- Reflecting on their own immigrant experiences, they highlighted the importance of electing Democrats up and down ballot.
Mindy Kaling has a personal connection with California Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee — their South Indian heritage and their common beliefs. She says “eliminating private prisons, raising minimum wage, citizenship for dreamers, healthcare for all and not keeping children in cages, are just probably six or seven of the 20 or 30 causes that she believes in.” And she’s “so proud that somebody like her happens to also have beliefs that I believe in. Because there are a lot of Indian and Indian-American politicians in our country who don’t have the same belief system that I do. It’s nice to be able to embrace her wholeheartedly.”
Kaling was speaking at a virtual South Asian Block Party fundraiser on Oct. 14 in support of the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket. She was among several prominent South Asian American actors, artists and leaders who came together for the fundraiser. Whether through a song, a comedy skit, a family Zoom call or a question and answer format, participants stressed the significance of supporting the Biden-Harris ticket, highlighting their track record of leadership and decency. They also urged the community to vote early and spread the word. Over a thousand people watched the block party, organizers said in the zoom link.
The event was emceed by M.C. Peabody and Emmy Award-winner Aasif Mandvi.
Trailblazers like Emmy-nominated composer Siddhartha Khosla, former United States Attorney Preet Bharara, DJ Rekha, Janina Gavankar, Madhur Jaffrey, Aasif Mandvi, Ravi Patel, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Poorna Jagannathan, Aparna Nancherla, Rolex Rasathy, Nik Dodani, Maulik Pancholy, businesswoman Deepica Mutyala, among others, participated in the one-of-a-kind event. They talked about their immigrant parents and their struggles to ensure that their kids got a better life, as well as their own journey in a non-Brown world to carve an identity. Discussions centered around topics relevant to the South Asian American community, including immigration and health care, as well as the ineptitude of the federal response to COVID 19, climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement, abortion rights and the Supreme Court nomination.
There are nearly 5.4 million South Asians living in the United States with 500,000 South Asian voters living in battleground states. Additionally, South Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S. electorate. The community has become a critical voting bloc for the 2020 presidential election, with the ability to make the difference in a number of key states. The nomination of Senator Kamala Harris for vice president has cast additional attention on this fast growing segment.
“In the most important U.S. election of our lifetimes, the reach and presence of South Asians in media and entertainment has never been greater” said media executive Rajan Shah, the organizer of the event. “It was critical for us as South Asians and as Americans to unite to show our support and energize excitement for Biden-Harris within the critical South Asian community including those not typically involved in political events. As leaders we had an opportunity to step and bring our community together.”
Organizers said the event raised close to close to S300,000 for the critical last leg of the campaign. One thousand seven hundred and fifty tickets sold.
“This is probably the most important election of our lifetime,” Mandvi noted, setting the tone for the event. We have a lot to worry about.” Talking about the importance of having so many South Asian Americans come together, Mandvi said: “Many of us on this show and out there are immigrants or children of immigrants. And for many of us it’s about what we want our country to be. It’s about the values. Community. Diversity. Truth.”
Comedian and late-night talk show host Lilly Singh touched upon the significance of Harris’ selection in terms of representation. “It’s so important to have someone like her on such a massive stage.” She talked about how difficult her journey has been “because it’s been a constant battle of getting people to understand who I am, understand the way I look, understand the culture.” And through that time she always wondered if “somebody at this table looked like me or could relate to me my life would have been so much easier. I know a lot of other people on this block party can relate. So when I think about Kamala Harris. I get so happy.”
Everyone at the event seemed to echo Singh’s sentiment. “Anything that gives us hope right now is definitely worth pursuing, said actor Kumail Nanjiani in a conversation with actress Janina Gavankar. He said the Biden-Harris ticket is important for immigrants like his mother, who “felt scared and unwanted (under) the Trump administration.”
Pioneering women like actress Sakina Jaafrey, her mother, actress, chef and author, Madhur Jaffrey; and entrepreneurs like Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code; Payal Kadakia Pujji, founder and executive chairman of ClassPass and Anjula Acharia, an angel investor and Priyanka Chopra’s manager, spoke about the significance of Harris’ nomination and breaking the glass ceiling.
Actor and producer Vinny Chhibber talked about the need to volunteer at polling places, while Sendhil Ramamurthy urged people t reach out to others, “especially parents and older family members to help them understand what is at stake for you and your family siblings and our communities.” Adding that 1.8 million Indian Americans are eligible to vote this year, Ramamurthy said “we are a critical voting block in 2020. Especially in swing states like Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and many more. So make a plan for yourself and then encourage and help everyone you know to vote for Biden-Harris.”
Some of the celebrities joined DJ Rekha for the dance party that followed.