Impact Fund Executive Director Aruna Miller talks about the political engagement of the Indian American community.
Indian Americans have had a rather interesting trajectory of immigration in the country. Over the last 50 years, they have become not just one of the largest new immigrant communities in the country but also the most educated and economically secure minority groups.
The dedicated and academically inclined minority soon earned the tag of model minority, which was often seen as less of a compliment in academic circles as many pointed out the community’s near absence in the civic and political life in the country. But that may be changing at a rapid speed. The Indian American community has been increasingly become more politically engaged in the past decade. The current anti-immigrant, white supremacist rhetoric may be acting as a catalyst for the community to become even more politically active.
A recent report in the Los Angeles Times confirmed the rising interest and influence of the Indian American community. According to the report, Indian Americans contributed more than $3 million to the 2020 presidential campaign. This may be a big deal for a community that makes up for only 1 percent of the entire American population.
While contributions were mostly to Democratic presidential candidates — Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard remained the most popular among Indian donors, followed by Sen. Cory Booker — they do signal a more active and eager population looking to make a considerable difference to American politics.
Harris, the only candidate with an Indian heritage running for president in the current cycle, was able to raise $387,000 from the Indian American community for her 2020 bid. Following a close second was Tulsi Gabbard, a practicing Hindu, a faith practiced by the majority of Indian Americans. She raised $374,000 from the community, according to the Times analysis of disclosure forms signed by the candidates.
The American Bazaar spoke to Aruna Miller, Executive Director of the Indian American Impact Fund, an organization that has been endorsing and funding Indian American candidates running for public office. Miller is a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates.
Why and how do you think the silent minority has become more politically engaged? What are the factors you believe contributed to it?
Indian Americans are by no means the silent minority. The community has achieved considerable economic and academic success as well as social mobility in one generation of its modern arrival to the United States. Indians came to the U.S. disproportionately from educated backgrounds but in a span of 50 years, through hard work, they’ve built the solid financial foundation which can now serve as the launch pad for expanding our collective influence and success. As IAs also play a greater role in our country as policymakers and elected officials, they will play a significant role in shaping the direction of our country and passing laws that will have a significant impact on our nation and its residents. Increasingly, Indian Americans are making generous donations to political candidates for many reasons: 1) Indian Americans are more financially secure than when they first arrived in the country so they can give more; 2) Indian Americans have a shared vision with the candidate(s) on policies like healthcare, economy, climate change, immigration, and social/racial justice. 3) Indian Americans know that these are unprecedented times that require a call for action; and 4) Indian have a shared identity with the candidate(s) be it race, gender, ethnicity, faith, or country of origin.
For a long time, there was a complaint that Indian Americans, though big donors to temples, shy away from big philanthropic donations. Do you think it was true? Also, do you think Indians look at politics for power?
The Indian American community succeeds in the modern secular world of science, engineering, academia, and business and, yet, the community remains deeply committed to their faith which enables them to sustain and promote their cultural identity.
Indian Americans are not looking to politics as a source of power but rather to gain their voice and help shape the direction of our nation. The lack of engagement translates to being ignored by elected officials and worse yet, being persecuted. The liberties and freedoms we enjoy today could be taken away if we do not remain politically engaged, vote, advocate for issues that are important to us, support candidates who reflect our shared values, run for office, and give back to our nation.
Did the background of candidates — Sen. Harris is half Indian and Gabbard is a Hindu —play a huge role in channelizing Indians. If yes, why?
Shared identity, especially one that has been historically marginalized in the political arena, is a component in a community’s awareness/interest of a candidate. In this regard, Senator Harris and Congresswoman Gabbard are successful female leaders who share a common identity with the Indian American community. But shared identity is not the only factor that will ultimately inspire the Indian American electorate to donate and vote. Just as every candidate will bring their individuality, unique strengths, and a diverse range of views to the ticket, so too will the Indian American electorate. Indian American voters will evaluate the record of the candidates, the totality of what they bring to the table, and more importantly what they will bring to the future of all Americans.