Watching the young African-American senator speak, Kesha Ram thought to herself that if there was a place for someone like him in politics, maybe there is place for someone like her.
That was 2006. Senator Barack Obama was stumping for Bernie Sanders, who was then running for Senate, and Ram, a young college student in Vermont, had just introduced them at an election rally.
“That was the first time I had heard an American story like mine,” Ram said. “About having a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas and I have a father from India and a mother from Illinois.”
She added, “And I thought if there was a place for someone like him in politics, maybe there is a place for some like me.” And there was indeed.
Inspired by that encounter, Ram, a great-great granddaughter of Ganga Ram, the civil engineer who designed and built landmark institutions in colonial India and after whom Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital is named, plunged into politics.
She interned on Capitol Hill the next summer, ran for the student body at her university and, at the age of 21, was elected to the state legislature in Vermont.
Now 29, she is running for Lieutenant Governor.
Ram belongs to a new generation of Indian-Americans, mostly those born here, who are actively seeking public office wherever they can — city councils, state legislatures and US Congress.
They include Ami Bera, a California Democrat who is currently the only Indian American in the House of Representatives. He is only the third Indian American to be a member of the house and is running for a third term.
Also in this group is Nikki Haley, the Republican governor of South Carolina who is often mentioned as a possible vice-presidential pick because of a recent surge in popularity.
Then there are those running for their first chance on the national stage — Kamala Harris for the Senate and Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna and Kumar Barve for the House.
Ram could be on her way too, according to polls.
When she first ran for office in 2008, she was called a “kitten with lipstick”, but now, as The Deerfield Valley New said in a recent article, “They don’t underestimate her anymore.”
Her father Mukul Ram came to the US for higher studies in the late 1960s — engineering like his great-grandfather — at the University of California, Los Angeles, and stayed on.
But not as an engineer. He discovered a talent in himself for cooking while still a student at UCLA, honed it by reading up books on Indian cuisine, and went into the restaurant business.
He eventually landed up running a pub, which has become a useful election prop for Ram. She likes to say at campaign events that she was “raised by an Indian immigrant father and Jewish-American mother at an Irish pub”.
That suits her vision for the job she is running for, lieutenant governor. “I see the position as a connector-in-chief,” she said, who as her campaign website added will “bring together Vermonters from all corners of the state to solve our greatest challenges”.
Ram’s agenda includes investing in early learning, affordable higher education (as does Sanders’, whose fan she has been for long), affordable home-ownership and “affordable, quality broadband internet access”.
She is locked in a three-way race for the Democratic party nomination, which is currently looking good for her. On the other side is a “formidable” Republican rival.
But as Ram says, “It’s a Democratic year in a primarily blue state”, referring to the state’s history of electing candidates of the Democratic party, which is known by its colour blue.