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This Saraswati is Neither Hindu Nor Muslim But ‘As White as Driven Snow’

This Saraswati is Neither Hindu Nor Muslim But ‘As White as Driven Snow’

  • The leader of a prominent Quaker social justice organization was exposed for posing as a woman of color of South Asian, Arab and Latina descent.

A 39-year-old woman leading a prominent Pennsylvania-based social justice organization is making headlines, not for her work, but for misrepresenting her ethnicity. Raquel Evita Saraswati, chief equity, inclusion, and culture officer at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization known for its progressive values and social justice advocacy in the U.S. and abroad, has been posing as a woman of color of South Asian, Arab and Latina descent. 

However, the activist is neither, her mother Carol Perone told several media outlets. “I call her Rachel,” Perone told The Intercept, adding that her daughter, who was born Rachel Elizabeth Seidel, is of British, German, and Italian descent. “I’m as white as the driven snow and so is she.” Additionally, she told the Daily News that her biological father, who’s now deceased, was Calabrese Italian. She told the paper that she “finds it sad that her daughter has chosen to live a lie.”

Perone, reportedly shared with several media outlets, including The Intercept and U.K.’s Daily Mail, photos of Saraswati as a child, “which she asked not be published,” according to The Intercept. The publication further noted that Saraswati’s complexion is significantly lighter than the bronzed look in more recent photographs.” Additionally, it reported that “Perone also shared her profile and a photo of Saraswati’s biological father, who is deceased.” She said her daughter converted to Islam in high school and “at some point, she seemed to have felt the need to portray herself as having a different ethnic identity,” according to The Intercept. 

Similarly, members of Saraswati’s family, who told the Daily Mail they didn’t want to be identified, said: “her new life began to take shape while she attended the prestigious Emma Willard school in Troy, New York.” Some AFSC members told The Intercept that they fear Saraswati ‘may be working on behalf of groups seeking to undermine their organization.

Oskar Pierre Castro, a human resources professional who participated in the search committee to fill Saraswati’s position, told The Intercept that she had presented herself as a “queer, Muslim, multiethnic woman.” He said he felt “conned” and deceived” by the revelations.

AFSC spokesperson Layne Mullett confirmed to The Intercept of receiving receipt documentation accusing Saraswati of allegedly misrepresenting her identity. “AFSC has given Raquel the opportunity to address the allegations against her, and Raquel stands by her identity,” read the statement. “Raquel also assures us that she remains loyal to AFSC’s mission, which we firmly believe.” The statement added that “AFSC does not require any employee to ‘prove’ their heritage as a condition of their employment, or in order to be valued as a member of our team.”

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