Tag Archives: Ami Bera

Desis In the House!

Democracy was under siege in the last four years as the Trump administration took a wrecking ball to free and fair elections, human rights and the rule of law.

The divisive politics that polarized our country climaxed in the appalling spectacle of an enraged mob invading the Capitol to reclaim a ‘stolen election’, followed by the deaths of five people in the riot, and a group of lawmakers refusing ratify the electoral college results.

And yet, despite the chaos over the voting process that preceded the election in the middle of a pandemic, the nation flexed its collective democratic muscle in Election 2020, and set a record for the highest turnout in over a century.

Democracy prevailed. People asserted their will, and the results were historic, especially for multi-ethnic, multicultural America. High turnouts by voters of color proved decisive and gave Joe Biden the edge in this election,

More than 159 million Americans cast their vote. Among them, Asian Americans – the fastest growing ethnic group in the country according to a Pew study, who made up at least 5% of these eligible voters, with more than 1.8 registered Indian American voters nationally.

Kamala Harris, a woman of color with African American and Indian American heritage became the first ever woman elected to the office of Vice President of the United States

A record 51 women of color were elected to serve in the next 117th Congress.

People of color now represent 28% of the House, including 16 Asian Americans. Indian Americans had reason to celebrate as their ranks include Ami Bera and Ro Khanna (D) CA, Raja Krishnamoorthi (D) IL, and Pramila Jaypal (D) WA, all of whom were re-elected to the House of Representatives.

And, in a new record for the Indian American community, at least 20 Indian Americans, including 13 women, have been named to senior posts in the incoming Biden-Harris administration.

Click this LINK to see who they are!

https://youtu.be/rF3TVDOzl5Q

Undoubtedly these numbers mirror the growing ethnic diversity within the Asian American electorate. And, even though Indian Americas constitute just over 1% of the US population, their inclusion in the new administration reflects the surge of Indian Americans informing the national dialogue as they participate in civic engagement, US politics, advocacy and community activism.

Indiaspora founder M R Rangaswami  told PTI, “The dedication that the Indian-American community has shown to public service over the years has been recognized in a big way at the very start of this administration! I am particularly pleased that the overwhelming majority are women. Our community has truly arrived in serving the nation.”

In 2020, on Indian Independence Day, Joe Biden had told an Indian American audience,”As President, I’ll also continue to rely on the Indian-American diaspora, that keeps our two nations together, as I have throughout my career.”

And despite the hurdles imposed by voting in an election during the COVID19 lockdowns, this new administration more than reflects that promise.

“We pulled off an election in spite of incredibly powerful forces who wanted to stop brown and black voters from participating,” noted Myrna Perez, Director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program at an Ethnic Media Services briefing on January 8. “We did it in the face of a once in a century pandemic, we did in amidst an economic crisis, and we did it amidst politicians at all levels of government purposely trying to confuse, mislead and lie to voters.”

Civil rights advocates at the briefing cautioned that the insurrection at the Capitol on January 5 signaled a growing ‘whitelash’ against voters of color and that widespread misinformation will continue to undermine the rights of voters, especially from minority communities.

The riots were not an isolated incident warned Judith A. Browne Dianis, a civil rights attorney and co-director of the Advancement Project. The insurrection was about the rise the confederacy and the rise of white supremacy, “These riots were motivated by the same anti-democratic sentiment that inspired lawmakers to challenge November’s election results based on baseless conspiracies and lies and misinformation about voter fraud perpetrated specifically in communities of color, ” she explained.

Dianis also cautioned against restrictions  on the right to vote. “In the wake of the 2020 elections, state lawmakers are already proposing additional restrictions,”  such as the proposal to eliminate ‘no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia, the proposal to stiffen identification requirements in Pennsylvania and tighten standards for signature matches.” But what Dianis is most worried about is disinformation. “We don’t know what the truth is any longer, she said. “How do we make sure that people of color are getting the truth?”

“We need to take precautions to secure right to vote,” said Gabriela D. Lemus, board chair of Mi Familia Vota (MFV).

“As we become more and more successful (as voters), there are more repressive mechanisms.” She emphasized the need to address the lack of infrastructure in many states about educating voters on their rights and accessing ballots in their own language. Lemus pointed out that the media had a big responsibility to ensure that disinformation was held in check in order for ‘democracy to thrive’.

But we also need to invest more resources in the elections, added Perez. She called on the nation to increase preparedness for the next election to ensure that democracy can withstand future threats.

“We cannot be making this up as we go along. There should be protocols!”

Perez reiterated that people cannot take for granted “that we have to fight for the idea that all of our communities deserve a place at the table.”  She urged Congress to pass legislation on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act, to secure the future of the vote.

“We have to make the case every day for a robust, participatory and inclusive democracy.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents

Indian-Americans Make An IMPACT

This is a heady time for Indian Americans.  Our immigration story and our growing financial and political power are in the headlines every day, especially with the addition of Senator Kamala Harris to the Democratic Party ticket for President. So what can we do to capitalize on this unique moment in history?  

Many of us want to do something but are not sure what.  This is where The Indian American IMPACT Fund comes in. It’s a bold new initiative whose mission is “to help talented and patriotic Indian Americans who reflect our community’s values run, win, and lead.”  Their goal is to build a pipeline for leadership and to provide a voice for the Indian American community in public affairs. 

IMPACT will be raising $10 million to support candidates they endorse for this election cycle.

Just this week, the IMPACT Fund released their first round of endorsements for the 2020 General Election.  Twenty four candidates have been selected from the  70 Indian Americans running for office up and down the ballot across the country.  IMPACT will put their weight behind these candidates through contributions, volunteering and help with grass roots organization. 

“We are going to do all these things to help elect these 24 candidates and really build an inclusive democracy.” says Neil Makhija, the new Executive Director of the organization. “When you have Donald Trump campaigning on building walls, that is the antithesis of our values and we don’t think about partisan lines.  We value global partnerships to solve issues like climate change, we believe in facts, believe in science.”   

The IMPACT Fund goes through an arduous process to assess the candidates and analyze the competitiveness of the races and where IMPACT can make the most difference.    

What is incredible is that in 2012, there was only one Indian American member of Congress – Ami Bera of California.  But by 2016, that number increased five fold. Joining Bera in Congress were Ro Khanna from California, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Pramila Jayapal from Washington as well Kamala Harris in the Senate. IMPACT supports candidates for public office from Congress to state capitols, school boards and city councils, as well as public leaders like Ravi Sandill who became the first ever District Court Judge in Texas of South Asian descent and who is up for relection in the Texas 127th District Court. in November. The increasing numbers of candidates from the Indian American community running for local and state offices reflect our greater engagement in politics and public affairs.

One of the key endorsements this election cycle is Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an ER physician who is running for Congress in Arizona in a district that has now become competitive but was unthinkable for a Democrat to win until recently.  Makhija believes that scientists or doctors like Dr. Tipirneni will provide different perspectives that will be valuable in helping shape what Congress. “We are excited about building a new generation that is formidable in public service.”

Another pivotal IMPACT-endorsed Senate candidate is Sara Gideon, the speaker of the house in Maine, trying to oust their 4-term Senator Susan CollinsMaine is one of the key races on the 2020 Senate map that will decide which party will have the majority.   This highly contested race is considered a “toss up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and has become the most expensive in Maine history. 

IMPACT has also endorsed Democratic VP nominee Kamala Harris because of her dual appeal to both the Black and Indian American communities.  “I think Kamala Harris is able to tie together our American stories like no other candidate has before in public, “ says Makhija.  “Her story in terms of growing up both Black and Indian and how she values both of those experiences in distinct ways but also in similar ways. – she can genuinely be a bridge and help us build a broad coalition that is needed to unite the country and get past this era of division with Donald Trump.”

IMPACT is working to make sure that the Indian American story is told. “We are seeing an immense desire to learn about (Kamala Harris) and that is not something that will disappear.  People are going to learn and better understand our community, our issues, our contributions and that will help build this bridge that we are talking about.  When a candidate is running in Texas or Arizona – because Kamala has run and been the first, it will be just a bit easier.  Because people will be more familiar and understand what it means to be Indian American.  So, I think that is one of the biggest impacts of the moment.” 

Neil Makhija, Executive Director             Indian American Impact Fund

Makhija’s own story represents how the Indian American community is coming into its own.  “I am the first person in three generations who has had this chance to come home and build a life where I grew up.” he says.  “My father was born a year and half after partition. My family were refugees from Sindh and then went to Ullas Nigar in Mumbai. My parents left everything and came to the United States. The joy that they feel when they go back and see their friends and family and connection is something I can appreciate. And it is easy to take for granted if you are in the town you grew up in and you have that. I have not left everything behind and gone across the world like many of them had to.  It’s really special and this rootedness gives you the platform to get involved in public affairs.” 

A common thread to the immigrant story is that the first generation works hard to build a new life and does not always  engage in public life . But their commitment allows the second generation to step up and fully participate in the public and political sphere. 

The opportunity to do that is what has Neil Makhija working around the clock at IMPACT.

Other groups like LatinX, LGBTQ, African American “all have a serious presence in terms of organization and you need that if you are going to bring a community that has not traditionally or historically been in power, “ says Makhija “It does not happen automatically.”  

The IMPACT Fund will recruit, train, and then endorse and elect candidates who want to serve and fully represent  diverse communities.  “What we find is that Indian American as well as other immigrant communities are often welcomed when they play narrow roles but receive skepticism when they aspire to leadership.  That’s what we are up against and so, we as a community and organization want to come together to help our candidates get beyond that.”

The Indian American IMPACT Project is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization which helps with building awareness about the political process while the Indian American IMPACT Fund is a political action committee (PAC) that helps candidates get elected to local, state and federal offices.  The IMPACT Fund is committed to the core values of inclusion, civil rights and a belief in science, qualities they seek when vetting candidates they want to endorse.

Makhija explains that “anyone can give $20 to the presidential race and that is fine.  But there are some races where you raise $1000 from a group of people and give it to a Presidential or Senate candidate who is raising multi million dollars, or you can actually help elect a State Senator and that could be the difference between them losing and winning.  What our organization does is that it provides infrastructure to have a more sophisticated analysis and decision making process about where you would make a difference.”

The Indian American community can impact this election cycle by volunteering, contributing or even running for office. We have to come together to amplify our voices and represent our community. 

Find out more about IMPACT at the Indian American Impact Fund,

And always, VOTE.


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Congressman Ami Bera tells AAPI why he endorsed Vice President Biden

In a conversation with AAPI’s for Biden on January 12,  Congressman Ami  Bera ( D-CA7) explained why he endorsed Vice President Joe Biden’s run for President, “I am honored to be part of Team Biden and I will do everything I can to help elect President Biden.”

Bera pointed to Biden’s views on immigration, his 36 years as a senator  and 8 years as Vice President as key factors that influenced his decision.

“Immigration is a major incentive here,” said Bera. When he sat down with his family to consider who to support in the upcoming presidential election and review which issues were important to them and the country, “The answer was pretty clear- it’s Vice President Joe Biden.”

Bera served in congress during the Obama administration, where it was clear they believed “the greatest investments you could make were in people and giving every individual that opportunity.”

Fast forwarding to the last three years of the Trump administration, Bera says that in comparison, ”I think about how,  as opposed to uniting us as Americans, they’ve chosen to look for places to divide us.” 

The strength of  America is a society formed by generations weaving culture, traditions and religion together states Bera, which even if it makes this country difficult at times, also makes America such a unique place.

“The AAPi is no different than any other American other communities, Bera points out, “We just want to create a better life for our kids….and Joe Biden gets that “.

“He gets the importance of who we are as a nation. He understands the importance of solving immigration and starting to heal the wounds that divide us”. 

Biden’s 36 year tenure in the US Senate has helped him form deep relationships on both sides of the aisle and a track record of getting legislation across the finish line. 

“That matters” says Bera. “If there’s one person who can get comprehensive immigration reform its Joe Biden.”

It’s also important that the next President is “ready on day one” to counter what Bera calls the “devastation” being inflicted on the country by President Trump. Biden’s eight  years as Vice President makes him that person says Bera,. “Biden is the only one who is ready to lead. It was a no brainer for me.”

“The world is a better place with American leadership,” and  Bera thinks Joe Biden can “restore America’s place in the world.”

Though the AAPI is not always “the most politically vocal community” Bera says they have been incredibly important in organizing and playing an influential role in several elections, including the 2016 senatorial raceand the 2018 midterm elections at the congressional level. 

The  AAPI community will be incredibly important in this election as well because taking on Donald Trump “.. is going to be a competitive race.” The AAPI community will be consequential in determining “if candidate Biden becomes President Biden” states Bera, who says he “cannot really fathom what another four terms of Donald Trump would look like.”

The Asian American community is becoming a force to contend with  “Asian American members of congress at ‘its highest level’ and an intake of remarkable new members like Andy Kim and TJ Cox. “I am incredibly optimistic about the next generation,’ reflects Bera. 

“It is really time for our community, Asian Americans, to take a seat at the table and give back to a country that’s given us so much”.

 

Four Indian-Americans Sworn in to U.S. House of Representatives

In an historic day Tuesday, four Indian American members of the House of Representatives and the first Indian American Senator were sworn in to the 115th Congress of the United States, not only exceeding the number of Indian Americans ever elected to Congress, but quadrupling the community’s representation in the House. Rep. Ami Bera, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Rep. Ro Khanna, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal were sworn in to the U.S. House of Representatives, marking the first time in history more than one Indian American has served in Congress simultaneously. Sen. Kamala Harris Tuesday was the first Indian American sworn in to the Senate.

“This milestone is not only a proud moment for Indian Americans, it’s a proud moment for all Americans,” said Rep. Ami Bera of California’s 7th Congressional District. “As a nation of immigrants, the United States has greatly benefited from one generation after another of Indians and Indian Americans living here. I’m proud that Indian Americans now have the chance to contribute to our nation’s democratic fabric, and as someone who served for four years as the only Indian American in Congress, I’m honored to be joined by such qualified colleagues. With the door wide open, we hope to inspire the next generation to serve the country that we love.”

“The contributions and struggles of the Indian-American community are woven into our nation’s fabric. This is a watershed moment in our community’s history, representing all that is great about America,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington’s 7th Congressional District. “As the first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives, I’m proud to serve with such capable colleagues, and I hope that our presence in Congress inspires the next generation of leaders.”

“I’m humbled and honored to join my friends in Congress in this historic moment. We know we stand on the shoulders of the Indian Americans who came before us. They established themselves in this country, gave back to their communities, and paved the way for us to follow,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi from the 8thCongressional District of Illinois. “The story of our community is unique but also similar to that of immigrants throughout American history. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make our contributions to that legacy, knowing others will follow.”

“It’s an extraordinary time to serve in Congress and I am proud to represent the only Asian American majority district in the continental United States,” said Rep. Ro Khanna of California’s 17th Congressional District. “As a son of immigrants and grandson to a freedom fighter during India’s independence movement, the protection of civil rights — no matter a person’s gender, race, or sexual orientation — will always be side-by-side with my commitment of economic fairness for all.”

Bera, who in the 114th Congress Co-Chaired the Caucus on India and Indian Americans, was the lone Indian American member in the 113th and 114th Congress. Prior to Bera, Dalip Singh Saund and Bobby Jindal served in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1957-1963 and 2005-2008, respectively.