Indian-Americans overcome racist backlash to win in US polls
In the end, the racist, hate-filled flyers and posters weren’t enough to stop them.world Updated: Nov 08, 2017 22:37 IST
In the end, the racist, hate flyers weren’t enough to stop them.
Indian Americans Ravi Bhalla and Phalguni Patel on Tuesday easily won their respective races in New Jersey in which they had been targets of anonymous flyers that sought to portray them as a terrorist and an outsider, in the case of Patel, from a cricket-crazy immigrant community.
“Thank you for having faith in me, for having faith in our community, faith in our state, and faith in our country; this is what America is all about,” Bhalla, the mayor-elect of Hoboken, New Jersey, told supporters, according to NJ.com. “We've been through a bruising campaign... but now is the time we come together and see who we can work with to bring this city forward.”
Patel was elected to the education board of New Jersey’s Edison county.
Indian Americans, a community of about 4 million that is aggressively pursuing public office and a role in the country’s politics to match its economic clout, also scored other victories, including to two state senates: Manka Dhingra in Washington, whose victory flipped control of the senate to Democrats, and Vin Gopal in New Jersey.
The fifth big win of the night was Dimple Ajmera, to City Council, Charlotte, North Carolina.
“H(Y)UGE day yesterday,” wrote Shekar Narasimhan, a top Democratic strategist in an email to a request for response. The word “H(Y)UGE” was borrowed from Bernie Sanders, who ran against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2016. That was his way to describe something massive, momentous.
Elections were held on November 7 for the state executive, including governors, legislative, municipal and school boards in New Jersey and Virginia and for other state bodies, local boards, judicial bodies and vacancies in other states.
Bhalla and Patel’s elections in New Jersey had drawn nationwide attention, in India as well as in diaspora communities across the world, in the wake of racist and hateful stereotypes about them.
Patel featured in a flyer headlined “Make Edison Great Again” alongside Jeremy Shi, a Chinese American seeking a second term on the school board. Their pictures were mock-stamped “Deport”. It asked to prevent them from “taking over our” school board. “Chinese and Indians are taking over our town! Chinese schools (these language learning school run over the weekend mostly)! Indian School! Cricket Fields! Enough is Enough!”
Just a day later, doctored flyers surfaced attacking Bhalla, then a Hoboken councilman running for mayor. It said “Don't let TERRORISM take over our town!” above his picture.
It had seemed to be a doctored version, according to local authorities, of an attack-mailer sent by one of his rivals, that had said nothing about terrorism.
The doctored mailer was an obviously cynical attempt to stoke fears and concerns about terrorism, in the aftermath of the Manhattan attack in nearby New York city on October 31 (though there was no mention of it in the flyer), to damage Bhalla, a turban-wearing Sikh man.
Sikhs have been targeted in the United States mistaken for West Asians, some of whom wear similar but not same kind of headgears, specially since September 11, 2001. Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first victim of the backlash then, killed just four days later by a man who wanted to avenge the 9/11 attacks.