“I am running for Cupertino City Council” – I could hardly have even imagined myself saying that when I landed in the US 20+ years ago. I may even have had difficulty locating Cupertino on a map. Remember this was before iPods and iPhones with Cupertino as their default location.
Arriving in the early 90s as the wife of a software engineer and a two year old daughter in tow, learning to drive on the “right” side of the road and figuring out grocery stores were my primary concern. I had just quit my job as an officer in bank and lost the proximity of our parents and relatives in dealing with the terrible twos. Before Vonage, FaceTime or Skype, calls to India had to be short and far between. But like many immigrants, we survived and thrived.
I started volunteering at my daughter’s pre-school. It was called “Parent Participation”. For some years after graduation, I taught high school math in India. As a teacher, the only reason to meet a parent was if the kid was in trouble. I learnt something different about parent involvement in the schools here. I enjoyed being around kids and wound up volunteering often.
We moved to Cupertino around the time our daughter started Elementary school. I decided to take classes at De Anza College and then transfer to SJSU for an MBA program. I got back into the world of the employed, this time in non-profit management until one day my daughter declared, “Mom, I need you at home when I get back from school.” Powerful words that required immediate action! I mentally battled to choose the right course of action. I had struggled to get that MBA and a job. But decided to quit work and be home for her. Looking back, it was the best decision I could have made. I got fully immersed in my daughter’s life and community events. I became the permanent chaperone for DECA, a High School Business club. For my work at DECA and other community activities, the Silicon Valley chapter of DECA honored me with “Community Leader of the Year 2010” award.
As my daughter grew older and more independent, I got more involved in community events. I enjoyed the diverse company and multi-national activities. Fundraising for Cupertino Library, organizing the Diwali and Fall Festivals in Memorial Park, supporting the Organization of Special Needs Families (OSF), participating in the Lunar Unity Day parades was exhilarating for me. I was invited to the Board of West Valley Community Services, De Anza College Commission and join Rotary. Most recently I was honored to serve as President of the Rotary Club of Cupertino – the first Indo-American woman to do so.
While Indo-Americans are now well known for their technical prowess and sit on Boards of companies and Indian NPOs, it was not common to find them on local community Boards. In the early days, I was often mistaken as staff or tech support and had to work really hard to earn my place. Many a time, when we were introduced at Rotary events, people would assume that my husband was the President. I had to “lean in” and shake the extended hand.
I was one of those people who would visit a county fair or art-and-wine festival and enjoy the couple of hours there. Only when I got to organizing the Fall Festival or Diwali did I realize the countless hours of work volunteers had to put in to deliver the wonderful experience. The motto of the Rotary Club is “Service above Self” and the past 7 years have brought home the value of those words. I never thought about it when I started volunteering, but I have been rewarded many times over with the wonderful friends I made and the great experiences I had.
Cupertino is a great place and I am proud to call this my home. My family has cherished the open spaces, benefitted from our great schools, and enjoyed being part of a vibrant, diverse community. What make this city (or any other community) great are the people and institutions that guide the evolution. We often take for granted things we enjoy and believe they will be there forever. We believe that things come together naturally and will continue to do so.
When I wrapped up my term as Cupertino Rotary President in June of this year, my friends asked me to consider a run for City Council. It was out of the blue, but the more I thought about it, it seemed a natural transition for me if I wanted a voice in shaping the future of my home city. Institutions don’t happen by themselves. They are shaped by the people who participate in them. Yes Ma, I am running for Cupertino City Council!