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Indian-Americans Making an Ever Bigger Impact in US Elections

  • Ira Mellman

American politics may be going through somewhat of a transformation. This transformation appears to be a change in the way Americans accept who may politically represent them.

"It is my great pleasure…," remarks Nikki Haley. "It is with humility and respect that I accept the Republican Party's nomination to be your next governor of South Carolina (cheers)."

Nikki Haley won the party's nomination in a runoff election by garnering 65-percent of the primary vote in the southern state of South Carolina. Haley was born Nimrata Randhawa, daughter of Indian-Americans. Should she win the November general election, she would become the second governor of Asian Indian descent in the United States, the other being Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal.

Haley is only one in a record number of Indian-Americans running for office this year. There are currently at least eight such candidates vying for political office this year, including Manan Trivedi in Pennsylvania, Raj Goyle in Kansas and Ami Bera in California. Haley told VOA she knew the path to election would not be an easy journey.

"I knew that I had everything against me, I knew the fact that I was a woman was tough, I knew the fact that I wasn't from Lexington was tough, I knew that fact that I was Indian was tough," says Haley. "I knew that there was a lot I had to do to let people know who I am."

But, South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson told VOA that being Indian-American was a help for Haley.

"It's a reflection truly of the impact of the Indian-American population on the United States," Wilson said. "It's the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States, nearly two-million people have Indian-American background in the United States. They also have the highest per capita income of any immigrant group in the United States and it's a reflection again of the assimilation into American society."

Paul Ong is a professor of Public Affairs at UCLA, the University of California Los Angeles. He says immigrants from Asia had for decades faced what had been insurmountable obstacles in seeking office in the United States.

"If you go back far enough, Asian-Americans, including Asian-Indians, were precluded from participating," Ong said. "They were precluded from gaining citizenship, certainly, if you go back to after World War Two, an enormous amount of racial prejudice. It was very difficult for Asian-Americans, including Asian-Indians, to be accepted socially, as well as politically."

But that, says Professor Ong, has recently changed.

"We have seen over the last decade or so an increase in political participation," he adds. "We have seen it in acquiring citizenship, we've seen it in the growing numbers of Asian-Americans running for office. We still have a long ways to go. We're still, overall, under-represented among elected officials. But, I think, it's been very remarkable about the progress that's been made."

But, why Indian-Americans as opposed to immigrants from other areas?

"What we saw is a population that was highly-educated," said Ong. "They probably came from much more affluent background from India and we also noticed that they come from a country with a long history and participation in a democratic process. And so, I think those things translate, as well as the fact that most of the Indian immigrants and their children certainly are much more accustomed to American culture, the language and so forth."

Professor Ong, who is of Chinese descent, says the recent success of Indian-American politicians could be just the beginning.

MELLMAN: "Will there be an Indian-American or Asian-American president in the near future?"
ONG: "I would hope so, certainly within my son's lifetime."

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