Indian Americans Rapidly Climbing Political Ranks
“Within the Indian American community, political involvement wasn’t really a high priority, because I think people were much more focused on establishing themselves economically and supporting their community endeavors,” said Mr. Krishnamoorthi, the Illinois congressman. “I think that once they started seeing people like us getting elected and seeing why it mattered, then political involvement became a part of their civic hygiene.”
Notably, the increase in Indian American representation is not centered on districts where Indian Americans are a majority. Ms. Jayapal represents a Seattle-based district that is mostly white. Mr. Thanedar represents a district in and around Detroit, a majority-Black city, and defeated eight Black candidates in a Democratic primary last year.
“This is quite a different kind of phenomenon than what we often are seeing from Latino and Black representation,” said Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College in Southern California and a senior researcher at AAPI Data, a group that provides information about Asian Americans. “It means they’re pulling a coalition of support behind them.”
She and Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Riverside, and the founder of AAPI Data, pointed to characteristics of Indian American communities that may have eased their movement into politics.
Immigrants from India are often highly educated and, because of the legacy of British colonization, often speak English, “which lowers barriers to civic engagement,” Professor Ramakrishnan said.
India is also a democracy, which Professor Ramakrishnan’s research has shown means Indian Americans are more likely to engage in the American democratic system than immigrants from autocratic countries.
By and large, Indian Americans have been elected on the Democratic side of the aisle. All five Indian Americans in Congress, and almost all state legislators, are Democrats. Ms. Haley’s candidacy could be a case study in whether an embrace of Indian immigrant heritage can resonate among Republicans, too.