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Record number of Indian-Americans seeking political office
“This campaign is all about vision and values and policies,” said Raj Goyle, who is battling for the Democratic congressional nomination in his hometown of Wichita, Kan. “I don’t spend time thinking about differences, I think about ways that Kansans can come together.”
Goyle worships at an Indian temple. His first name is Rajeev, but he has gone by Raj since childhood. In 2006, he became the first Indian-American elected to the Kansas Legislature and the first Democrat to hold his statehouse district.
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.”
Indians began immigrating to the United States in large numbers about 50 years ago, but just two have been elected to Congress: Dalip Singh Saund in 1956 and Jindal, who entered Congress in 2004 and became governor midway through his second term.
In 2008, Madia says he was the only major Indian-American candidate for Congress. Today there are six, including Goyle and Trivedi. Ami Bera in California, Ravi Sangisetty in Louisiana and Reshma Saujani in New York face upcoming primaries, and Surya Yalamanchili won a primary in Ohio.
In California, Kamala Harris, the child of an Indian mother and black father, won the Democratic nomination for state attorney general and is favored to win the election this fall. Harris was raised in a black neighborhood, attended black churches and graduated from historically black Howard University. She also worshipped in her mother’s Hindu temple and has made many visits to her family in India.
“Running for office, you have to simplify or condense or put into pre-existing boxes who you are,” Harris said, “so people will have a sense of you based on what they easily and quickly identify.”
“I grew up in a family where I had a strong sense of my culture and who I am, and I never felt insecure about that at all,” she said. “Slowly, perhaps, with each of us taking on more prominent positions, people will start to understand the diversity of the people.”
Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. He is reachable at jwashington(at)ap.org.
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