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Making it big in U.S.

Meet Upendra Chivukula, a true Telugu at heart and currently a legislator in the New Jersey State Legislature.

BEYOND BORDERS: Upendra Chivukula doing Telugus proud.

THE BEGINNING of the new millennium - the year 2000 will always remain etched in our hearts, but for the people of the State, it will be a landmark for years to come, as Nellore-born Upendra Chivukula was sworn into the prestigious post of the Mayor of Franklin Township, in the State of New Jersey. For one who was born and brought up in the country and completed his education from Chennai's Guindy Engineering College, it was no mean achievement to become the only first generation Indian to occupy this coveted post.

A true Telugu at heart, Upendra says, "the position of a Mayor is not a trophy to be hung on the walls and forgotten for the years to come, but a position that has to be earned every single day and the only way to do that is through service." His entry into politics was due to his observation that the minority community was not doing much to take part in the political and social affairs of the country. So, during his tenure in AT&T, where he worked for 18 years, he joined the Indian American Forum for Political Education.

Says Upendra, "Indians are known to be very tolerant to all cultures and a true Indian will always make every attempt to live in a cohesive manner with all communities." Expressing grief on the devastating September 11 incident, he says, "such incidents mar the faith of the minorities." During his tenure in various coveted positions, he had the unique distinction of having fought many milestones in the American laws like the Burton Amendment - which recommended the cancellation of a $25 million deal to India saying that the country was violating human rights on a large scale, the issue of reservation of land, laws on hate crimes and recently, laws on the issue of civil liberties being extended to minorities.

Many of the Indians living abroad approach him on various problems and he does try and bring the relevant issues to the attention of the Congress. He says "with the U.S. heavily into outsourcing, it is a real ironical situation. Everyone thinks about himself and not about the countries involved." Almost every Indian today boasts of a family member in the U.S., either as a student or as an employee. Though the U.S. is a land of opportunity and enchanted him, too, while he was working in Mumbai years ago, he feels that most parents make it compulsory for their wards to go to the U.S. under any circumstances without considering the place, the university or the position they would be going into. It is common knowledge that there are many universities and colleges here also on par with the international standards.

Married to Daici and the doting father of two children, he says that he finds it easier to understand the dilemma that Indian children have to go through abroad. At home, they are expected to be perfectly Indian - following our culture, but when they step out, they have to be perfectly American under peer pressure. Most of the children find it difficult to cope with this dual lifestyle. So, it is important for the parents to understand and empathise with their children and also adapt themselves to a certain extent to the changed environs and times.

He says that he has always discouraged any kind of casteism or communalism being bred, as "one must try and make use of the opportunity given to progress and not digress into unwanted territories". Though he expresses contentment over the progress that his homeland has been making in the past decade, he says, "India does have a lot to learn from the West in terms of infrastructure and governance. It is a fallacy to think that infrastructural progress relates to cities alone as the real India lives in the rural areas. It is their development that the Government needs to specially focus on."

Recently, on a visit to his homeland for dual purposes, one for being felicitated by certain cultural associations for making Andhra Pradesh proud and the other to survey the extent of damage caused to the people of Nalgonda district due to flourosis, he says, "it is extremely disturbing to even hear about the extent of damage caused and to learn that thousands have been crippled for life." His motto is to make sure that some financial aid, collected from the NRIs, is extended to the afflicted people. He says, "the day India is able to balance technological progress with development in all other sectors, we would be a power to reckon with."

Political milestones that he crossed:

1992 - Joined the Democratic Party as a member of the Executive Committee

1995 - Became the head of the Democratic Party in Franklin Township by defeating the Republican rule existing there for 13 years

1996 - the only Asian to occupy a chair in the Democratic convention from the State of New Jersey

1997 - won a seat in the Town Council

1998 - occupied the chair of the Deputy Mayor, Franklin Township

2000 - occupied the coveted position of the Mayor of Franklin Township

2002 - Sworn in as an Assembly man - the position he enjoys today, as a Legislator in the New Jersey State Legislature.


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