Number of Indian Americans in elected offices not reflective of their population: Kamala Harris

Ms. Harris, who is of both Indian and African heritage, was speaking at “Desis Decide” — the annual summit of Indian American Impact, a democratic party think tank, that supports and funds Indian Americans running for elected offices across U.S.

Updated - May 16, 2024 11:08 am IST

Published - May 16, 2024 10:56 am IST - Washington

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the Indian American Impact project’s annual summit on May 15, 2024 in Washington.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the Indian American Impact project’s annual summit on May 15, 2024 in Washington. | Photo Credit: AP

The number of Indian Americans in elected offices is not reflective of their growing population, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said on Wednesday, urging the members of the minority ethnic community to run for elected offices increasingly.

Ms. Harris, who is of both Indian and African heritage, was speaking at “Desis Decide” — the annual summit of Indian American Impact, a democratic party think tank, that supports and funds Indian Americans running for elected offices across the country.

“Over the years, we've had so much more participation by Indian Americans in the electoral process running for office. But the numbers are still not reflective of the size of the growing population,” Ms. Harris, the first-ever Indian American, African American, and a woman to be elected as the vice president of the U.S. told a packed room of Indian Americans in the national capital.

Currently, there are five elected Indian American members of the Congress — Dr. Ami Bera, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal, and Shri Thanedar. Impact believed that in 2024, the Indian American strength in the Congress will increase to 10 members.

In a tightly contested presidential race, Impact said Indian American voters — the second largest immigrant community and fastest growing in many states — could be the decisive margin of victory in key races across the country.

The work being done by Impact, Ms. Harris said in her opening remarks, is extraordinary as she applauded the role of the think tank and its members in electing not only members of the community but also in electing Senators in states like Georgia.

“It really is extraordinary. I wanted to stop by to thank of course the organisation for everything and for all that it represents, but also to say especially to those who have run for office or aspire to run for office, that you must run,” Ms. Harris said.

“You must know that you are not alone. There is so much that we still have to do as a country and a lot of the work that we each do, which is why we are here together, is born out of a belief in the promise of America. And dare I say that, I am empirical evidence of the promise of America,” said the Vice President.

“This election coming up in six months, I think is presenting a question to each of us. Which is, what kind of world do we want to live in and what kind of country do we want to live in? And one of the ways that we answer that question is to seek office and to participate in elections knowing that the outcome of those elections matter in fundamental ways,” Ms. Harris said as she asked the members of the audience to raise their hands if they were running for office or planning to do so.

“What will happen, invariably it's happened to all of us, is you are going to find yourself invariably in rooms where you are the only one who looks like you, the only one who has had your life experience. What I then say to you each, look around this room and hold onto this image. And remember then when you walk into those rooms, when you walk into those situations, you remember, you are not alone. We are all there with you. You must remember that,” she said.

Speaking on the occasion, Impact co-founder and treasurer Deepak Raj said Ms. Harris was instrumental in its formation eight years ago.

“She has been an incredible guiding force for this organisation over the duration. She came to the first summit in 2018 and here she is again,” Mr. Raj said.

Mr. Raj said Ms. Harris is not only the first woman but the first South Asian Indian American woman, to be elected as the Vice President of the U.S.

“She has been an incredible role model, I think for all of us. What she has done is she has paved the way for women, for immigrants and minorities and is a true hero and an inspiration for all of us,” he said.

“I think her success, what she has achieved, gives us the hope and the confidence that we have a bright future, all of us together fighting for public office and as a community,” Mr. Raj said.

As the Vice President took the stage, some briefly chanted “Four more years.” However, one person yelled “Shame on you," which appeared to be in reference to the war in Gaza, but it was not clear. The protester was soon removed from the room.

Ms. Harris also spoke about her mom coming to the U.S. from India when she was 19 years old and marching for Civil Rights in Berkeley.

She said growing up, she would visit India every two years and her grandfather would take her on morning walks. “And I remember as a young girl… hearing them discuss the importance of standing for what is right and fairness,” she said.

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