A bevy of Indian Americans are running for federal offices and they need the community’s support.
By Vinson Palathingal
WASHINGTON, DC: I have lived in the United States for the last 25 years. I arrived on these shores as a graduate student from Kerala, India, and settled down in this fine country, making it my home away from home.
Today, I am a proud business owner and an active member of the Indian American community. I have shown great interest in meeting with people, sharing ideas, joining philanthropic causes, and affiliating with different cultural organizations.
There was something about community events and political activism that appealed to me. As is natural to any other ethnic group in this great country, I too started thinking that we need to be active in the main stream politics, and I soon found myself organizing fundraisers and campaigning for Indian American political leaders running for office.
Today, Indian Americans command a certain level of respect in all aspects of life. We have proven ourselves as seasoned engineers, doctors, professors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and technologists. We continue to excel in professional and academic fields, while adhering to the law and respecting people of all backgrounds. I am truly proud to be an Indian American.
As I find myself facing one of the biggest challenges of my life today, I turn to you. Despite all our achievements and accomplishments, we are falling behind in political participation. The numbers speak for themselves. As a community, we are one of the least politically active ethnicities in the United States. Only about 20% of Indian American citizens vote in US elections, and as a result of this lackluster participation in the political process, we constitute only a tiny fraction of elected officials.
As a vocal citizen, I have always urged and supported young leaders. I regularly seek and muster support for Indian American contestants. Very recently, I organized a successful fundraiser for Mary Thomas, who is running in the Republican primary for US Congress, from the 2nd Congressional district in Florida.
Thomas is an extremely charismatic lady. Her confidence and determination are all but too reminiscent of Indian Americans. Having a voice inside the democratic bowels of this system will be an invaluable accomplishment for the Indian Americans, especially the Keralite Americans.
Yet another Keralite American, State Senator Pramila Jayapal is running in the west coast for the 37th District in Washington State, as a Democrat. Both these candidates belong to us and understand our issues and concerns like no other, and if elected they will be the first Keralite Americans and the first Indian American women in the in the US Congress.
We also have Kamala D. Harris, current Attorney General of California, running for US Senate in California. Ro Khanna, Democratic Congressional candidate in San Francisco Bay Area in Congressional District 17, Nikky Haley, the sitting governor of South Carolina, and Bobby Jindal, the former Governor, Congressman and former Republican Presidential Candidate, are examples of other Indian Americans in the main stream political scene.
As charmed and impressed I was by Thomas and other Indian American politicians listed above, there was a gaping sensation that I haven’t been able to shake off. Perhaps you can help address this issue. Even when some of our children are ambitious enough to shoot for higher echelons of political power in this country, as state governors, US Congressmen and US Senators, why we, as Indian Americans, are still not showing much interest in participating in the electoral process.
Why only 20% of the eligible Indian American voters hit the polling booths. Why most of us still continue to shy away from making even modest political contributions, even when Indian Americans are running? In a democracy, there is an unparalleled honor in participating in the electoral process. And I’m sure many of you will agree that our children have a deep sense of loyalty to this wonderful country as evidenced by their ambition for the highest elected offices in the country. Still, vast majority of us continue to remain on the fringes of the oldest democracy in the world as if we have no role to play here.
As immigrants, we travelled to this country for opportunity. The economic security that this country offered was too appealing. We have established ourselves as one of the most productive and bright peoples in the United States. So, why does this illogical and apparent disconnect continue to exist?
I wish I had an answer for you as much as I wish you have an answer for me. Undoubtedly, leaders exist within our community. I am sure many of you have already seen early signs of leadership and maturity in your children. Natural leaders are hard to come by. As Americans, and more importantly as parents, we must nurture and cultivate these traits. Motivation and support will be our biggest allies in this quest. These traits are not exclusive either, and will go a long way irrespective of what our children eventually do.
To write our history in golden letters and to have an effective voice in the bowels of this great democracy, with all the resources at our disposal, is well within our power. With our words of inspiration, with our commitment to participate in the electoral process and with our financial backing when Indian American run, our children will be able to show the great strengths we have shown in almost all areas we have touched in the American Politics as well. Let us act together and let us act now. Elections are coming, make contributions to your favorite candidates, watch and discuss the political news with your children and on the election day get out and vote to elect the best suited candidates to run this nation of ours.
(Vinson Palathingal, a Washington, DC, -based entrepreneur, is the Executive Director of the IndoAmerican Center.)