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South Asian Celebrities Share Their Immigrant Stories at AAPI Virtual Inaugural Ball

South Asian Celebrities Share Their Immigrant Stories at AAPI Virtual Inaugural Ball

  • Organized in partnership by IMPACT and RUN AAPI, an Asian American voter outreach organization, the event honored President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris.

On the eve of the historic inauguration of President-elect Joe R. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Devi Harris, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community held its inaugural virtual ball on Jan. 19, 2020. 

Organized in partnership by IMPACT and Run AAPI, an Asian American voter outreach organization, the event honored and recognized President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, the first Indian American and Black American ever to be elected to the second highest office in the U.S., and featured remarks from a wide array of AAPI political leaders, organizers, and artists, including Madam Vice President-elect, who thanked all those who helped get the vote out.

As numerous media reports have pointed out the AAPI community emerged as a significant voting bloc in the 2020 elections, ensuring a Biden-Harris win and a Warnock-Ossoff victory in the Peach State, ensuring a Blue Senate and a Blue House.

Visibly ecstatic members of the AAPI community joined hands to congratulate the Biden-Harris team, all the while sharing their unique immigrant story. 

The evening started with a tribute to all immigrants – from grandparents and parents – who all came from to America from different places with a common dream — “a dream of more”.  The video, with a montage from Asian movies and shows such as Mindy Kaling’s “Never Have I Ever” and the poignant “Fresh off the Boat” to even Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” interspersed with scenes from everyday immigrant life, set the mood and the tone for the evening.

Asian actors such as Kumail Nanjiani (“Big Sick” fame) talked of moving to the U.S. at the age of 18 from Pakistan and feeling welcomed by the country. He also pointed out that when his parents joined him 10 years later, his mother got a “reboot” in America. He also shared his family’s growing concerns with the anti-immigrant feelings over the last few years, stressing how “heartbroken” he was to see his mom’s “disillusionment in America” but also pointing out that the Biden-Harris win had “restored his mother’s faith” and “who is once again happy to call America home again”.

Nanjiani, who was very critical of the outgoing administration and was a central figure in various AAPI campaign videos, called President Trump out for his narrow definition of America and applauded the incoming Biden-Harris team for their more inclusive view of the country and the world – and for their empathy, decency and competence. “We have adults in charge again!” said a jubilant Nanjiani.

His story was echoed by many others – members of Congress such as Reps. Ami Bera (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Judy Chu (D-CA) and Andy Kim (D-NJ), whose picture cleaning up after the recent riots by pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol, along with Office of Management and Budget Director-designate Neera Tanden congratulated the Biden-Harris administration, and spoke of a better, brighter future.

Others who shared their immigrant stories and memories of Biden-Harris included actor Nik Dodani (“Atypical”), who recalled the moment he became a fan of the “fighter, ally and aunty, who will tomorrow become Madam VP”.

Dodani, retold the story of when Harris, the 32nd Attorney General of California, got on the phone with the LA Director of the county clerk’s office and casually asked him to uphold the 2013 Supreme Court decision that had brought marriage equality to California and allow Paul and Jeff to tie the knot. Dodani, “a glorified intern” with the group working on behalf of the plaintiffs – a gay couple in LA and one in San Fran – when planning the same day wedding of the couples was denied a license. Harris ensured this travesty was averted and gained a life-long fan in Dodani.  

Stories such as Dodani’s and others saw the live chat fill up with heart emojis.

Actor/comedians John Cho and Kal Pen also shared their coming-to-America stories of their parents – stressing on the hard work of immigrants and the honor they bring to America.  And American-Filipino actor Lou Diamond Phillips (“La Bamba”, “Longmire”, “Prodigal Son” etc) evoked much love from those watching via live chat when he shared the touching story how he was privileged to bear witness to his mom being sworn in as an American citizen. His story gave rise to many sharing similar stories on the live chat window .  

The musical portions of the evening included a beautiful musical video “This is Me”, produced by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, and performed by a medley of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander musicians, artists and dancers, showcasing the beauty and majesty of the Pacific Islander community. 

Musical group Japanese Breakfast also performed as did Indian-American rapper, songwriter and singer from Claremont, California, Raja Kumari with her number catchy and poignant rap song “NRI” Kumari, best known for her collaboration with notable artists including Gwen StefaniIggy Azalea, and Fall Out Bo, enthralled the audience with her powerful song – an ode to the Indian American the immigrant and a call to forget the “haters” and celebrate one’s unique heritage and diversity. Featuring known Indian-American movers and shakers – Rep Jayapal, Shyamala Gopalan and her daughters, Kamala and Maya, Time Kid of the Year Gitanjali Rao, Bollywood heartthrob Priyanka Chopra — her video and song with its catchy refrain dhinak dhin dha probably had viewers at home on their feet and dancing. 

American singer, composer, beauty queen and activist, Ari Afsar, best known for her starring role in “Hamilton,” as the songwriter of the musical Jeannette, and as a top contestant on “American Idol”, entertained viewers with her song “We Won’t Sleep” from Jeannette.

Nepalese-American fashion designer Prabal Gurung, actress Sheetal Sheth (“ABCD” and “American Chai”), Parvesh Cheena (“Outsourced” and “Crazy ex-Girlfriend”), dressed in a gold kurta, all took a moment to share their thoughts on the historic inauguration.

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Other notable speakers were former Olympian Michelle Kwan and M.R. Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora.

But the star of the night was a radiant Vice President-elect Harris, who was introduced by her niece Meena Harris. Harris promised to bring change in the face of obstacles, and fight with conviction, light the way for girls and women of color to follow, “to commit to an America we know is possible and the America we love!”

The evening was hosted by Brad Jenkins and Chloe Bennett (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”), co-founders of RUN AAPI.

Brad Jenkins is the Managing Director and Executive Producer at Will Ferrell’s Funny Or Die  and prior to that spent four years serving as President Obama’s Associate Director in The White House Office of Public Engagement. From The White House, Jenkins brought together creative executives, thought leaders, and some of the world’s biggest stars to advance the President’s agenda—culminating in the Emmy-award winning “Between Two Ferns” interview on the Affordable Care Act.

Deepak Raj and Raj Goyle, co-founders of IMPACT also extended their congratulations to the incoming administration.

AAPI represents over 30 different countries, encompasses dozens of communities with roots in East, South, and Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. 

Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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