June 3, 2020
The current U.S. Congress is the most diverse in the nation’s history. The 116th Congress, sworn in last January, also includes 20 Asian Americans — 10 years before then, there were only seven. Of the Asian Americans in Congress today, five are South Asian.
This election cycle, an unprecedented number of South Asian candidates — over 30 — are seeking national public office. According to candidates, they are campaigning due to a combination of reasons: the ascension of President Donald Trump and a genuine desire to see a Congress that is more reflective of America — only 22% of Congress is non-white, whereas the U.S. population is 40% non-white. Many are children of immigrants, many are first-time politicians, most are Democrats, and a few are running a second time.
“When the president came to office, that really changed the way that I viewed my role,” said Pritesh Gandhi, a first-generation Indian American physician running for a House seat as a Democrat in Texas’s 10th District.
After Trump issued a “Muslim travel ban” within weeks of his January 2017 inauguration, “I knew right then and there that no president was going to tell me or my children, or children that look like my children, that we don’t belong in this country,” added Gandhi, the son of two immigrants.
For Arati Kreibich, a House candidate for New Jersey’s 5th District, running for office “was not in my life plan,” she told The Juggernaut. “My entire life, [I] wanted to be a scientist...that is how I thought I was going to be changing the world.”
But the results of the 2016 election were devastating for her family. It was the first election her two sons — ages 8 and 11 at the time — were involved. They campaigned for Hillary Clinton “in matching pantsuits,” knocking on doors together. Kreibich, who is now in her 40s, said the moment she decided to run was when her then-8-year-old son came to her worried that she and her parents might be deported.
Some candidates are running for a second time after unsuccessful bids in 2018.