Raj Narayanan has a job that most American-born citizens could only dream of – general manager of the minor league baseball team the Lake Elsinore Storm in southern California. Yet Narayanan did not grow up trading baseball cards. He immigrated to the United States from India with his parents and older brother when he was nine years old. After spending time in Illinois and Connecticut, he fell in love with baseball. “I’ve had season tickets to the Yankees and been a Cubs fan,” says Narayanan, 38. “As soon as I had the opportunity to work in sports after college, I cracked into it.”
Yet Narayanan’s transition to American culture wasn’t easy. He didn’t know English at first and was teased by his peers. “I didn’t speak like them and didn’t know what was going on,” says Narayanan, who credits his brother with helping him adjust to school and find friends. He believes immigration reform should include the creation of programs that teach people how to integrate quickly into American society. “We really need language programs so people don’t hang out in their own communities,” he says. “You want them to feel like part of society – not some outcast who just showed up. The more people feel like they’re part of society, the happier they will be and more motivated to be involved and give back.”
We need to control illegal immigration, but we need to make legal immigration easier.
In addition to language instruction, programs that show immigrants how to navigate the job market would empower them to be successful. “We have to give people the opportunity to contribute to society,” says Narayanan. “We need to control illegal immigration, but we need to make legal immigration easier. We need to offer better services to help people when they get here.” Narayanan recalls his own parents’ struggle to find their professional footing. Although his father was trained as an engineer in India, it took him several years before he found a job in his field here. His mother initially worked as a cashier at Sears before becoming a bank teller.
Narayanan says he now feels like an American who has Indian heritage. That identity gave him the confidence to make his place in this inland valley community nearly a decade ago. “There’s not really an Indian community here, but I don’t feel like a minority,” says Narayanan. His volunteer history with so many service organizations guarantees that he doesn’t feel like one. He volunteers for the Rotary and Lions Clubs, Habitat for Humanity, and Boys & Girls Clubs, among others. In fact, his dedication to community service earned him the “Citizen of the Year” award from the Murrieta Chamber of Commerce in 2013.
Narayanan hopes future immigrants will feel at home quickly so they can fulfill their social responsibility to help others. “We have to break down all the barriers so we can call ourselves American,” he says.