Celebrating Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month at Kasa

Mohan Khanna

As part of our celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, I wanted to share a piece of our family history and pay tribute to my father-in-law Mohan Khanna, who lived the immigrant American dream and passed away just a few months ago at the grand old age of 92. 

Mohan Khanna

Background on Our Heritage

Our family is Punjabi, from northern India, and we are Sikh by religion.  It’s a minority religion within India, and for historical and spiritual reasons, Sikhs stand out.  

Our men traditionally wear turbans as a sense of pride to identify themselves as Sikh, a peace-loving but fierce and passionate community that stands for liberty.  Both our women and men keep their long hair as a source of strength, and we wear a Kara (a steel bangle) on our right wrist.  As a newer religion founded in the 15th century, Sikhs believe deeply in women’s rights and our women are characteristically strong and independent.  

My father-in-law, Mohan Khanna, was a proud Sikh who arrived in San Francisco in the early 1960s.  

As a young and might I say super handsome man, Mohan’s life was uprooted at the age of 16 when he became a refugee caught up in the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, one of the largest and deadliest mass migrations that left millions dead or displaced.  He fled to the newly formed India with absolutely nothing, but as was his true spirit, my father-in-law was neither depressed nor defeated. 

Between the age of 16 and 35, he rebuilt his life in India, becoming a civil engineer working on the Green Revolution in Punjab.  He married his beautiful wife and rock Satwant Khanna, and had 3 beautiful daughters – Kiran, Simi and Simar. 

Mohan and Satwant Khanna

But he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wouldn’t be able to progress as far as he wanted in India, and so he uprooted his life for the second time and moved to America,

Prelude to the American Dream

At the age of 35 and leaving his wife and 3 girls behind initially, his ambition and sense of adventure brought him here to San Francisco.  His first apartment was on Geary and 4th Ave. But his turban and beard ended up being more of an impediment than the civil engineering expertise that he offered, so he did what had to be done, cut his hair and shaved his beard, and took a dishwashing job.  

Mohan Khanna rocking a turban and beard

This was an incredibly difficult decision for a Sikh man to make, like severing a piece of one’s identity.  But he worked, sent money home to his wife, got another engineering degree from Heald College and eventually landed an engineering job at Kaiser Engineering.  It must be said – he had a wild time! It was the 60s in the City after all.   I know he enjoyed being young and handsome in a brand-new culture. 

By 1967, Satwant and the girls were able to join him in SF, and he went on to a distinguished career in civil engineering and architecture, working on many great SF projects and eventually settling down in Redwood Shores as a member of the Redwood City architectural review board. Despite working so hard, they still had time for family road trips to Yosemite and nightly family dinners together, and they were part of a close-knit Punjabi community.   

After all that uprooting, his son (and my husband) Suresh Khanna was born in 1974, an all-American Indian kid playing baseball.  Mohan and his wife had worked incredibly hard and were able to put Suresh through private school and he proudly graduated from Stanford, the ultimate realization of the American dream in just a couple decades.  

The family has grown beautifully with all of us here in the Bay Area.  Mohan has 4 children, 8 grandchildren, 3 great grandsons and too many in-laws to count.  We have instilled in us a strong sense of family and fun that he fostered and are all proud of being Punjabi.  We are journalists at Bloomberg, nurses at Stanford, tech entrepreneurs, wedding planners and of course Indian restaurateurs.

Our wonderful, growing family.

I am grateful to have joined the Khannas, and express our family and culture through Kasa here in the City, where decades ago, Mohan first left his country and began his big adventure. 

So as we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, I sincerely hope that the United States continues to offer this opportunity for so many new immigrants – to both thrive and to feel connected to their heritage.  I am super grateful to the United States and in particular to San Francisco for offering this great opportunity for our family.  

Kasa Indian AAPI Promo

In tribute to Mohan, I’d like to offer a 20% discount on all Thalis (a traditional Punjabi meal) throughout May. Simply enter the code AAPI24 upon your checkout on the Kasa Indian website: kasaindian.com.


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