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Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

Sitting among his fellow Democratic delegates for the state of Virginia, he could not be any closer to the stage as Hillary Clinton becomes the first female presidential nominee of a major political party. The arena erupts with music and cheers, delegates almost unseen behind hundreds of waving, multicolored “Hillary for President” signs.

Dr. Shashi Gupta has waited for this moment for years and, because he’s come so far, he doesn’t take it for granted.

“It was almost like the speakers were speaking to us,” said Gupta. "It was amazing.”

For this Indian-American immigrant, conventions are proof the American political system is still strong – even after a bitter, divisive election season.

“The things that Americans take for granted are so special when you come from the outside,” Gupta told VOA in an interview back in Virginia as he prepared for the convention.

“The ability of a country to recognize a problem and, once recognized, to move as a nation to fix it – to me that’s really inspiring.”

Passion for politics

Gupta’s passion for American politics began in another tumultuous era more than four decades ago.

He jokes that his hair turned gray early as he ran the family business after his father passed away.

He moved to the United States to study for a master’s degree in the mid 1970s when Americans were dealing with the fallout from Watergate and the Vietnam War. He volunteered for Democratic President Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976 before, as he puts it, “I got busy with life.”

After co-founding a business in the 1980s that developed an early version of outsourcing back to his native India, Gupta returned to politics during the 2000 recount battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Always a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, Gupta seems amused by the effort he had to put into campaigning in order to become a delegate, and the attention showered on him once he won it.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal," Gupta said, "but once people came around and started congratulating me, I realized this is a much bigger deal than I thought it was.”

Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton appears on a large monitor to thank delegates during the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 26, 2016.

Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton appears on a large monitor to thank delegates during the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 26, 2016.

But being a delegate isn’t easy. During a brief break in a Virginia delegation party at a beer garden in Philadelphia, Gupta lists the fast-paced schedule with good humor.

“Early morning breakfast briefing, pick up credentials, caucuses from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Then I think all of us take naps for the evening ordeal,” he said with a smile.

He says the evenings, filled with cheering and clapping for all the convention speakers, are hard, too. But he was fascinated to see how the divide between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters worked out on the first day of the convention.

“This demonstrated such a wonderful way to conduct politics, where you have opposing views, but instead of getting down to invectives and name-calling,” Gupta said, “you really open up minds and say, 'OK, what can we gain from each other?'”

Gupta thinks the two sides of the party came together because they were ultimately complementary.

“Clinton is the person I think that can get things done,” he said. “Sanders is the person who has all the ideas – and I think [Clinton] and her team can make it happen.”

Swing state

Even as Clinton clinches the nomination here in Philadelphia, Gupta is already looking ahead to the role his home state might play in the general election.

A swing state that could go Democratic or Republican, Virginia is one of several key general election battlegrounds. Along with Ohio and Pennsylvania, it boasts close margins between the two parties; one win could tip the balance needed to secure the presidency.

That factor was clearly in Clinton’s mind when she picked Tim Kaine, Virginia's junior U.S. senator, as her vice presidential running mate – a choice that could not have pleased Gupta more. He’s known Kaine for 10 years and has hosted him at a fund-raiser in his own house.

Gupta says that from the first time he and his wife met Kaine, they knew he was a special person, “not only because he is extremely intelligent, extremely well-informed and well read, but also because he is good-hearted.”

He added, “I think he will be a big help to the ticket.”

The Democratic Convention is just the latest stop in an already long election year. The heated debate over the country’s future won’t let up as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off against each other in the fall.

But for Gupta, Philadelphia proves a passion for politics can be rewarding.

“This week just reinforces everything I’ve believed and known for the 45 years I’ve been here, which is that this political process is among the best that I can think of in the world.”

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    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp

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