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Pramila Jayapal creates history: first Indian American woman elected to US Congress

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Jayapal emigrated to US at the age of 16.

Pramila Jayapal
Pramila Jayapal

Hillary Clinton has failed to become president of the greatest free nation on Earth, but Pramila Jayapal has created history, by becoming the first Indian American woman to be elected to the US Congress, from Washington state’s 7th District.

As of this being posted online, Jayapal was leading with 65% of the vote in against her rival, with an impressive total of 132,216 votes.

The Washington state senator is known for her two-decade long work for the rights of immigrants, women, and the civil society.

Born on September 21, 1965, in Chennai, and raised in Indonesia and Singapore, Jayapal moved to the U.S in 1982 at the age of 16 to pursue higher studies.  She earned her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and an MBA from Northwestern University in Chicago.

She started her political career through campaigns for the rights of immigrants, women, and workers. She led one of the largest voter registration efforts in Washington State, helping over 23,000 new Americans to register to vote.

Jayapal founded ‘Hate Free Zone’ after the September 11 attacks in 2001 as an advocacy group for Arab, Muslim, and South Asian Americans targeted in the wake of the attacks. The group went on to become a political force in the state of Washington, registering new American citizens to vote and lobbying lawmakers on immigration reform and related issues.

The organization changed its name to OneAmerica in 2008. Jayapal stepped down from leadership in the group in May 2012. A year later, she was recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for her work on behalf of the immigrant community. Under the leadership of Jayapal, OneAmerica became the largest immigrant and refugee advocacy organization in Washington state.

Jayapal has served as co-director of We Belong Together – a campaign to mobilize women in support of common-sense immigration policies, Vice Chair of the Rights Working Group national coalition, on the Executive Committee of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, and helped launch the National Partnership for New Americans.

In January 2016, Jayapal declared her candidacy for Congress in Washington’s 7th congressional district, after Congressman Jim McDermott announced his retirement. Earlier this year, Bernie Sanders endorsed Jayapal saying she was “willing to continue the fight we started in this campaign.”

Jayapal lives in Seattle with her husband Steve Williamson, an officer and director of UFCW 21. Their son Janak is pursuing his studies at Wesleyan University. Pramila’s step-son, Michael, lives in Colorado.