An immigrant’s journey to the middle class
By Muneer Baig
Jan 24, 2018
Editor’s note: The Biden Forum is creating a conversation between the middle class and nationally recognized thinkers. As part of that vision, today we are posting an entry from an immigrant named Muneer Baig who gained success after years of struggle. Everyone in the middle class has their own unique story; this post is one of an entrepreneur who founded his own technology company.
My name is Muneer Baig. I was born and raised in Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. I come from a household of entrepreneurs who used to manufacture silk. Our business was once a brand name in Kashmir, before the region was torn apart by violence and political instability.
My parents, fearing for my life, forced me to escape Kashmir at a very young age. But I, as a stubborn young boy, would not leave unless they helped me open my own company. And so, at the age of 21, I started my own silk business in southern India. The fear of death forced my parents to send away their one and only son; the fear of failure kept me focused on the next step ahead.
Within two short years, I became a successful businessman and was ready to explore the world. I was invited by a friend to come to America to grow my business. I applied for a visa and traveled to the United States, thus beginning the journey of an immigrant.
I soon discovered that immigration can be a blessing and a curse. To some, immigrants are people who can be exploited. My friend who invited me to come to America knew I was vulnerable. I invested $30,000 with a person I trusted, but he took it all and left me on the streets. Being very naive, I did not think that anything bad could befall me, but alas, I was mistaken.
I later applied for legal status. While undergoing immigration procedures, I was not able to see my family for the next six years. My dream had become a nightmare and the shining future I had once imagined in India was shattered.
At times… I would ask myself: “I have given up a very good life for what?” My answer every time was to keep the hope alive for a better future.
My father had asked me to return to India and attend to my business. He did not wish for me to waste my life struggling. I told him that I had accepted a challenge to grow my business in America and I was not willing to return home a failure. I told him, “If I ever succeed you will see me again. If I fail, then think that your son is dead.” I was never willing to give up; I was ready to fight and earn my place.
This started the next phase of an immigrant’s journey: to survive and grow. I had not come to America to eat its fruits, but to sow the seeds to produce fruit for me and those around me.
Over the next six years, my journey was filled with challenges, but every moment was rewarding. I received authorization to work, to survive. At first, I worked odd shifts in odd jobs in locations where I had to pray for my life. I got a job as a security guard in New York and my first week’s paycheck was $75. I was so happy that I cried, not knowing which expense to pay first: rent, food, or subway fares.
I had finally put myself back on track with that first check. I started at the bottom of the ladder, ready to climb to the next step and the next. I worked very hard to prove my worth, and in six months I was a supervisor making $15 per hour. While doing this, I was also taking computer training classes — some days working two eight-hour shifts while also taking evening classes towards my certification. I rarely slept during the week, constantly drinking coffee and Coke to stay awake.
At times I would remember all that I had in India and would ask myself: “I have given up a very good life for what?” My answer every time was to keep the hope alive for a better future. To follow through I never gave up hope.
The darkness was not everlasting. I eventually earned my own success. I served in many companies in positions of responsibility, including Microsoft, before starting my own information technology consulting business.
For every immigrant, coming to the United States is a moment of great joy and excitement, but that excitement is short-lived when faced with the challenge to survive. Immigrants expecting instant wealth or to be welcomed with a red carpet will be disappointed. America provided me an opportunity, and in chasing these opportunities, I overcame great hurdles — finding great satisfaction and a strengthened resolve to succeed.
I believe that only my Creator and hard work can and will change my future. I’ve always given it everything I had so that I can always say “I did my best.” And I have done my best.
About the author:
Muneer Baig is the founder and CEO of SYSUSA, Inc., a technology company specializing in cybersecurity. Mr. Baig is an industry-recognized technology executive with over two decades of experience in developing and managing information technology and information security programs.