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Immigrant from South India Helps Walmart Thrive

Zakir Syed would never have imagined that by age 37, he would be working at a high-level job at Walmart, one of the largest employers in Arkansas. Growing up in Karnataka, a state in southwestern India, he lived with his family in a small home without running water or a gas stove. His father worked as a sanitary inspector back then, and dreamed of a better life for his eight children.

In 1995, a piece of good news reached the family. Twelve years after Syed’s uncle in the United States started the application to bring Syed’s family to the country, the sponsorship was finally approved. Syed was at first excited about traveling abroad for the first time and beginning a new life in the United States. But later, he realized some of his family members would be left behind, since they couldn’t afford the travel and living expenses for all 10 of them to move together. “That was heartbreaking,” Syed says.

Syed was only 15 years old and his brother 19 when they arrived with their mother in Jeffersonville, Indiana to stay with his uncle. “Although we had sponsorship from my uncle, who financially would support us, we didn’t want to put all that burden on him,” Syed says. Within four months of arriving, he had found a dishwashing job at a local Italian restaurant to support his family while attending high school. He worked three days after school and on the weekends, spending 30 to 35 hours in the restaurant each week and earning $4.25 per hour. His brother took two full-time jobs, working 70 to 80 hours each week. A year and a half after they arrived, they had earned enough money to bring over more members of their family. Within four months of arriving, Zakir had found a dishwashing job at a local Italian restaurant to support his family while attending high school.

Back in India, Syed never had the desire to pursue a college degree. But after he moved to the Jeffersonville, he was inspired by his cousins who went to medical school and developed their specialties in radiology and psychiatry. “I realized there is a whole new world here,” Syed recalls. In 2000, he started as a freshman at Purdue University. After he saw the film The Matrix, he became fascinated with computer graphics and special effects in movies and decided to pursue the major of animation and multimedia. That was also the year when Syed became a citizen.

Syed plays a small role in the lives of the millions of Americans who shop at Walmart’s more than 4,600 U.S. locations each year.

After graduating college in 2004, he took a job as an e-learning developer at Walmart’s headquarters and moved to Bentonville in Northwest Arkansas. A year later, he bought his first home. While working at Walmart, he completed a business degree at Webster University, graduating with honors. After getting married and having children, he bought his second home in Rogers, Arkansas in 2012. Syed’s contribution as a consumer is not uncommon in a state like Arkansas. Households led by immigrants held $4.1 billion in housing wealth in the state in 2014. Immigrant led households in Arkansas also earned $3.2 billion in income that year.

Syed’s contributions, however, are not restricted to Arkansas. Today, Syed is the Director of Category and Modular Development for Walmart. In that capacity, he manages an 11-person team, and is in charge of analyzing and designing how products are assorted and displayed in the entertainment and electronics section of Walmart stores. His work makes it more convenient for customers to find the items they need. It also means that he plays a small role in the lives of the millions of Americans who shop at Walmart’s more than 4,600 U.S. locations each year.

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