By Rafay Siddiqui
While the 2020 Presidential Election showcased Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) ascension as vice-president-elect, local elections throughout the country also featured progressive electoral strides for the South Asian community.
In the House of Representatives, incumbents Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, and Raja Krishnamoorthi — members of the famous “Samosa Caucus” — each reclaimed their respective seats this November. As testaments to their widespread popularity, the “Samosa Caucus” ultimately claimed reelection in dominant fashion, as the candidates averaged a staggering 45.5% margin of victory. Ultimately, such figures for ethnic minorities are unprecedented — underscoring a newfound demographic and ideological shift throughout the country.
Even in defeat, however, South Asian candidates rose to the challenges of mounting campaigns against establishment politicians.
In a bold political challenge, rising Democratic Socialist Shahid Buttar ran against incumbent Nancy Pelosi for the House of Representatives in California’s 12th-District in the 2020 election. At face value, such ambition appeared rather futile, as the Pakistani candidate earned only 18,000 votes in the 2018 midterm election; in stark contrast, Pelosi had served in Congress for 17 terms, serving as the Speaker of the House for the Democrats for multiple terms. Despite these disadvantages, Buttar’s progressive platform garnered momentum amongst constituents, earning him both a primary election victory and spot on the general election ballot.
Given these newfound successes, this ultimately begs the question: how have grassroots South Asian candidates garnered political prominence?
Beyond cultural heritage, South Asians — as with other minority candidates — provide a quality essential to a representative democracy: perspective. By experiencing a lifestyle distinct to a specific demographic, minority candidates form unique perspectives on prominent issues that other individuals may otherwise not discover.
Take Shahid Buttar, for example. As the son of Pakistani refugees from religious persecution, Buttar’s experiences with institutional discrimination likely shaped his perspectives on issues impacting political minorities in the United States. In addition, Buttar’s family faced foreclosures during his tenure at the University of Chicago, which may attest to the socioeconomic barriers that immigrants and minorities experience daily. Thus, Buttar’s life experiences — which have been shaped by cultural heritage — likely influenced his policy preferences and campaign platform. For instance, as an aspiring constitutional lawyer, Buttar advocates for the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and ending mass surveillance.
Given America’s newfound political representation, how will this development impact the South Asian community going forward? Most importantly, not only can minority candidates implement favorable policies, but they can also validate minority constituents and their political viewpoints. As a result, younger generations in the South Asian community may feel galvanized to engage with America’s political institutions. Historically, youthful constituents have ranked among the least politically active demographics — namely due to systemic barriers such as limited polling places and extended wait times. Within collegiate settings, wherein students constantly face busy, demanding schedules on a day-to-day basis, political activism can be difficult to achieve without an underlying motivation. However, with the rise of South Asian candidates with progressive platforms, countless South Asian students may better resonate with the current political system, as their viewpoints are not only validated but also embedded in essential policies. Thus, within a nation of diverse perspectives and lifestyles, minority representation can uplift thousands of South Asian students and incite hope for America’s future.
Taken together, the United States has witnessed a rapid increase in ethnic representation and participation in government, especially within the South Asian community. Political diversity, the “je ne sais quoi” in politics, will ultimately be instrumental in leading upcoming generations to social prosperity in the United States.