GREEN RIVER, UT – The first episode of an Apple TV series, Little americatells the story of Kunal Sah, whose growing hotel franchise business for Indian immigrant parents fell into his care at the age of 12 after their brutal expulsion.
“My parents, Kanhai and Sarita Sah, arrived in the United States in 1990. My father was pursuing his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering in Oakland, California, and worked many odd jobs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to save penny after penny, “said Kunal Sah, now 26.
Kanhai Sah’s goal was not to be a hotelier, but he was inspired by some of his colleagues who worked in the same company.
“In 1997, my parents bought their first motel in Green River. It was called the Budget Inn. After working continuously for four years, they then bought land in the same city and built a brand new Ramada, “said Kunal Sah. “Shortly after, they opened two more hotels: one in northern Utah and one in Charlotte, NC.”
After numerous calls to immigration authorities, Kanhai and Sarita Sah had to leave their Utah adoptive home and their businesses. At the age of 12, Kunal Sah had to grow quickly because he was now responsible for overseeing the multiple properties of the hotel. During this time, he maintained a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 and then participated in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. The family remained separated for 11 years.
When asked to describe what it was like to be separated from his family when he was a child, Kunal Sah shared this: “All I could say would end up being an understatement. Only I know how I felt during those days; nothing I could say would bring my experiences to justice. It was nightmarish, heartbreaking, horrible – you name it. “
Sah lived in fear of what was to follow.
“It all happened so quickly. It’s like I have no choice but to run my own life,” he said. “My parents had created four very successful hotels and now they were I had to leave them behind. I just felt shattered and broken at first. These feelings lasted for years. The key was to take it one day at a time. Each hour was a new challenge. I took them all individually and somehow I’ve been through over a decade. ”
When Sah turned 21, he finally managed to get his family back.
“My family is doing pretty well today,” said Kunal Sah. “I sponsored them myself after my 21st birthday. It took about two years after that time. I welcomed them in early February 2017. We also added a very important member to our family, Shayona Sah, who is my wife. We were married on January 31, 2019 in India. “
Before family reunification, there were many attempts over several years.
“We were writing about immigration, we tried to talk to members of Congress and women of Congress across the country, a multitude of lawyers, but we ended up with nothing,” said Sah. “Their expulsion order was totally unfair, especially since they did everything correctly and that more than half of the city in which we lived was illegally present in the country.”
Thanks to phone calls from India, the parents stayed connected and provided much needed support for their young son. “I had no other support system,” he said. “The phone calls were the biggest support I have had, nothing else.”
Through this ordeal, Sah had to give up his childhood dreams.
“When I was much younger, the fact that I was a bright student at school was always something that people noticed. I was still at the top of my class and, moreover, I had goals to become a neurosurgeon, go to Harvard Medical School and follow my own path and achieve greatness. Even if this goal was not achieved, I graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with the Masters of Business Administration last summa cum laude last October, albeit late. Life had other plans for me, “he said.
Running a hotel business was rigorous, but Sah relied on his parents’ trust in him.
“I didn’t even know what tax or mortgage meant at that age. I sought advice from a variety of people every day. Little by little, I learned hospitality by stumbling every step of the way. It’s not as if I hadn’t made mistakes; I did more than I can count. It was so much pressure, and not having someone constructive was a real killer. ” he said. “But, I was given a practical exam at a very young age, which taught me in a way that cannot be questioned. The lessons that I learned and the experiences that I lived, I would not exchange them for anything in the world. “
Before Apple TV created the series, it all started with a collection of essays for Epic magazine, titled “Little America”.
“It was truly an incredible experience that always left me speechless,” he said. “Apple arrived and I was overwhelmed by the whole series of events that took place and then produced my story as part of the Apple TV range. Their products are in over a billion hands worldwide; it’s just crazy to imagine that my story is within the reach of so many people. “
He added: “My story is difficult to put into words, even if I think it will be one day. The episode gave a very small visual overview of what we have experienced as a family. It’s hard to put years of context into 30 minutes, but I think they have done a remarkable job. “
Having grown up in the hotel industry, Sah offers a unique perspective.
“I like that every day is different. There is not a single dull day when I find myself doing the same thing over and over again, “he said. “Every day is a new challenge and I feel like it; I want to seek new heights within my profession, to network and to grow in all aspects. “
Having gone through this difficult experience, Sah thinks he has mastered the art of perseverance.
“Personally and professionally, I think I have learned to persevere and continue to cross the waves of life,” he said. “As a family, it has made us much stronger than ever. We have gone through hell and back, and we cannot be more pleased with where we are today. “
Based on years of experience and his ability to overcome these challenges, Sah has this advice to hoteliers: “If success is what you want, then grab it. I’m sure everyone knows that to succeed in the hotel business, it’s hard to break. But in terms of building a better life for yourself, it’s about being happy while you’re doing what you love. You can never have too many happy days. “
Apple TV’s eight-part anthology series is now available for streaming, with each episode presenting a different and inspiring immigrant narrative.
“Value every day. It’s human nature to get used to things quickly and get caught up in everyday life. But the tragedy we went through as a family helped us learn to live in a certain way, ”he said. “Every day, every minute and every second is magnificent. Live happily, laugh and grow in good times as well as in difficult times. I have always lived a single affirmation: “God never gives you what you cannot manage”. And I stand by that. “
The Sah family’s current hotel, the Americas Best Value Inn Green River, is near Moab, UT, a popular tourist destination.