Vincent & Ixida Perera

There are kind people and there are generous people in this world, but finding someone who is both kind and generous is akin to unearthing a treasure. For while it may be true that a person can open their arms to embrace another, it is another thing entirely to say that a person can extend their arms to embrace another while opening up their home, hearth and heart. Yet these were exactly the type of people that Vincent and Ixida Perera were— kind, generous, and most of all, accommodating and supportive.

Before arriving in America, Vincent had worked for the British company, John Dickenson’s in Sri Lanka. When the Sri Lankan government rose to power and nationalized everything, Vincent was given the option to relocate to either Australia or Singapore. At the same time, the Pereras were contacted by two of their good friends in the United States —Mr. and Mrs. Lobo—who then asked them to come to America. Arriving in the early 1960s, Vincent and Ixida found themselves to be among the first group of Sri Lankans in California. As such, they maintained a rather tightknit community with the handful of other Sri Lankan families at that time. So when a telephone call came to the Perera residence one afternoon from two young Sri Lankan students looking for other Sri Lankan families, the Pereras excitedly brought them home for lunch.

Thus begins the stories of two young students, Walter Jayasinghe and Kathigesu Dharmachandran (known today as Don Drachand), their arrival to America, and their luck in finding such good people to lend them a warm, helping hand. Having spent nearly two weeks living on the streets in various parts of downtown Los Angeles, anxiously flipping through each page of the White Pages in search of Sri Lankan surnames, the young Jayasinghe and Dharmachandran were relieved to find that there were other Sri Lankans who were not only residing nearby, but who were also willing to bring them home.

At that time, both Jayasinghe and Dharmachandran were living on barely one dollar a day, with no other clothes than the ones on their backs. They had no baggage, no place to call ‘home’ and no resources. What little money the two of them had in their possession was spent on daily necessities. A hamburger cost about twenty-five cents, a hot dog cost about fifteen cents, a paper cone of beer rang up around five cents, a pack of cigarettes came to about twenty cents, and a shower and shave at the local bus station cost about ten cents. When all was said and done, after two meals, a beer and a cold shower for one day, they didn’t have much money left to do anything else.

One phone call from a telephone booth in downtown Los Angeles, and the Perera’s son Anton, came and picked them up off the street and took them straight to his parents’ home for lunch. Yet, what started off as an afternoon lunch turned into a stay that spanned over one month. After what must have seemed like many weeks, the two young students were able to enjoy authentic Sri Lankan meals, hot-water baths, sarongs, and most importantly, the company, support, and friendship of two very kind and generous people. That afternoon meeting would spark a friendship between Mr. Jayasinghe, Mr. Dharmachandran, and the Pereras that would ultimately come to span generations.

Vincent and Ixida Perera did not halt their benevolent acts with just those two young students. They not only gave a helping hand to Mr. Jayasinghe and Mr. Dharmachandran, they also helped anyone who came to America in those early years to find jobs and houses. Vincent and Ixida sponsored so many Sri Lankans who have been able to achieve their American dreams. Not only were they pioneers who blazed the trails for other Sri Lankans coming to the United States, they were also innovative entrepreneurs who established the first Sri Lankan -operated eatery in the 1960s at which curry hamburgers were first introduced. The Pereras were instrumental figures in the early Sri Lankan expatriate community and wholly deserve recognition for their contribution in aiding other Sri Lankan families and individuals to put down roots in the United States.

Dr. Walter Jayasinghe, on behalf of himself and Mr. Don Drachand, presented this award in grateful and loving memory of Vincent and Ixida Perera.