When Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) was a little girl, her father always told her that she’d be a good businesswoman. “So that’s what I came into the world thinking, that I was going to go into the business world and make my mark there,” Jayapal told Elle magazine. But when she went to college, she started to focus more and more on how she could do something that was going to make the world better and that led her down the activist path.
“It was a little bit of a slow burn because I did start out on Wall Street and it took some time to realize that really wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she told the magazine. She went to graduate school, and in between her two years of business school, she went to work in Thailand along the borders between Laos and Cambodia, doing economic development.
Growing up in the matrilineal state of Kerala, Jayapal said she’s always seen women as being “very powerful.”
Jayapal was featured in the magazine as part of its series strong and talented women. The 51-year-old is the first Indian-American woman to serve in the House of Representatives, elected from Washington State where she was previously a state senator. Before she ran for office, she was the executive director of OneAmerica, an immigrant and civil rights-oriented advocacy organization she founded to respond to a wave of violent attacks on Sikhs and Muslims post-9/11.
Calling herself a doer, not a complainer, Jayapl said she wanted to run for public office because of her need to fix things that are wrong. She says her journey to the Senate has been a lonely ride. “When you’re in the state legislature and you’re the only woman of color, you can form friendships. But a lot of the times you have to learn to process what’s going on, what you do and don’t say – and you have learn to process them on your own because there just aren’t always a lot of people who really share your experience,” she said, adding “I’ve found that there are so many amazing people who want to support you and want to make a difference.”
Talking about sexism, Jayapal said she has always felt and seen sexism, because she’s often one of few women in a room. “But during this last campaign, I think I felt it the most strongly,” she told the magazine.
On Immigration, a hot topic currently, Jayapal said she believes that immigration is not about immigration, it is about who we want to be as a country and what we’re willing to stand up for. “We have to show what we’re willing to stand up for,” she said, adding that she challenge whatever comes out and that she is looking not only at Congress but to the public. “We have to win in the court of public opinion,” she said. “Trump wants to take us backward, but the reality is that the majority of the American people do understand that we are a nation of immigrants. We have always valued that and held it up as one of the reasons that America is great. We have to continue to fight for that, and I don’t think there’s anyone who’s better to do that than I am,” she said.