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From Long Island Wins: September 5, 2013

The Immigrant Pioneer

Long Island Wins has long been out to spread the word: immigrants from all around the world come to Long Island to work hard and take care of their families.

One thing that‘s a constant source of pleasant surprise for me is just how many different ways immigrants are refreshing Long Island’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Raj Kumar is one of those people. Born in Jammu, India and raised in Kuwait, Raj first arrived in Miami in 1980 to attend Florida International University. After graduating he packed up and moved to Long Island in 1987. Kumar came to Hicksville to pursue his dream of one day starting his own business.

“I always liked the northeast,” Kumar said. “Long Island is also a good place to raise a family, especially because of the education opportunities here.”

On the insistence from his wife, Geeta, Kumar opened his first business, Modern Bazaar, in 1987.

“There were hardly any Indians here then,” said Raj. “I think it was the only store of its kind on Long Island at that time.”

After a successful run of 15 years, his store was destroyed when a car crashed through the store. Rather than reopen the same store under the same name, he transformed his business and Bengali Sweet Shop was born. Offering only healthy Indian vegetarian food, Bengali Sweet Shop picked up where Modern Bazaar left off. Working alongside his wife and two employees, the restaurant has been a staple of the Hicksville Indian community for over a decade.

“It’s great to see the same faces for the past 25 years,” said Kumar. “Now I’m starting to see the children of those friends coming in and they’re calling me uncle. It makes me feel old,” he joked, “so I tell them to please call me Raj.”

Kumar and his wife are themselves parents to two boys, aged 18 and 14. The older son will be attending Stony Brook in the Fall to study engineering and his younger son is attending Hicksville High School.

Not only has Kumar been a successful entrepreneur, he is also an active member of the community, serving on the planning committee of the annual Hicksville India Day Parade. He is also a member of the Hicksville Chamber of Commerce, and is a founding member of the Rotary Club of Hicksville South, the local chapter of the internationally renowned humanitarian organization.

His contributions are just some of the many that immigrants make to their communities here on Long Island.

“I look at my landscaper, most of his workforce are immigrants,” said Kumar. “Take a look at the local restaurants here, I would say half of the workers are immigrants. Look at all the high tech workers that are here on work visas.”

“And this is why immigration reform will be good for our country,” he added. “Some of these workers have been here for 20 or 25 years. They started families here, they are Americans. It’s only fair that these people get the dignity they deserve.”

Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the executive director of Long Island Wins, a communications organization promoting commonsense policy solutions that work for all Long Islanders.