNAL- SPRING 1997
This article appeared in the FEZANA journal of
Spring 1997, and was reproduced on vohuman.org on February 11, 2005
courtesy of its author and FEZANA journal.