Mr. Singh Goes To Washington

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Chances are if you're brown or live in DC you've read this piece on the emergence of the Indian-American political scene, which was published Tuesday in Roll Call. I don't normally read RC since I have access to the vastly superior CongressDaily, but this piece does not serve as a great introduction to their work.

The article covers familiar ground, dealing mostly in stereotypes and the same cast of desi Democratic insiders who should be familiar to anyone who lives inside the Beltway. Toeplitz discusses three desi Democrats (two of whom are doctors, of course) running for Congress next year and their varying levels of success in fundraising. Again, nothing new here. I would be interested to know the source for this statement, however:

Although Jindal is the highest-ranking Indian-American elected to office, the community as a whole leans to the political left, as demonstrated by the trio of Democratic Congressional candidates running next year.

There's no link or reference, and it's not a quote, so I assume this is based on anecdotal evidence since I've never seen national polling or Census data on the of party identification of Indian-American registered voters. While it makes sense demographically for Indian-Americans as a whole to lean Democratic, my suspicion is that the fundraising numbers are much closer than one would initially think; many of the "Aunty and Uncle generation," as the article calls them, are professionals or entrepreneurs and lean Republican. Of course, Bobby Jindal is the only conservative name-checked; there's no mention of candidates like Nikki Haley or quotes from desi Republicans. It's almost like they don't exist!

There's also a mention of Iraq War veteran and Democrat Ashwin Madia, who lost a congressional race in Minnesota last fall. Despite his military background and raising over $2.4 million, Madia was soundly defeated in the general election. Aside from Jindal, Madia has been the most viable desi candidate for Congress in recent years thanks to his impressive military record. I was fortunate enough to meet him at a debate-watching party during the campaign last fall, but came away surprisingly underwhelmed.

The really interesting part of the article comes when we run into Maryland State House Majority leader Kumar Barve, one of the elder statesmen among desi Dems. Despite relying on them for financial and political support, Barve apparently doesn't have a very high opinion of people who look like him:

"In the Indian-American community, you have to have another person ask on your behalf in order to be successful," Barve said. "Because Indians don't want to give their money to anybody. We're cheap."

Interesting. He should tell that to the desis across the country who've been coming together as their own unofficial little PACs for years now, including those back in my hometown. Not to mention the countless Indian-Americans who donate to other worthy causes. It's worth mentioning that the Maryland desi community is hardly reflective of some universal reality for Indian-Americans. It certainly doesn't speak to my experience growing up in Southern Michigan.

If I sound a little frustrated, it's because I'm tired of reading the same old article about how "Indian" used to equal "doctor" or "engineer," but now it encompasses all these other fun and exciting possibilities, like i-banking and politics! Then again, let's be serious: a couple doctors running for Congress is hardly the desi community finding its voice. More likely a few would-be politicans realized post-Obama that race and a funny name are no longer insurmountable barriers to running for office. Now that's a topic I would be interested in reading about. But we have no quotes on that.

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