Bombay native Sarvar Demehri arrived in the United States in 1981 alongside her husband, an electrical engineer who worked for a NASA subcontractor. She was just 21, and fresh out of college. A few years later, the pair opened their own business in Florida, a company dedicated to home security and fire alarms. They’ve been in business for 31 years, and employ five Americans. “To be very frank, we have never been singled out because we are from a different country,” she says.
You can do anything in this country. That is what I believe. Be honest and work hard, and you can get anything done.
In Demehri’s congressional district, on the central Atlantic coast, 9.2 percent of all residents are immigrants, and they are 55.6 percent more likely to be small business founders than are U.S.-born residents. Immigrants in the district held $1.3 billion in spending power in 2014 and paid $399 million in taxes. Demehri feels lucky to call the town of Longwood her home, due to its cultural and ethnic variety. “We love Florida because it is so multicultural,” she explains. “Bombay is very multicultural. Even though in India the people are all Indians, they are all from different religions, different countries, and different parts of the country. My parents were born in Iran, and they migrated to India. They were immigrants to India.” Her father, she said, walked from Iran to India to escape religious persecution. The family is of the ancient Zoroastrian faith.
In Central Florida, Demehri participates in both the Indian community as well as the religious Zoroastrian community. She’s involved in an interfaith group that brings together people from various spiritual backgrounds for discussions, and she regularly gives speeches about being Zoroastrian, a religion founded by the Persian prophet Zoroaster.
To Demehri, embracing diversity makes economies and communities stronger. “Immigrants are what has built America,” she says. “Whenever somebody asks me, Where are you from? I always say Longwood, Florida. Then they ask, No, no, where are you originally from? And I say India.” But right after that, she explains with a chuckle, she always follows up with the same question: Where are your ancestors from? Her husband always asks her why she does this. “It’s because I want to show everybody who asks me that I belong here as much as they do,” Demehri says. “We are all immigrants here.”
Demehri believes that the concept of equality also applies to success in the United States: With hard work, anyone can seize their dreams. “You can do anything in this country,” she says. “That is what I believe. Be honest and work hard, and you can get anything done.”