- Here I am, trying to figure out exactly how to book end her candidacy neatly, and there she is, fitting into Black, Brown and White in one easy sweep.
“Do you feel proud?” A friend asked me, alluding to my South Asian identity, when referring to Kamala Harris’s nomination. I was indeed proud. Proud that we were finally ready for a woman of color on the Presidential ticket in this country.
I didn’t answer her right away, though. I pondered my own Indian American background, and then Kamala Harris’s complex immigration quilt. The answer lends itself to some musings in these times. At this juncture in American history Kamala’s candidacy is unique because of the textured dynamics within the South Asian community. The unprecedented social mobilization within Black Lives Matter has intensified awareness of class consciousness within the South Asian community, as well.
Implicit bias, an uncomfortable reality embedded in the dynamics of our community is an uneasy legacy from the smorgasbord of race and ethnicity from the Indian subcontinent. The collision of the larger movement and the other issues it has spawned within different racial groups in America also complicates the understanding of racial injustice and the affiliation of her candidacy. Admirably, she wears both races easily, on her shoulders. One Black and the other Brown. Here I am, trying to figure out exactly how to book end her candidacy neatly, and there she is, fitting into Black, Brown and White in one easy sweep.
As an immigrant, from a fast growing tribe of voters — Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group of eligible voters, with more than 11 million Asian Americans able to vote in November, according to a May report by the Pew Research Center — I feel my voice is going to matter more and more. I am looking forward to not being this invisible amorphous multicultural being any more. I am not thrashing on the deep end just looking for a lifeline that says, “American South Asian, Kamala Harris, go vote!” I am like many of my fellow Americans simply thrilled to have a viable option to the other ticket. And just like many women who were rooting for a woman when Hilary ran; saddened that a woman was still not sitting in the highest offices of power in one of the most developed nations in the world, happy for a woman closer to the Oval Office.
Yes, it is cool that Dosa will be more ubiquitous after Kamala made some on the Mindy Kaling show. Yes, her references to her mother, her aunties (Chittis) makes her a bit more relatable on the Dosa circuit. And no, those photoshopped pictures of her wearing a nine yard sari, don’t make me swoon with joy! Dare I say, I would like to set the record straight with the South Asian/Indian ethnicity being this mosaic, I’m not even sure where I would begin the labelling process. Honestly, I think that’s what makes her candidacy so cool — that it evades a classification, a degree of inscrutability around it. Easily put, just the ‘otherness’ is cool!
For many progressive South Asian Americans, however, what’s more important is: How are we going to mobilize this community as a strong voice that has sometimes lagged in civic engagement? Whether due to a language issue or political disengagement the community has lagged behind in the past.
Interestingly, in a 2012 pilot study run by the South Asian Policy Research Institute, in Illinois, more than three fourths of the respondents ranked “South Asian American heritage” as last in desired qualities in a political candidate, prioritizing instead “ethical character,” followed closely by “responsiveness to community concerns,” suggesting that the community could be well poised for deeper civic engagement and anti-corruption efforts.
As stated by Toby Chaudhuri, a political strategist in Washington, “There’s no question, the Indian American political tiger has sprung.” I am encouraged it is neither Black or Brown, I’m just hoping it’s striped, like it should be.
Shalini Parekh is a journalist and writer from the Chicagoland area.