“I voted for Obama for many reasons. Do you understand? It’s not black and white. Do you see now?”
Years ago, my father’s words rang in my ears as I attempted to synthesize the scattered political opinions throughout his lecture. I had been listening for what seemed like an hour to a rush of information. I was lost
But I was lost, in a good way, in a sea of information that intrigued me. Of course, I have no one to blame but myself for this overload: I instigated it with my prodding questions.
Something about the inner workings of government has always spoken to me. Even if I didn’t quite understand the differing views of politicians at first, I figured that they were all (more or less) trying to make their country a better place. To me that’s awe-inspiring. Naturally, my young, callow self would explore this intriguing subject more and more as time went on.
Flash forward to today. The importance of political discussions is not lost on me. It seems that conversations like the one above shaped me into who I am today.
In fact, it’s almost too easy to see the influence that my 1st generation immigrant parents have had on my political interests. I even recently interned for an Indian American City Council member to learn about political processes. I’ve come to realize that more than just me is at play in setting me on the road to my interest in politics.
Something other than me
So what role does cultural identity play in cultivating interests? Much of it comes from what I was exposed to early on. My surroundings have played a key role in my upbringing.
Raised in a privileged part of California, education was everywhere, whether it be from information online to the course material in the class room. In other words, I had all the tools at my disposal to become knowledgeable on and adopt any beliefs I so desired. Yet, I believe I was directed toward a particular path.
I feel there is a stigma. A blatantly liberal undertone was present when political matters were discussed. Sure, educators and public figures may have said that one can believe what they want, but there has always been a feeling that hung in the air when politics was talked about. A decidedly hostile feeling. It has always made me cautious.
I was naturally steered towards liberal beliefs, like many other Indian Americans who lean to this side of the political spectrum. BBC News reported a whopping 84% of Indian Americans voted for president Obama in 2008 and 77% in 2012. I didn’t know this statistic when I was younger, but I definitely could feel it growing up. This probably landed me in the same boat as my parents politically.
A Different Kind of Self-Help
My interest in politics has only been helped by my background as an Indian American. I was immediately alerted to the numerous doors that opened for me from niche communities for people with exactly the same situation and interests as me.
Internships and positions came the through the connections I have as an Asian American. And, I can proudly say that I took full advantage of my connections.
Though I was happy to accept the opportunities, in researching for this piece I was made aware of a startling statistic. In government specifically, favoritism and cronyism are rampant. According to Santa Clara University, public government officials are nine times as likely to hire someone based on connections than a small business owner is. Whether it be to increase power or to reach a niche group of people, politicians do it too often for it to be overlooked. This figure made me think about whether my positions were merit based or something more.
The Science of Belonging
As it turns out, there are specific reasons that people feel the need to identify with their community and background. There are studies dedicated to understanding communities, and why people are drawn to them.
Collectiveevolution.com, a website dedicated to the feeling of being in a community, indicated that there are 10 specific reasons that contribute to this need to find a group to belong. The most prominent being that people with similar values enjoy being with people who feel the same way. When we agree on something, we tend to think we are correct, right?
Right, but the most interesting thing I read was that people in the same community are more open to learning and hearing from people of their same cultural background. I immediately identified with this statement. This fit my situation perfectly, and I realized that this was part of the reason I have been so influenced by the views of my community.
The pattern of parent to child values is visible in many cases. The influence is still very visible in those 2nd generation immigrants that are politically charged. Incoming college freshman Kenny Nguyen finds himself in the same situation I was in. “I come from a long line of conservative Central Bank and Beijing Financial workers, like the equivalent of Wall Street” he says. “I guess their influence on me was larger than I realized” he chuckles.
He’s on his way to Stern School of Business to work in finance. “It was always comforting to know that there was something I was familiar with. I could do something I had experience in, or at least something I knew about, I guess.”
Having a grandfather who worked in the United Nations, I related to this story. There’s something comforting about following in the footsteps of those you trust, and, according to the Washington Post, you are 150 times more likely to take an interest in a career your community praises.
A Sense of Home
I think the real reason that I chose to use my background as a tool was because it was all familiar. I chose to accept what I knew, or rather, what I have seen. And what I have seen is simple: immigrants who wanted the best for their community. As a child, this is exactly what fascinated me aboutgovernment and politics. Here it was in my own backyard. This is what made me follow my interest in politics in the way that I have.
Yes, I used my connections to get me this far. In the process, I learned that I enjoyed engaging with the people I worked with and learned from the projects I was assigned. I no longer have the imposter syndrome. I feel that I belong and that I am needed. I understand the symbiotic relationship with my cultural background. I feel that I am now one of the people I had admired as a child, even if I am only the smallest cog in a big machine.