Representation matters, and role models are important. I am tired of being a punchline. And, let’s face facts. Indians, from our accents to our religion, are still punchlines. In this country, the “immigrant” mindset is simple. Work hard, keep your head down, don’t get noticed, pay your taxes, don’t engage in any controversy and do not upset the power dynamic with white men under any circumstances. Americans have always been happy enough to appropriate yoga and quote Mahatma Gandhi. However, that affinity for Indian culture has never been enough for us to be taken seriously or led to advancing Indian-Americans into national political positions of power. Until now. As we enter this new administration, I would like to take a moment to reflect on what the effect of having the first female Black and Indian-American Vice President means to me and others like me. My take away is hope. It’s an opportunity for myself and others to stand strong against a society that judges women like us based on archaic notions of gender, race and ethnicity. I am proud, as an Indian woman, to see Kamala Harris represent our perspective in the world's most powerful country. She doesn’t cower away from being Indian, as Nikki Haley does. She embraces it. And I am not alone in these beliefs. Celebrations broke out all over India, especially among women who took special pride in her finally breaking through that American glass ceiling. Aside from having a sense of national pride, Indian women feel like we have been heard. Seeing ourselves and our lived experiences reflected in one of the nation's highest political offices is something none of us thought we would ever see. With the notable exception of Indira Gandhi, women from that part of world, in particular, have been underestimated and discouraged from running for office or seeking positions of power because of their cultural upbringing. Even in 2020, many Indian women are taught their first place is in the home. That’s not to say education and advancement are not strongly encouraged. It’s just that in Indian society it is frowned upon to not have motherhood be your first achievement. I am going to be met with criticism for saying this, as countless people will point out the number of doctors, engineers, lawyers and nurses that have strong Indian women in positions of power. They will say look no further than that woman in Seattle, Rep. Pramila Jayapal. My take on it is, yes, I concede those points. But the fact they have to be made at all speaks volumes. And, of course, age is important here. Younger Indian women have grown up with a slightly different experience in this country. Given all that, if we are honest with ourselves, we feel it. All Indian women instinctively know their perceived value. With Kamala Harris, that will change. It will happen slowly, but it will happen. As with all women of color who lead cultural shifts, she is being met with everything from dog-whistle racism to more overt bigoted tactics. From Georgia Sen. Davide Perdue willfully mispronouncing her name in an attempt to “otherize” her, to Rep. Steve King speaking about her being descended from slaves, she has absorbed it all like a fighter.
All of us are waiting to see what happens next. We, as Indian women, are anxious to see how she will continue to handle these racist insults which, for all of us, has become a way of life. A way of life we hope soon will be left in the past. Women like Kamala Harris represent why we immigrated to America. We wanted that American dream. She embodies how the world views America, and who we aspire to be, not what the past four years of this dictatorship has been. And, most certainly, not what the GOP and the Senate has become. With Kamala Harris, I see a light in the darkness of a long journey ahead toward realizing our true potential.