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Greater South Asian Representation in D.C. With VP Harris

As we all know, President Biden and Vice President Harris were sworn in last week. While this new duo is long-anticipated for several reasons, there is one above others that makes it extra special for us at SEWA.

Representation is important. It’s important in popular media, school curricula, government, and everything in between. Though there are naysayers who dismiss the importance of representation simply because they don’t understand it, it is nonetheless entering mainstream conversation more and more in the US. However, despite the increased awareness and push for diversity and representation, the US has been slow to actually realize these goals.

But last week, there was a major historical event that represents progress — the inauguration of VP Kamala Harris. One of the most defining characteristics of the United States’ history is ever-increasing diversity thanks to waves of immigration from all over the world. Fast forward 100 years from the days of Ellis Island and Angel Island, and we see one of the world’s most cosmopolitan countries.

And yet, if you look back at our presidents and vice presidents, you’d never guess that the US is as diverse as it is.

VP Harris’s inauguration marks another step forward for the Black community, and for the South Asian community. It’s another step towards our government truly representing the global community that is the US. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing voter demographic in the country. Slowly but surely, the federal government is beginning to reflect that.

South Asians in Congress

Ami Bera is a member of the House of Representatives, whose parents came to the US from Rajkot, Gujarat, India. Rep. Bera serves California’s 7th district, which is roughly the greater Sacramento area.

He was a physician prior to his election, and serves on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, of which he is the Vice Chair.

Pramila Jayapal is also part of the House of Representatives, serving Washington’s 7th district, roughly Seattle. She is originally from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, and spent a large portion of her childhood between Indonesia and Singapore. Rep. Jayapal came to the US alone at age 16 to attend college.

Before being elected to the House, Rep. Jayapal was a prominent Seattle-based civil rights activist. Her election in 2019 was historic for Washington — she is the 7th district’s first Congresswoman, and the first Asian American to represent the State of Washington at the federal level. For a little context, the West Coast, historically, is a hub of immigration from Asia. The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellvue metro that her district encompasses has one of the greatest Asian American populations in the country.

She currently serves on the Committee on the Judiciary, the Committee on Education and Labor, and the Committee on the Budget.

Ro Khanna represents California’s 17th district, which is in the Bay Area, in the House of Representatives. He is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents emigrated from Punjab, India. His grandfather, Amarnath Vidyalankar, was a prominent member of India’s independence movement.

Prior to his election in 2017, Rep. Khanna was an intellectual property lawyer, and was a lecturer at Stanford, Santa Clara Law School, and San Francisco State University. He serves on the Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on the Budget, and the United States House Committee on Oversight and Reform. He was also the national co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Raja Krishnamoorthi represents Illinois’ 8th district, which falls within Chicago, in the House of Representatives. He was born to a Tamil-speaking family from New Delhi, India, and grew up mostly in Peoria, Illinois.

Rep. Krishnamoorthi has a long history of political involvement, having worked on Barack Obama’s 2000 campaign for the US House of Representatives. He currently serves on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

And now, in 2021, we have Vice President Kamala Harris, whose inauguration was celebrated in her ancestral home of Thulasendrapuram, Tamil Nadu, India. VP Harris visited Thulasendrapuram growing up, and remembers walking the beaches of Chennai with her grandfather, who still lived there.

Representation is growing. Our government is slowly becoming more reflective of our country’s demographics. And now, we are excited to see a multicultural woman of color in the nation’s second-highest office. For now, let’s celebrate, and hear from some SEWA staff on this historic event.

SEWA-AIFW Staff on VP Harris

There’s been an image circulating of all the white, male VPs in US history, and then Kamala Harris. I think that image represents exactly how dramatic and historic this moment is. To have a woman, who is strong and black, in office – when black women are so often put down for being too bossy or outspoken, and to have a woman, who is strong and Indian – when South Asian women are expected to be submissive or accommodating, is amazing. This is a moment that will hopefully reckon a change in our collective thinking and elevate & celebrate the strength of all women.  To see a Black & Indian woman, or even a multicultural woman in office, is also very personal, as I am Indian-American and married to a Nigerian man. It will hopefully give some validation or a measure of acceptance to those struggling with their families for their own multicultural relationships, which are often harshly judged especially in South Asian communities.

Reena Maheshwari, Media & Communications

Color of your skin matters. And thus representation matters. I am delighted to see a woman of color on the second highest position in government. ( The first and the only female Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi served the nation in 1966 until 1977 and again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984. )  America, finally, is ready to accept a woman leading  the country in 2021. And Kamala now has greater responsibilities and expectations from millions of women from all over the world. Let’s pause and relish the historical moment first. 

Mubina Qureshi, CSSP Program Manager

Women have been trying hard to break the glass ceiling and Hillary Clinton’s losing the election once again proved that we still have a long way to go. But this political landmark had a positive aspect to it, with Kamala Devi Harris now becoming the first-ever female vice president of America. Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made…It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” Personally, I am happy to see a woman in a high position of power and I am sure we are going to see some monumental changes in the coming years that would be for all individuals!

This is a great moment for all the women of color who had to fight against the patriarchy and race. It is another powerful message to all the girls and women that their voice matters and they can achieve anything they put their heart to!

Geetanjali Mittal, Program Developer, Women’s Programs

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