Over the weekend, the AP did a piece on the record number of Indian-Americans running for office in November, a topic I covered well before the primary season here.
Meet Reshma, Surya, Manan, Raj, Ami, Ravi, Nimrata and Kamala — a new wave of Indian-American politicians. At least eight children of Indian immigrants are running for Congress or statewide office, the most ever. [yahoo]
- Reshma Saujani – New York, 14th Congressional District: She’s still up for her primary.
- Surya Yalamanchili – Ohio, 2nd Congressional District: He won his Democratic primary.
- Manan Trivedi – Pennsylvania, 6th Congressional District: He won his Democratic primary.
- Raj Goyle – Kansas, 4th Congressional District
- Ami Bera – California, 3rd Congressional District
- Ravi Sangisetty – Louisiana, 3rd Congressional District
- Nimrata “Nikki” Haley – South Carolina Governor: She (almost) won her Republican primary. Runoff on June 22nd.
- Kamala Harris – CA Attorney General: She won the Democratic primary.
The article debates that the perceived assimilation of candidates into white American culture in an effort to get elected.
Yet when Haley’s motives are questioned and some suggest Indians must become less “foreign” to get elected, many of these new candidates are quick to ask: Who are we to judge the mashup of American ambition with an ancient culture?
Manan Trivedi, a doctor and Iraq war veteran who recently won a Democratic primary for Congress in eastern Pennsylvania, said he did not view his ethnicity as a handicap: “The American electorate is smarter than that.”[yahoo]
He goes on to ask the question we at Sepia Mutiny ask time and time again….
Christianity is a more critical issue for white Republicans than other groups — could a Hindu who worships multiple gods, or a turbaned Sikh who doesn’t cut his hair, survive a statewide Republican primary in the Bible Belt?[ yahoo]The Democratic candidates that the writer talked to in the article argued against that…
“They can choose to be called what they want to be called, they can worship what they want to worship,” said [Ashwin] Madia…. “I don’t think being Indian-American is this thing they need to strive for or meet some sort of purity test. They are finding the right balance for themselves.” [yahoo]
Candidate assimilation. How much of it is premeditated? How much of it is candidate marketing? I honestly don’t think any of these second generation South Asian Americans were intentional in how they developed their own identities – whether faith, political, or Desi. People take different paths in developing their hyphenated identities as South Asian Americans. Nikki Haley may have married a white Methodist man, but Ami Berra married an African American woman. Manan Trivedi is married to another Indian-American woman. Kamala Harris is half Jamaican. Different people have different faiths, whether they chose to keep the one they were raised with or otherwise.
Who are we to not respect the various paths our fellow South Asian Americans took in the creation of their self identities as a Desi-American? Or do we hold candidates at different standard?
This is not to say that when it comes to campaigning a candidate and marketing of these people that certain messages are used. Campaign managers keep in mind the demographic of the local electorate and what messages will win them them over. Once someone starts running for office, each public step is carefully calculated and marketed.
All the same, the way the article was framed made me feel uncomfortable. It’s a thin line between trying to “look” more assimilated American and “being” American. I got the feeling that the writer was trying to say that the people who are able to pull off “looking American” were the ones who would get further along in politics. People who look Indian would be less likely to win. It kind of ignores the third category – the South Asian Americans that have created their own new hyphenated identity which is a unique cocktail of both sides. We should be at the point where South Asian American voters can run for office just by being themselves – but of course, that would be a bit naive of me to think, wouldn’t it?
As Raj Goyle said in the article:
He said he doesn’t worry about appearing more American or more Indian. “I am who I am, I’m proud of my background and what I’ve accomplished and my family. Kansas voters absolutely will choose the best candidate based on the merits.”[yahoo]
Good luck to the candidates. It should be an interesting five months ahead.