As the election nears, it is crucial to understand just how important this election will be for our community. Just a few years ago, the concept of major South Asian campaign groups, let along major South Asian candidates, was unthinkable. South Asians were a small group that didn’t get out to the polls in sizable numbers and those who did were usually spoken to solely on the issues of immigration and U.S.-India relations. This election, however, has dramatically changed the nature of the South Asian community’s involvement in politics. India Post recently had a great piece where they highlighted a few young South Asians who have been making their voice heard this election season, and it gives a good overview of how our community has mobilized this year.
The article profiles South Asians from a variety of backgrounds, all motivated to become active during this election season for different reasons. Bhavini Dhoshi, 25, is “currently working as a legal intern for a not-for-profit immigration services organization,” and especially cares about reproductive rights, the environment, and healthcare, amongst other issues. Shashi Dholandas, a 24-year old young law student, counts “the current state of the economy and the US standing in the international arena” as his major concerns. Niki Shah, an organizer with South Asians for Obama, says “My generation is overburdened with the cost of education. We want a decent education but the attached cost may outweigh the long-term benefits.”
The profiles are interesting and definitely worth a read, and are notable because of the breadth of interests and activities of the surveyed group. The article does mention U.S.-India relations, and these are surely important issues for members of our community, be they immigrants who once called a South Asian nation their home, or the children of those immigrants. Yet for every single young South Asian, these issues were secondary to topics such as healthcare, the environment, the war, or the economy.
At the DNC, Hrishi Karthikeyan, the founder of South Asians for Obama, noted that one of the reasons he started SAFO was because he wanted politicians and campaigns to realize that there were many South Asians for whom every issue was important, just as they would be for any American. For far too long, politicians had felt as though they only needed to talk to South Asians about issues such as immigration and U.S.-India relations, and they would have their vote. The massive activation in this campaign is changing this perception as more South Asians get involved and voice their concerns on every issue of importance. In this campaign, Indian-Americans have played a major role in issues concerning foreign policy, domestic policy, and finance, amongst other issues. Over the past year, one Indian-American has shined as the governor of a very Southern state while another is in a tight congressional race in Minnesota.
South Asians have worked hard in this election to rise from a small niche group to an important part of the electorate. Groups such as SAFO, Asian Americans for Obama, and non-partisan groups including SAALT have put forth their best efforts to transform the South Asian vote into a prominent piece of the American electoral map. It will all be for naught, however, if we don’t vote en masse this Tuesday. So tomorrow, your vote is not only about the direction of this country, but our community’s place in the American political spectrum. The choice between non-voting and voting is the choice between leaving our community a niche group that will always be on the periphery of the political scene or helping us emerge as a crucial bloc that can make our voices heard for many elections to come.