'Our Time to Lead': Indian Americans Are Becoming Politically Assertive in US
As US gears up for midterm polls, one of the fastest-growing voting blocs in America finds itself in the spotlight.
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As America gears up for midterm polls, one of the fastest-growing racial voting blocs in America – Indian Americans – finds itself in the spotlight. They comprise 1.4 percent of the US population but have a substantial presence in the Senate battleground states like Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin and their numbers are quickly expanding in these states.
The last couple of election cycles has also delivered many firsts for Indian Americans in politics. In 2016, for the first time in the political history of America, five Indian-origin leaders got elected to the US Congress. Pramila Jayapal became the first Indian American woman elected to the House and Kamala Harris became the first Indian American US Senator.
In 2018 for the first time, over 80 Indian Americans were on the ballot for the US midterm elections and emerged as strong contenders. In 2020, Harris yet again made history by becoming the first South Asian woman Vice President of the nation. In 2022, there are over 176 Indian American elected officials at various levels throughout the country.
These developments make Indian Americans a political force to reckon with, yet a recent AAPI survey shows that there isn't sufficient effort being put toward reaching the community and the broader Asian American voters. More than two-thirds of registered Asian Americans surveyed say they plan to vote, but only about half have been contacted by either of the major parties. South Asians are overlooked as a constituency despite their high levels of education and relative affluence.
'Becoming Politically Engaged a Massive Collective Effort'
There is a demand for organisations that can tap into diversity and increase representation, especially among South Asians. That is why Indian American IMPACT has become a relevant outfit. It is the only national organisation that works to build power for the Indian American and South Asian community by activating, engaging, and electing Indian Americans and South Asians across the US.
Neil Makhija, a public interest attorney and the executive director of IMPACT told The Quint last week, “We’re witnessing a massive influx in Indian Americans who are not only interested – but prepared to advance our community’s priorities in government. But becoming politically engaged is a massive collective effort.”
Since its inception in 2016, IMPACT has sought to empower South Asians with all the necessary tools and support to seek office and mobilise their communities to turn out at the voting booth.
In 2020, IMPACT raised $15 million to mobilise Indian and Asian American voters throughout the country, including in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Arizona. It was also instrumental in increasing Indian American representation in state legislatures by nearly 24 percent by electing two new State Senators and three new State Representatives. In 2021, it endorsed 30 candidates running for state and local offices of which 20 candidates win and are elected to public office.
But South Asian Americans Face Unique Obstacles
Despite these triumphs, there have been several hurdles in their journey to engage and mobilise this ascendant constituency as well as the future candidates in the community.
“To gain and retain established elected offices, we need widespread support from Indian Americans nationwide. But, admittedly, it is difficult to break the preconceived notions, generational expectations, and cultural stereotypes that our community experiences,” stated Makhija.
“Culturally, politics is not a profession that South Asians commonly engage in – often first-generation immigrant families prioritise entrepreneurship and careers in STEM. But those are precisely the boxes that we must burst out of to build a long-lasting rapport on the Hill and cut through the skepticism.”
But certain external occurrences have managed to draw the attention of Indian Americans out of a sense of alarm. According to a statement shared by IMPACT, there have been over 11,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans last year and nearly 600 more every month. The most recent incident was the racist attack against four Indian American women in Plano, Texas, the video of which went viral.
Makhija discussed how the US has a legal system in place that is not accessible to regular people. To seek accountability, reporting is important and clearly, there is a lack of it. Some organisations run hotlines called StopAAPIhate to help report hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders but to bring about a long-term change leadership should prioritise expanding multicultural education.
“South Asian Americans face such unique concerns and obstacles and that can ultimately be addressed through local, state and national representation.”
'Our Time to Lead'
Indian Americans are no longer content clicking pictures with elected officials and raising funds for them. They are increasingly contesting elections and becoming insiders who can participate in lawmaking.
This year could also ring in a string of historic firsts for the community.
With opinion polls heavily favouring Democrats, Hyderabad-born Aruna Miller is likely to be elected as the next Lieutenant Governor of Maryland in November. She will be the first South Asian or AAPI woman to serve in the position. Though healthcare remains her top priority, she is invested in immigration reform as well, which includes finding a pathway to citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants and Dreamers.
Tarik Khan, a frontline nurse and former president of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association is a political newcomer running for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He explained to American Kahani, “I am running (for office) because, after this pandemic and the failure of our government to take care of communities, it is time for new leadership. Nurses, essential workers, frontline workers, it’s our time to lead.”
Immigrant scientist, Shri Thanedar was declared the winner of a crowded primary for Michigan’s 13th District after he beat eight Black candidates. There is a strong possibility of him becoming the first-ever Indian American in Michigan to be elected to Congress.
The list of candidates is getting longer and that is encouraging. As Makhija aptly states, “In order for us to fully activate our collective strength, it is imperative that leaders take initiative and challenge the status quo by running for office. If we don’t do this for ourselves today, then we’ll be allowing history to endlessly repeat itself tomorrow.”
(Sreya Sarkar author is a public policy professional based in Arlington, Massachusetts. The views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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Topics: Indian American Indian Diaspora
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