Over the years, America has seen a nationally growing community of minority populations. The 2016 elections caused a huge wave of anger and frustration within these communities and led to protests and action against injustices caused by lack of voter turnout and disparity in elections. People protested and voiced out their anger and fear of not having a space to grow on an equal footing as those that were privileged. These events led up to the 2020 election, a time where Kamala Harris, the first Asian-Black woman elected Vice President in the history of this nation.
South Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S with a 45% growth in the last decade. These numbers show the growing influence of Asian Americans in the electoral processes of the States. Meera Kymal reported for India Currents that though Indian Americans represent just over 1% of the US population, they have donated more than $3 milliontowards the 2020 presidential campaigns. Minority voices have demanded equality and representation in their communities. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on April 30th, John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), stated that the 2020 election saw an increase of 40% in voter turnout when compared to the 2016 elections.
The For the People Act and the John L.Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will only give more equality and accessibility to minority communities to break language barriers and make their vote count. Both these bills seek to make the electoral process secure and prevent foreign interventions or money from influencing the electoral process and vote. They also provide better access to voting by mail and overall enhance the voting process and security.
“Language barriers are one of the biggest impediments to the Asian American vote, with 1/3rd of Asian Americans being what is called limited English proficiency” John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).
Mr. Yang further states that previous elections have witnessed a lack of translators or sign indicators for those that are not proficient in English, limiting their access to ballots. While this was taken care of in the 1965 voting rights act, a lot more can be done for those that aren’t proficient in English. “In every election poll, monitors have observed missing Asian language signage and interpreters, which limits our access to the ballot. Ensuring effective language assistance is paramount to closing that consistent barrier in national and local elections,” he stated.
The For The People Act and John L.Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will improve and expense the voting opportunities for Asian communities making it more accessible to them. The previous election also saw an increase in turnout due to voting by mail. Such steps can be enhanced and practiced more efficiently if the two bills were to pass in Congress.
What better month to discuss this topic than AAPI heritage month! It is important to remember that the influence of Asian American communities strongly impacted the 2020 elections, and the passing of these two bills in Congress will only enhance the opportunity for better representation and understanding of the Asian American community in the States.
Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person.
Tell A Story – a column where riveting South Asian stories are presented like never before through unique video storytelling.
As another election season comes to an end in India, it leaves us with lingering doubts – introspection into what could have been avoided and needs to be mended. Aggressive campaigning amidst pandemic led to a rocketing spike of cases, an unexpected setback for the central ruling party.
But the fundamental and crucial issue that remains unnoticed is the staggering ratio between the number of male contenders to female contenders in the election. Have you ever pondered on the count? Well, it’s shocking to note that the count not even close!
This is an issue that is very much prevalent across the globe. In America, we saw the first woman win the vice-presidential election campaign only in the recent 2020 election. Prior to Kamala Harris, the first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American vice president, only five women throughout history had made it to a major party’s primary debate stage.
According to the UN Gender statistics 2020, globally, only a quarter of seats in national parliaments are held by women. In local deliberative bodies, the count is hardly 37 percent. When it comes to the world’s government heads, only 6.7 percent are women. With the current rate of progress, the UN believes global gender parity can be achieved only after 2060. And even that looks dicey with the number of gender discrimination cases rising across the world.
Not just for women to come to the fore and hold the reigns of power, the journey of disparity goes a long way back, right from the procurement of the basic right to vote in elections. The odyssey of women’s suffrage is unimaginable considering the outrageous reasons cited for denying voting rights to women. Absurd denial reasons included women’s incompetence to understand politics and how they would neglect home and wreck families if allowed to venture into politics.
It took more than 75 years of struggle, protests, and agony for women to obtain their basic right to vote. However, it’s surprising to observe the superpowers of today were not among the first on the list to embrace the change. New Zealand was the first country in the world to proclaim the right of women to vote in 1893. Followed by Australia, Finland, and Norway. It took yet another seven years for 28 other countries to join the wagon including the U.S, Germany, Canada, Britain, and many other European countries. For Asian countries, they had to wait until the end of World War II.
Unknown to many, few conservative nations withheld the rights until the start of the Twenty-First Century. Oman approved the rights in 1994 and UAE only in 2006. Saudi Arabia became the most recent country to grant women voting rights in 2015. Currently, Vatican City is the only country in the world to deny voting rights based on sex.
2021 saw a welcoming dawn with Estonia, a country in Northern Europe, becoming the only country to have both a female president and prime minister. But still, the women leaders who have emerged from the shackles of patriarchy are only a handful, while many others are only in the game to honor family names or to be mere puppets in the hands of male supremacy.
Through this video story, Tell-A-Story unfolds the historical women’s suffrage movement, the journey of the incredible women in power, current staggering gender economics and the need for miles to go, and millions to empower for a gender-neutral world!
Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.
South Asians in the house! — my cousin cheers between mouthfuls of samosa and peanut chutney as Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President of the United States on screen. It’s a day as celebratory as it is surreal — especially for the ‘South Asians in the house’, who are scattered across the country watching one of the most unprecedented inaugurations in history. I knew I was going to see a female president or vice-president hold that Bible on camera during my lifetime. The world has seen female presidents and Prime Ministers from Golda Meir to Indira Gandhi to Angela Merkel; the world is growing up, and growing out of the trappings of a patriarchal society. Although we’re late, I knew I would have the honor of watching America catch up.
But watching a South Asian-American woman help shatter America’s legislative glass ceiling was a wholly different honor altogether.
According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Indian-Americans make up less than 1 percent of the United States’ registered voter base. It’s a fact that’s difficult to forget, considering how under-studied and under-appreciated South Asian Americans are as a voter demographic. Civic engagement organizations have a history of not visiting South Asian American neighborhoods out of fear of ‘mispronouncing their names’. In the past, South Asian-American politicians at the local level have been questioned for their religious or ethnic identities, rather than their qualifications or political stances. Although the 2020 elections have marked a tremendous increase in political participation among our community, historically South Asian Americans have often been under-represented and overlooked at the polls.
The new administration is a game-changer for our community — and not simply because of Kamala Harris. Here are some members of the wave of South Asian Americans introduced by the Biden-Harris administration.
Formerly a content strategist for the Biden-Harris campaign, Garima Verma was named by First Lady Jill Biden as the Digital Director for the Office of the First Lady at the White House. Born in India, Garima grew up in Ohio and the Central Valley of California. Her journey in marketing and brand strategy shows her passion for both civic engagement and digital storytelling, as Garima has worked for major corporations like Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and nonprofits like the St. Joseph Center alike. Hopefully, Garima will bring her unique talent of telling compelling stories through the digital medium to the First Lady’s team.
“While in the entertainment space at both Paramount Pictures and ABC, my passion has always been working on diverse and boundary-pushing content that allows more people to feel seen and heard, and to authentically engage and empower those communities through marketing campaigns,” Garima says. “My ultimate goal is to combine my love of marketing and storytelling with my passion for social impact and advocacy in a meaningful and impactful way.”
Massachusetts-native Neera Tanden has contributed to America’s political landscape for years, from advising Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign to drafting the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration. For her work in founding the Center of American Progress (CAP), Tanden was named one of the 25 “Most Influential Women In Washington” by the National Journal in 2012. She has used her platforms to advocate for universal, multi-payer healthcare, and cites her childhood experiences living on welfare as a reason behind her passion for healthcare reform and economic empowerment. As Biden’s pick for budget chief, Tanden hopes to bring her years of political experience to the US Office of Management and Budget.
“After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden said in a 2020 tweet. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”
Her nomination, however, did not come without controversy. Tanden has been often criticized by her Republican counterparts for her outspoken nature on Twitter, where she fired back at Lindsey Graham for calling her a ‘nut job’ and referred to Mitch McConnell as ‘Moscow Mitch’. Many Republicans criticize Tanden for her ‘partisan’ approach to politics — an ironic appraisal, considering how nearly every politician has contributed to the radioactive battlefield that is Twitter in recent years.
Formerly a senior democracy fellow at the US Agency for International Development, Shanthi Kalathil has been named as the White House’s Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights in the National Security Council. Kalathil’s years of dedication towards advocating for human rights and worldwide democracy demonstrate her preparedness for this role. She is known for her commitment towards addressing techno-authoritarians, or the role that modern technology plays in reinforcing the rigidity of authoritarianism. In fact, she addresses this phenomenon in her 2003 book, Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule. Within an increasingly digitized society, Kalathil’s careful attention towards the Internet in relation to human rights is certainly a step forward for the White House. She also carefully avoids implicit biases while addressing human rights abuses in other countries, discussing the importance of separating “the Chinese people from the Chinese party-state” in a podcast published by the National Democratic Institute.
“You know one area where I think all democracies have to be careful is in making sure that there is a clear distinction between referring to the Chinese party-state and the Chinese people. Whether it’s the Chinese people within China or people of ethnic Chinese descent all around the world, that would be one area in which I think there does need to be great care”, Kalathil said. “I think in all policy discussions, it’s important to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, to really deal with very specific problems and specific issues that pose a challenge to democracy, but that we shouldn’t conflate broad-based backlash.”
The United States government has a history of intervening in the human rights abuses committed by the other regimes of the world as an effort to maintain peace and justice. Kalathil’s balanced, nuanced approach towards democracy and human rights will certainly enrich her platform.
American diplomat Uzra Zeya has been nominated by the Biden-Harris Administration to serve as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Like Tanden, Zeya has years of political experience under her belt, as she was the acting assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor during the Obama Administration. Before that, she worked in Paris’s Embassy of the United States. Her work in diplomacy has taken her all over the world, from New Delhi, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Similar to Tanden’s experience, Zeya is also a contentious choice for this position. In 2018, Zeya quit her job in the state department, owing her resignation to the racism and gender bias promoted by the Trump administration. Calling the administration a ‘pale male’ club, Zeya advocated for the diversification of her department.
“In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their place,” Zeya wrote in an article for Politico. “In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.”
If chosen as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Zeya hopes to use her prior political experience to address key global issues such as peace in the Middle East, Russia’s increasing aggression in Europe, and climate change.
“In my 25+years as a diplomat, I learned that America’s greatest strength is the power of our example, diversity & democratic ideals,” Zeya said in a 2021 tweet. “I will uphold & defend these values, if confirmed, as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.
A former health policy advisor on the Domestic Policy Council, Vidur Sharma has been named by Biden as a testing advisor for the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team. Sharma played a key role in shaping health policy during the Obama administration, where he advocated for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A Harvard graduate, he also has years of experience working in the medical industry, as he has worked for Avalere Health, CareMore Health, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the past. As a testing advisor at the White House, Sharma will promote equity in the healthcare space, as he was a Deputy Research Director for Protect Our Care, an organization dedicated to “increasing coverage, lowering health care costs, and addressing racial inequities in our..system.”
Amid a global pandemic, equity will play a major role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. As the coronavirus is reportedly 2.8 times more likely to kill people of color, implicit biases in our healthcare system can have potentially fatal consequences. The Biden-Harris administration, in fact, recently established a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to aid “medically and socially vulnerable communities.” Sharma’s emphasis on inclusivity and equity certainly fits the values of the administration and will help ensure that the vaccine and coronavirus treatment plans reach all Americans.
There are so many threads of commonality among the South Asian Americans introduced to the White House — all passionate about government reform, all aware of our nation’s existing inequalities, all incredibly qualified for their positions. As a South Asian American hoping to enter America’s legislative process later in life, our community’s representation at the national level is both empowering and inspiring — a fond reminder that America, after years of underrepresentation for minority groups — is finally catching up.
Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication.
The country goes to the polls today. The what-if questions keep many of us awake at night. What if we make poor choices? What if healthcare becomes worse? What if we don’t survive this year?
I can’t recall ever being certain about anything in life. Until July 2020. As long as I can remember, from my first day in grade school (which desk to sit at or to share my lunch) I’ve been plagued by uncertainty. And these were the easy ones. Which college to go to, graduate school or not, meet the man my parents wanted me to, were even greater sources of uncertainty. Yet with my father in a job, that required us to move cities every two years, having to learn a new language each time and making new friends meant I must have learned to cope. Though all I recall is the anxiety that came from all the change and the uncertainty it entailed.
Strangely enough, after more than six months of being quarantined, the COVID-19 pandemic has surprised me with the degree of certainty it has brought into my life. The certainty that we don’t know a whole lot about the virus including when we’ll have a vaccine. If there will ever be a return to a normal—whether the old one or a new one. With aging parents living in India, I don’t know whether and when I’ll be able to visit them. My adult children constantly remind me that they’d rather be ‘home’ and they mean THEIR home! The pandemic’s guaranteed uncertainty, far from causing a panic attack, has had a calming effect on me, by rendering the uncertainty about everything else – the impending elections, the parents’ health, the children’s careers much less scary.
‘This too will pass.’ My mother’s mantra reverberates loudly now more than before. I remember the first time I heard her say the words. I was too young to understand how significant those words were and what they’d come to mean for difficult situations. When the emergency rule was declared in India, in the seventies, we were living in Hyderabad. The sense of fear that hovered over the homes of family and friends, the hushed conversations, and furtive trunk calls made to relatives living in Delhi are distinct even if only fragments of memory. Yet I recall the day I heard my mom whisper to her friend, ‘This too will pass.’ The mantra became my lodestar. A year later when an accident had me hospitalized for days, I held onto those words even as my aunts sang songs of comfort around me.
From the political to the social and personal, we often go through periods of great uncertainty. The current COVID-19 virus is not the first time we’ve faced a devastating pandemic. The human race has survived the bubonic plague (called the Black Death), the Spanish flu, Ebola, SARS, and other deadly viruses. The upcoming elections with the potential of devastating results are not the first crisis any country has faced. Even though the outcomes that we feel uncertainty over are never in our control, how we choose to respond is completely in our control. When my kids worry about a future that appears bleak, I quickly point out. “When you think you’ve hit rock bottom there’s only one way to go and that’s upwards!”
A story about the 16th century Mughal emperor Akbar and his advisor Birbal reminds us how to keep things in perspective. Once Akbar was strolling in the royal gardens listening to Birbal when he noticed a bamboo stick lying on the ground. The king picked it up and turned to Birbal with a mischievous smile on his face. “Can you make this stick shorter without chopping it?” Birbal looked around and spotted a gardener holding another stick—a longer one. He took the stick from the gardener and placed it next to the shorter stick that Akbar had given him. “Look, your stick is now shorter!” he declared. Birbal’s solution teaches us that our own problems may not be as bad compared to others.
As we head towards what seems to be a game-changing election, let’s use time-tested techniques, whether personal (meditation, exercise, hobbies) or public (writing, speaking, organizing), to cope with any uncertainty that we face. And continue to spread the word about the only thing that’s certain to make any difference. Vote!
Chitra Srikrishna is a Carnatic musician based in Boston.
Humans are pattern-seeking – something that doesn’t agree with the nature of reality since it is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. Anything can happen. There is a perfect blend of beauty and terror in the ambiguity, but it’s the reality we live with and keep tucked away in the backs of our minds every day.
This year has been one of pure uncertainty (in case the advertisements haven’t told you that “these are uncertain times” enough). We joke that 2020 can’t get any worse, so go ahead and add another disaster to the pile forming in the corner in the same way national debt does. It’s not normal to be as numb as we are to the concept of uncertainty. Global pandemic? Economic recession? Protestors getting shot down? The election of a decade? At this point, I could’ve added alien invasion to the list and no one would be phased.
In the year 2020, the only certainty is uncertainty itself. This year has been a breath we’ve been waiting to let out. When will it be okay to breathe? When will it be okay to feel like the crisis is over? When will we be okay?
Until then, we hold our breaths, twiddle our thumbs, and try not to hope too much in fear that something worse will roll along in response.
And here it is: this year (of all years this could possibly happen) incidentally is the year of the general elections.
Red vs. Blue
Elephant vs. Donkey
Democrat vs. Republican
We make decisions on who makes decisions for us. One of the cornerstones of democracy is free and fair elections. Take your ballot and drop it in the box as all votes are counted accurately.
But not this year. No. Like everything else this year, voting is a bit different. Mail-in ballot voting. The concept itself is not all that foreign and has worked on a smaller scale in the past. But this year (to use an overused phrase) there seems to be some controversy surrounding this. Mail-in ballots are voter fraud. We might not know the results until later. The post office sucks. You’ve heard almost everything on this by now if you’ve tuned into even half an hour of news a week.
It’s hilarious. I’m laughing right now as I write this because of the utter hypocrisy of it. I get it, the post system isn’t always perfect, but neither is our political system right now, and it seems the same people criticizing mail-in ballots seem to be glossing over the faults of our government. We keep talking about how fair it is to have mail-in ballots. Can we trust it? What if everyone’s votes don’t count? It’s not an accurate representation. It won’t make everyone’s voice heard.
Has it ever counted? Think about it. No really. Think. Way back in ye olden days, women couldn’t vote, people of color couldn’t vote, the impoverished found it difficult to vote. Was that accurate? The voice of the people was the voice of straight, rich, property-owning, white males.
Oh, but we’ve evolved from that.
Have we though?
Remember: just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. That’s the equivalent of saying that starting to think about giving rights to the LGBTQ community can fix homophobia. That’s not how that works.
We’re not that much better today than we were centuries ago in terms of free and fair elections. Why? Voter suppression exists. Who are we suppressing?
Who are the people who are suppressed in all aspects of the American government? Minority groups.
This administration is known to suppress minority groups. Throwing them in cages, threatening deportation, building a literal border wall, shooting protesters, and just sowing hatred. Not to mention how difficult it is to even be able to vote if you have a criminal record. The Shelby County vs. Holder trial didn’t help either. Democracy lost 5-4.
There are tactics and chess pieces being moved to silence people that we aren’t even aware of.
The worst kind of uncertainty is the uncertainty in whether or not your voice is heard. Am I represented? Am I equal? Am I cared for? This type of uncertainty is almost existential in nature and deserves a definitive yes. These shouldn’t be things we have to worry about, but such is the state of reality at this point.
There is a way to change this. Vote. You’ve probably already heard this one, but I’m serious: if you can, then do it. I’m not saying vote for any particular candidate but just vote. The best way to predict the future and eliminate as much of this malicious uncertainty as possible is to vote.
Vote. You can be certain in your own opinions, actions, and decisions. Once you master that, the rest shouldn’t bother you much. You have to voice your opinions and speak out against injustice. It’s hard to pinpoint definitively what is wrong and right, but the important thing is to try. It’s all anyone can do. I can say with complete certainty that trying has more of a chance of succeeding than not trying at all.
Reema Kalidindi is a junior at Lower Bucks High School and a lead volunteer at Bharatiya Temple’s school for children.
Anooshka Kumar’s grandparents voted for the first time in the US, this past week, at the age of 76 and 81. Anooshka sat them down and went through each proposition on California’s Santa Clara County 2020 Ballot – not an easy feat.
Her civic duty extended beyond just her own participation. She started an intergenerational dialogue and the outcome was pleasantly surprising. “They were excited to vote! They now understand how important this particular election is and want to bring in a new leader that actually cares for communities that have been marginalized and discriminated against,” Kumar pridefully said.
Anooshka’s hopes for a better country rely on the democratic process of voting. In order for the future that she envisions to be a reality, she educates herself and the people around her on candidates, their policies, and the propositions on the ballot. “I’m nervous and excited,” expressed Kumar, looking optimistically at the potential future, “We filled in our ballots at home then dropped them off at a ballot dropbox. We want to make sure our votes are counted in time!”
NPR had a segment of airtime addressing people’s anxieties about the election…which inevitably led to more anxiety about the election. Anooshka and her grandparents want their votes to be meaningful, but will they?
Not everyone feels as optimistic…
Diego Osorio, a Mountain View resident pressed, “I wanted to go vote in person because I personally believe that Trump will try to steal the election anyway he can. Recent reports are claiming that he may attempt to throw away mail-in ballots. I want to set an example. If you can vote in person…go!” As a person of color, Osorio is concerned about voter suppression.
A quick survey of the India Currents’ readership reflects that our readers were less likely to use the Vote By Mail option. Of the 150 -160 million expected to vote this year, 70- 80 million of them will Vote By Mail. Vote By Mail will be twice what it was four years ago, with 82 million absentee ballot requests.
“We know the number of [mail in ballots] will be in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands but that would not be unique to this election. The pace of mail balloting and the actual time it will take once [a vote] mails their ballot will be the same as it was in 2016,” assures Dr. Persily and continues, “You can take that as good news or bad news…No one was reporting on the hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots that were late in the last election.” Local postal officials feel like they have it under control.
So close to the election, discouraged voters should not be afraid to vote in person. This year there are larger voter centers but long lines are to be expected. The length of the line at a polling place is not directly linked to the length of wait time, since social distanced practices will be observed for safety.
How to View the Election Day
When disseminating information, check to see if the problem is isolated or systemic to a locality. For example, there may be absent poll workers with COVID-related illness, inadequately trained poll workers, or voter intimidation at a specific center but the problem is not systemic unless you see statistically significant rises of such events in a particular locality.
“Get rid of the notion of precinct reporting,” advocated Dr. Persily. Absentee ballot collection precincts may or may not be part of the number of precincts reporting and can skew results. The biggest faux pas would be to declare a winner or use predictive results as the final result on the day of the election.
Patience is key.
“What makes a count official is the certification but the Chief Election Officer in a state,” emphasized Dr. Persily. Most states will not have an official ballot count on election day but check states like Florida that should have nearly all votes counted on election day.
Interested in data and research and want to share that with your network? Always explain the share of vote counted over the expected vote, explain geographically where votes are coming from, and report results in fully reported jurisdictions as a comparison to the 2016 results in the same jurisdiction. Such modeling has already been done by Citizen Data and can be used for accurate insight into the election results.
After Polls Close
Prepare for unwarranted claims of victory by candidates and an onslaught of disinformation relating to voter fraud, destroyed votes, and malpractice.
However, to use our President’s words, “Stand back and stand by…”
Even though we are all anxious, Dr. Persily has confidence in the system. Anooshka, her grandparents, and Diego will all have their votes counted in the 2020 Election.
Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
Featured Image by League of Women Voters of California LWVC from USA and license here.
On social media and in real life, we all know friends and family members who complain with good reason that there is little sunlight between establishment Democrats and Republicans on many matters of policy such as race, immigration, and use of U.S. power in foreign affairs. They argue that in dealing with these challenges, the Democrats and Republicans are like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, peas of the same pod. They would, for example, argue that under President Obama, more people were deported than under any other President (including George W. Bush); that drones during his eight-year Presidency killed many innocent civilians; and that Obama sent 60,000 additional troops into Afghanistan.
Following this logic, some people might even propose that there is not a huge difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and that Trump has been in fact a strong leader on trade and economy.
At the same time, we need to recognize that politics is ultimately the art of the possible and the choice we make every four years does have consequences for the U.S. and for the rest of the world. More than ever before, we simply don’t have the ostrich-like option to sit out this election or vote for a third party candidate. Indeed, if we view Donald Trump as a serious danger to a fully functioning democracy in the U.S., we must seriously consider voting for Biden/Harris ticket. Not voting for Biden on November 3 is effectively another vote for Trump.
None of our Presidents in the past would meet our highest standards in every imaginable way.
Thomas Jefferson played a major role in shaping our constitutional ideals of life, liberty, and happiness for one and all, but then there is the Sally Hemings story along with his contradictory views and actions on slavery.
With the partial exception of Abraham Lincoln (who grew in ethical stature while in office), no major U.S. President has been without blemish or has met our radical criteria or expectations.
Franklin Roosevelt created societal safety nets (including our hallowed Social Security system), brought us out of the Great Depression with compassion and empathy, and helped the Allies to rid us of the scourge of fascism in WWII, but he was also the one who placed 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps.
Lyndon B. Johnson would get an A-plus on Civil Rights (on par with Lincoln in many ways), but he would probably get a D-minus on the Vietnam War. But here is the reality check on our frequently limited choices: the country and the world would have definitely been better off under Albert Gore than under George W. Bush. At the very least, the Iraq War would NOT have happened and the trillion-plus dollars spent on that senseless war would likely have gone into building infrastructure and fighting climate change in the US. We need to learn not only what happened in the past, but also from the might-have-beens of history.
We believe without a doubt that the U.S. and the world, our healthcare and environment, our civil rights, and civil liberties will be much better off under Biden than under the imperious, narcissistic Trump in his second term. Biden’s decency and sense of empathy can help to heal the divisions and wounds that have been inflicted upon us since 2016. Also, let us not forget Biden has evolved on many important issues surrounding race and law enforcement and has openly expressed regrets for some of his earlier regressive policies and views, in the process of embracing some of the more progressive positions on education and healthcare.
This perspective is not without relevance to the current situation in India too. The BJP could not have won majorities in 2014 and 2019 with the support of hardcore RSS cadres alone. Indeed, voters who subscribe to “soft Hindutva” are largely responsible for the electoral success of BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Some academics and intellectuals in urban centers of India tend to rationalize their support for Modi by exclaiming: “Do you see anyone else we could have voted for? At least we voted for someone who is a strong leader.” Such a focus on a strong leader, away from democratic values and ideals, is eerily reminiscent of how Germans described their choice in the 1930s.
In the U.S. context, we hope that the Biden/Harris team find a way of accepting the challenge of defanging the military-industrial complex that has insidiously kept almost all 20th Century Presidents from both parties in the grip of huge defense budgets and dispensable military adventures abroad. No one spoke more clearly and accurately on that foundational problem of “America” in relation to the world than an Army General, a Republican President named Dwight G. Eisenhower. No President in the past six decades has heeded the prescient warning Eisenhower had issued in 1961, at the end of his eight years in the White House:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Of course, Eisenhower remained fully immersed in the logic of the Cold War. John F. Kennedy too could not shake that off. And even in 2020, we have still not weaned ourselves from the logic of competing superpowers. We hope the Biden/Harris team, when inaugurated on January 20, 2021, will pay heed to Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of building a “beloved community” at both home and abroad, pursuing peace and prosperity for individuals and groups within the U.S. and between nations around the world. We will all need to work hard to keep them honest during the next four years.
Amritjit Singh is Langston Hughes Professor Emeritus at Ohio University and lives in Austin, Texas.
Nidhi Trehan is a sociologist focusing on minority rights and political mobilization and is co-founder of TheySeeBlue’s Austin chapter, part of an all-volunteer network of South Asians across the US dedicated to getting out the vote for Democrats.
President Trump believes, making it very clear, that a strong America is also predicated on a strong relationship between India and the United States. He has repeatedly demonstrated the importance of bilateral relations encompassing numerous endeavors, a historic level of cooperation, and shared vision. President Trump fully understands the importance of Asia of a strong, stable, and economically vibrant India. He successfully leads America and the world in numerous efforts.
President Trump leads America to social, international, and economic achievement exemplified by: Federal prison reform resulting in thousands being released from Biden supported draconian Clinton Era laws; Middle East and Kosovo/Serb Peace; and the highest levels of employment, pre-Covid -19, in decades. By stark contrast a destructive, leftist Democrat Party attempts, by the use of urban terrorism, false propaganda and intimidation, to reorientate the American people to alien Marxist Leninist, state knows best, state controls all, fear what you say, fear your neighbor government, the very same type of radical government which enslaved much of Europe until recently, and still does so in Venezuela and, most notably, in Communist China where state/crony capitalism, which has enveloped Joe Biden and his family, rules with a brutal hand. Only President Trump challenges this “odious apparatus”.
Democrat Party leaders have given their tacit approval, encouraged and support to months of terrorism in our cities where mostly small and minority businesses have been destroyed-up to 2 billion dollars worth-lives and livelihoods lost. They threaten national security, all while injuring our image abroad.
Justified protest over the egregious death of Mr. George Floyd and the unfortunate deaths of others, now and historically, has been commandeered by ideological extremists who’s only goal, as CNN’s Don Lemon expressed it well, is to “blow up the entire system”, starting with the U. S. Constitution. They seek to destroy the very laws that should be protecting Mr. Floyd and all of us.
Democrats, in one way or another, are seriously hell-bent on undermining our hard-won 1st (freedom of speech),2nd (right to bear arms), 4th(right to a grand jury), 5th (right against unnecessary search), and 6th (no religious requirement to hold a job) Amendment rights. Lest we forget, they also want to stack the Supreme Court (Justice Ginsburg explicitly against), add further states, and do away with the Electoral College. They support defunding the police in order to undo American society by fostering anarchy. They seek and succeed in having citizens removed from their jobs for opposing them. These tactics are straight out of radical ideologue Saul Alinsky’s 13 “rules for radicals”, 5 of his 13 points lifted directly from Nazi Socialist propagandist Joseph Goebbels. So intimidated are moderate, patriotic Democratic leaders, that not a single voice of serious protest against this anarchy has been raised. Rigidly in line, Democratic Party leadership supports this soulless Marxist movement. They choose to fight injustice by espousing more injustice, when it is best to fight for the Constitution and the realization of greater equity for all citizens under it.
The Democrats have been following Alinsky’s directive to “organize hell”, tearing our society apart, while Trump builds and improves. Their support for the defund the police movement and denying citizens the right to arms is classic Marxist, the central state assuming control for all. These moves, and others, serve to undo confidence in existing national, local and personal security. Kerensky, who led Russia just before Lenin, told me that it only takes a few hundred ideologues to strike fear in a country and destabilize it. Rosemary Springer, who’s father was tried and convicted at Nuremberg, told me, in long conversations, that Hitler destabilized by fear and by totally undoing the local police forces, and Martin Luther King told me to “Look evil in the eye and give it no succor”.
Marxism, founded by avowed racist Karl Marx, is disdainful of almost everything Americans hold dear, the most important of which is our, ever-improving Democracy and our beloved U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. That Democratic leaders, among them Senators Chuck Schumer, Kamala Harris, Diane Feinstein, and Joe Biden, Congresspersons Pelosi, Nadler, Schiff, Engle, and others either collude-or give their tacit approval by their silence-with avid Marxists and other extremists and their numerous efforts to undermine government is shocking. It is pure evil that must be given no succor. The Democratic Party Left has lost control, lost balance, lost their way.
Countless Americans, or their fore-bearers, fled the same radical leftists who are now plaguing our country and increasingly controlling the Democratic Party. Others fled national socialist Nazis and tyrannical monarchies. Those who arrived in America as indentured servants and slaves, however dreadful the persecution and difficult the journey, became increasingly part of the American promise of equity for all, the narrative ever holding the better promise of fruition.
Americans do not seek oppressive ideologies to rule us, having historically fled them, risen against them to attain freedom, reaching America, from within or without, for the sweet promise of democracy. Marxist intimidation, or any semblance of it, as seen in the bullying and frightening moves against citizens of opposing opinion serves the nefarious political and business interests of Chinese state/crony capitalism whose principal goal is to destabilize America.
The Democratic Party and Biden have lost their way in pursuing and advocating for the “odious apparatus” of state/crony capitalism. In total contrast, President Trump leads America in affirming economic stability, freedom, and democracy.
Christopher Hyland was the Deputy National Political Director for Ethnic Constituencies 1992 Clinton for President Campaign, recipient of a Saint Patrick for Peace in Ireland, and lifelong Republican.
My earliest “memory” of America is of my father telling me about the moon landing. “John F Kennedy said we will put a man on the moon in 10 years and the Americans did it.” As a little girl growing up in India, I imagined a country called America whose presidents were visionaries, whose people believed in science, and whose spirit was ambitious.
My second “memory” of America is reading about WWII. “Roosevelt told the American people not to fear, and it was under his leadership that the Allies won the war”. I imagined this president who had suffered from Polio himself; his determination forged in the crucible of personal trials, and I imagined Americans as a courageous lot, willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.
My third “memory” of America is of watching the news about the first Gulf War. “The US presidentGeorge H.W. Bushis a Navy pilot himself, who flew 58 missions in WWII”. By this time, I was fascinated by American leaders – full of enterprise, conviction, and personal courage. And my heart was full of respect and admiration for this far-off place.
That America; the country of my imagination is what I immigrated to as a young woman. I came to America because I thought it was the best country on the planet, and I came to offer it the best I had. I came to America because I believed in the ideals that I thought were seeped into the soil of this great country. I am not the only one who came for that reason. Many of us who grew up in countries around the world imagined America to be a receptacle for the best one has to offer, a place where dreams and ambitions came true, a shining city on the hill.
Living in America, I came to know more about its history. I learned that the truth was far more nuanced, the country far more complex, its policies and leaders far more flawed than the little girl had imagined. Yet with all its flaws and complexity, it was a country that, to my immigrant eyes, appeared to forever strive to become a more perfect union, a place where people hardly cared about where you came from but were always interested in where you were going, a place where mastery of craft was valued over superficial achievements, a place where what you knew was more important than who you knew. I felt at home in such a place.
I saw the twin towers fall on 9/11 and cried alongside hundreds of thousands of Americans – the gaping hole in the NYC skyline left a hole in my heart too. When yelled at by a bunch of white teenagers in a car next to me telling me to f*** off, and go back to my country, I was shocked at first, but quickly understood it to be misplaced anger of young Americans who also had a hole in their hearts. I was against the war in Iraq, and so I marched alongside thousands, participating in the finest American tradition of non-violent protest – the tradition that brought India its own independence from the mighty British Empire, the tradition that had made its way from Thoreau to Gandhi back to MLK Jr. in a karmic loop between my two homes. I felt dismayed at the cacophony of fake debate around climate change fueled by the fossil fuel industry and perpetuated by the likes of Fox News. Although I couldn’t vote yet, my heart swelled with pride when Americans elected their first black president, and when that president corralled every single country on the planet into the Paris Climate Agreement, in an effort to save the world from imminent climate disaster, I told friends and family back in India – this is what American leadership looks like, it’s still alive! They didn’t need to be told, they knew it too.
Nothing prepared me for the shock of Donald Trump. I remember when I first heard Donald Trump as a candidate – I was caught speechless at the parallels I saw and heard between what he said & how he behaved, and the politicians I had grown up listening to & watching in India. Nothing about him felt “American” to me – no vision, no courage, no brilliance, no statesmanship, no building of bridges. All I heard was hate-mongering, fear-mongering, and showmanship of the worst kind. Having grown up in a deeply sexist country, it was Donald Trump’s treatment of and rhetoric on women that told me that sexism is not only very much alive in America but is now acceptable in American leaders.
I couldn’t believe what else I was learning about candidate Trump – the fraud his businesses indulged in, the thousands of lawsuits he was embroiled in – many of which he openly gloated as bullying tactics against people far less powerful than himself – when did fraud and bullying become something to gloat over in America? Unlike other presidents before him, Trump neither served in the military nor showed respect for others who did, calling John McCain a loser. He rallied his followers into obscene chants to lock up his political opponents and brandished the possibility of an armed revolt if he happened to lose the election. I was awestruck – American democracy and its political landscape were devolving in front of my very eyes.
The idealist part of me couldn’t believe that Trump could possibly win the hallowed office of the American presidency. But another part dreaded what it innately knew from having a lived experience of a far more corrupt, dog-eat-dog political system – people like Trump win, and often, not despite their hateful rhetoric but because of it. There are leaders who call for us to be guided by the better angels of our nature and not give into fear – great visionaries like Lincoln and FDR. And then there are those who give permission to act out our worst inclinations, goad us to fall for the lowest common denominator. I saw many such politicians win elections over and over in India. I thought it wasn’t possible in America – my shining city on the hill. I was wrong.
November 9, 2016 – I knew in my bones that American democracy had been dealt a severe blow, I felt in my heart that the American promise of democracy – with malice towards none and charity for all had been ripped asunder, I saw the promise of America fade for friends & family abroad, almost overnight. I could only hope that President Trump would be a better man than candidate Trump.
Four years of his presidency proved that hope false. Every day I see a president, who refuses to rise to the stature of his office, lies ad nauseam, insults the military, denies science and disrespects scientists, surrounds himself with criminals and when they are convicted pardons them, keeps petty scores & tweets against ordinary Americans and American businesses. A president, who brazenly indulges in nepotism; his appointment of family members to cherished positions in his administration acutely reminds me of the nepotism rife in Indian politics. A president who had promised to “drain the swamp” but has instead turned the government into a cesspool of corruption like never before, with every department headed by industry lobbyists, pillaging people’s money for private profit.
Friends and family around the world marvel at what my fellow Americans bought into but I have no answer to them. I am not sure if ordinary Americans are able to see how much this country has changed in the span of 4 years. If the old adage, “united we stand, divided we fall” is something to learn from, we have fallen very far indeed. I see signs on lawns around where I live saying “make liberals cry again”; emblematic of a country full of hate and division, and I wonder how it came to pass, that happiness to some is to make their fellow Americans cry. I see signs at white supremacist rallies saying “Diversity = White Genocide” and I realize I am being told that my very existence as a brown person is a threat to theirs, that this country belongs to white people & white immigrants – meaning my white immigrant husband is welcome but I am not. I remember those kids in the car after 9/11, telling me to go back to my country. Except that this time, it is the American President himself saying those words, for that is what he tells me when he calls those white supremacists “very fine people”.
For 4 long years, Donald Trump simply refused to be my President. He refused to be my President when he refused to govern with any manner of decency or grace. He refused to be my President because he refused to inspire Americans to come together in a common purpose, instead pitting them against one another, so they are more divided than ever before since the civil war. He refused to be my President when he put immigrants – asylum-seekers & their children; the proverbial “tired, poor and hungry” in cages – is this how America treats its immigrants? He refuses to be my President when he undermines the work of medical professionals, scientists, and state governors, even as 200,000+ Americans have died under his watch. He refuses to be my President when he refuses to acknowledge the enormity of Climate Chaos, squandering what could have been another “moon-shot” moment for America, willfully pushing Americans and the world closer to the edge of disaster. He refused to be my President because he could not ascend to the stature his office behooves, warranting a spirit of humility, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. Instead, he has turned the country I was proud of, into an object of pity around the world. So much for the promise of making it great.
Despite his self-proclaimed greatness, comparing himself to Lincoln and asking for his face to be added to Mount Rushmore, Trump has left the American spirit and its moral ascendancy around the world in tatters. He is already ranked by historians & scholars, and seen by much of the world, as one of the worst American presidents ever. In its nearly 250-year-old history, America has had 45 presidents, all of them powerful for a brief period, yet most of them forgotten soon after. That’s the nature of history; it turns the once-mighty into nothing but dust, it is poised to do the same to this one.
But from the eyes of this immigrant, Donald Trump would forever be seen and remembered as the President of the Divided States of America.
Swati Srivastava is a film-maker, an environmentalist, and a first generation immigrant in the USA. She can be reached via Linkedin and swati@TiredAndBeatup.com
I have always considered myself an empathetic chap, fully able to understand other people’s points of view. And believed in their freedom to voice them, however radically different or downright stupid they may be, till Mr. Trump showed up. Took maybe a year or two for this thing to bloom by watching my designated TV Channels, till I got infected with this new bug of intolerance – if Chacko is a supporter of Trump, I don’t want to have anything to do with Chacko.
I practiced this for some time till out of the blue the unthinkable happened – some of the folks I deeply respected emerged as T-supporters. My policy of shunning T-people came to a screeching halt and I called for an emergency top brass internal review of this tricky matter. We met in our basement bar, Tomatin on-the-rocks, and me.
While deliberating on the why, how, how come, etc. an old Hindi song dropped by:
Ye, kyaa hua, Kaisay hua Kab hua, Kyon hua
After a while, my innards started to get attacked by a gnawing doubt – maybe I am wrong. I mean, these are really good people, who genuinely help their fellow beings, and some of them I even try to emulate. How can they be right and I be wrong in a matter that is as clear as black and white. Purely accident, I mean the pun. Drove me to think maybe am missing something and so our session ended with no conclusive findings but decided to keep collecting more perspectives.
The revelation came during a weekend when my Mother-in-Law was visiting us. I was at the kitchen island in the company of the ladies, gingerly cutting ladies-finger lengthwise and overhearing the mother-daughter banter. My wife was asking her something about a ménage-a-trois involving Indra, Ahalya, and Gauthama and the clarification Amma was giving was too complicated for me to digest, but her rejoinder at the end of explaining was a no-brainer – “Anita, these stories in our epics are not just to enjoy their story value, these have lessons we can use in our lives.” My flickering mental tube light suddenly stood still, shining its full 100 Wattage.
I think it was a Zen Buddhist who said, When a man cutting wood gets enlightenment, he continues to cut wood. I continued to cut the green
vegetables but my mind was on Drona, Bhishma, and Karna. All noble characters and stayed so till the end, in the eyes of Vyasa. And this is in spite of staying on the dark side with the Kauravas, for whatever pre-existing conditions, to borrow the popular medical parlance. And we all look up to them as good souls.
That’s when I realized the embarrassing shift that had happened in my neurons over the past few years. Like in the Crusades period in Europe, I came to embrace the mantra “if you are not with me, you are against me.” I wonder what happened to my favorite Henry R. Luce’s journalistic principle, “I will write against my opponents, but I will willingly die fighting for their right to voice their opinion.”
My opinion about Mr. T remains the same and I will continue on the side of the Pandavas, fighting for the soul of the country. But the dismal thoughts I had about my near and dear supporting the wrong guy have been resolved and I feel relieved now, having circled back to my normal self – able to stand in the opposing teams camp and sympathize with them. When close friends and colleagues that I look up to are supporting Big T, they are merely taking a political stand. Me and those folks – we still share the same long term values, only our opinions differ and as we all know, by the grace of God, opinions are not unbreakable, they are always reversible.
Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA.
As Indian-Americans, there are certain chronic conditions to which we are susceptible. These include blindness, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer.
Luckily, California’s stem cell program helps us fight back.
Officially titled the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM, it is a citizens’ initiative, invented by patient advocate Bob Klein. Originally funded at three billion dollars, the funds have now been exhausted. We must decide whether to renew it and give it more funding, or let it die. We can save it by voting YES on Proposition 14, which will renew funds and the stem cell program
What is its value? Let’s watch it in action, against three chronic diseases that pose severe risks to Indian-Americans.
The first risk, Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), is a common form of blindness, and one that strikes Indian-Americans especially hard. It begins as a tiny dot in the eye, barely visible. But with time it expands, eventually enlarging to the size of a coin, and followed sometimes by total blindness.
For CIRM scientists, AMD is a challenge, not a stopping point. Working cooperatively, Mark Humayun, Amir Kashani,and David Hinton of the University of Southern California, and Dennis Clegg of the University of California at Santa Barbara are studying therapies for dry AMD, while Pete Coffey of University College, London, in the UK is focused on treating wet AMD. Both groups are trying to replace dysfunctional cells of the eyewith fresh ones. What was their approach to fighting blindness?
“An eye patch,” said Peter Coffey, “Like repairing a bicycle tire. Put a layer of stem cells on a sticky plaster, add that to the back of the eyeball.” Is it working?
“Our first patient could only read one word a minute. Today, four years later, he can read 80 words a minute,” said Dr. Coffey.
“Because of CIRM, we are restoring biology to a level where people no longer just exist, but actually live, because of the treatment.” –“Revolutionary Therapies”, Don C. Reed, World Scientific Publishing, Inc.
A second condition common in Indian-Americans, hypertension (a type of fatal heart disease), is being fought with a CIRM grant.
A reportcontinues, “Michael Lewis [and] a team at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center [are] using donor heart cells to reduce two hallmark symptoms of pulmonary hypertension: inflammation and high blood pressure in the blood vessels within the lungs. These conditions make the heart struggle to pump blood to the lungs and can ultimately lead to heart failure. This treatment aims to delay the progression of the disease.”
A third condition is prostate cancer. The co-author of this piece, Don Reed, had prostate cancer, but it has not returned, after his treatment with surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy, but there are more deadly forms.
Fortunately, CIRM is finding ways to fight back.
A company called Poseida was funded by CIRM in its late pre-clinical stages to help reinforce the body’s natural defense cells, the T cells, (part of the immune system) to “more efficiently target, bind to and destroy the cancerous cells. CIRM’s early funding led to the ability of Poseida to carry its studies into clinical trials.
CIRM is designed to rigorously review experts’ proposals and meet important scientific milestones. Everyone – including the public – can comment.
Stem cell research has the power to help tens of millions of people suffering from an incurable disease, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injuries, blindness, infectious diseases like COVID, and many others common in the Indian-American population.
How can you help?
CIRM is running low on funds. If its work is to continue, there must be a new initiative— Proposition 14, the California Stem Cells for Research, Treatments, and Cures Initiative of 2020. Vote for Proposition 14 and help save lives!
To be voted on this November, it will renew 5.5 billion dollars in funding for CIRM, paid for by the sale of tax-free government bonds. Only ½ of one percent of the state’s available bonds will be used, leaving 99.5 percent available for other purposes.
This initiative is NOT a tax. Spread out over several decades, the total will be barely $5 per person per year – a small price to pay to potentially save millions of lives and billions of dollars in the future. As Bob Klein puts it, the cost of a bottle of aspirin.
Please join the more than 70 patient advocate groups, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, doctors, and educators (including the University of California board of regents) in recommending Proposition 14: the California Stem Cells for Research, Treatments and Cures Initiative of 2020:
Do it to save lives. Do it for someone you love.
Vote YES ON 14!
Yuvraj Walia is a 14-year-old supporting Prop 14! He is a Freshman at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont and currently serves on the Patient and Medical Advisory Committee for Prop 14, to renew funds for the state stem cell agency, CIRM.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of India Currents and India Currents does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
On an October day, around the time I turned 59, I’m voting as if my life in my adoptive nation depends on it. At no point in my life in these United States have I felt more insecure or more irrelevant. I feel like the phalanx of coronavirus striving to live inside the body of America’s 45th President. It wants to stay but the environment is toxic.
The insecurity I feel has resounded around the globe in a year unlike any other in recent history: Pestilence, fires, death, fear, unemployment, grief and loneliness, all, in 2020 marked by miles of gravestones. For the privileged among us, this year was a reminder of how fortunate we were that we could work from the comfort of our homes. For each of us, at every rung of the US electorate, this year has been a watershed year proving why we must care a great deal about the people we elect to govern us.
I became eligible to vote in July 2011 upon becoming a naturalized citizen twenty-four years after I arrived in the United States. My husband and I delayed becoming citizens until citizenship became a practical need. We left one democracy for another in search of name and fame but we didn’t entirely commit to our adoptive country either. This lack of early investment in the place that had nurtured us became more apparent to me in January 2017 when America became Play-Doh in the hands of an immature, bigoted human.
Reading author Vijay Prashad’s Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today made me reckon with some of my stances. While visiting his relatives in Northern California, Prashad observed how educated Indian-American professionals in their vast, comfortable homes did not care to be engaged in the political process in any serious way. He reasoned that it was because they had never had to fight for their survival. The fight for independence in India had been fought by the previous generation. In their adoptive nation, too, Prashad pointed out, it was the doggedness of the African American community that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Well before that, African Americans and other minorities had also fought for fairness in employment which led to their employment in companies engaged in work for World War II.
The Indians who arrived here in the United States after 1965 were thus doubly privileged; we had benefited from our parents’ fight in our native shores and enjoyed the privilege of the black man’s fight in our adoptive country. The only real struggle faced by Indian-Americans, as we rose up the ranks of corporate America, was to secure our foothold in America’s meritocracy. During our climb up, successful Indian-Americans did not think to question why some segments of American society never crossed our path; we shrugged it off observing that some people did not work hard enough or were not smart enough. A 2017 Pew Research report showed how the household income of Indian-Americans ($100,000) was a lot higher than the median annual household income of households headed by Asian Americans ($73,060). While Indian-Americans and their families—4.5 million, according to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI)—had done better, had we consistently sought to make America a better place for others? Hadn’t we become part of the systemic racism now endemic to our nation?
In late September, I was startled to read a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times. The paper was contrite about how, over its 140-year history, it had frequently been insensitive and racist in its coverage stating its support of Japanese internment, its denigration of Latinos as “marauders” and its tacit nod to white supremacy. It listed all the instances when it could have been fairer. One of the obvious ways was to hire people who represented, fairly, the demographics of the area it served.
While reading it, I wondered about individual responsibility in nation-building. Indian-Americans had gloated over our successes never questioning why a cross-section of the American population suffered injustices even as we thrived. When my son was in high school in Saratoga, he wondered why there was only one African American kid in his graduating class. I was taken aback, too, but I didn’t really think about this any more than I needed to. Here was my moment to ponder and to question the demographics of my community. Thus I too was complicit.
The time has come for successful immigrant communities like mine to admit that we rode on the coattails of others who fought for fair employment practices and equal rights that led, ultimately, to the immigration act of 1965. 2020 has offered us a rare glimpse into our common humanity. Let us commit to the common cause of building a fairer nation. Let us begin by voting for a qualified compassionate leader.