“Happy New Year! We’re ready! #Hoboken#NextMayor#StartStrong” tweeted Hoboken, N.J.’s new Mayor Ravinder Bhalla the morning of Jan. 1, when he was sworn in to lead the trendy neighbor of the Big Apple, just across the Hudson. Bhalla signed his first executive order at City Hall designating Hoboken as a “Fair and Welcoming City,” gave a rousing speech to some 700 people, and recalled how far the state had come from the “Dot Busters” attacks of 1987
“What a long way we’ve come,” he said. “This past election was a model of diversity showcasing for New Jersey and America a city that cares less about who you love, where you came from, what your gender is, where you worship than they care about your ability to take on the challenges ahead for our city,” Bhalla is quoted saying to the crowd, nj.com reported.
The first Sikh and first Indian-American elected Mayor of Hoboken, Bhalla has caught the national imagination as a symbol of diversity in America at a time when many are concerned about a toxic divided nation.
His inauguration Jan. 1 is setting the trend for 2018, which is expected to be a pivotal year in politics and Indian Americans are looking forward to it.
The new year will see more Indian-Americans running for political office, including Connecticut State Assemblyman Prasad Srinivasan, a Republican, who is asking for GOP to support his run for Governor; and Democrat Dita Bhargava, who has a degree in electrical engineer, was a Wall Street trader, and is vice-chair of the Connecticut State Democratic Party, hopes her party will back her run for the same office.
With Gov. Murphy at the helm in New Jersey, Indian-Americans are hoping to get more appointments to important positions. Already the first cabinet appointment he announced was that of is New Jersey’s first Attorney General of Indian descent Gurbir Grewal.
The year 2017 proved to be a bonanza for Indian-Americans in the Tri-state area as several of them were catapulted to positions of power up and down the political ladder.
The Nov. 7 election results in New Jersey were a bell-weather of the state of Indian-American politics New Jersey and the country, considering that this state has the largest concentration of Indian-Americans in the country, and the Tri-state region is among the few in the country that boasts a large concentration of the community. Successes in New Jersey went down-ballot from the governor to township councils, in what could spell a breakthrough in voter mobilization, and effective campaigning.
For decades Indian-Americans have hankered after political power and activists have constantly emphasized the need to engage the system. “My dream came true. We brought each and every Indian American to the polls,” Ritesh Shah,co-founder of the South Asian Registration Initiative, told News India Times, after the first Indian-American, Vin Gopal was elected to the New Jersey state Senate, another first for the community. Gopal, representing the 11th District, goes into the upper chamber Jan. 11. His focus has been pensions, education funding, and government waste, according to a Newsmax interview Dec. 14.
Grewal would take office if confirmed following his nomination by New Jersey’s incoming governor Phil Murphy, who heavily courted the Indian-American community. Incumbent Democratic N.J. Assemblyman Raj Mukherji was re-elected.
Some of the other winners included Shanti Narra being re-elected to the North Brunswick City Council; Sadaf Jaffer, an Indian-American woman, won her race for the Montgomery City Council; Sangeeta Doshi was seated in the Cherry Hill Township Council in New Jersey. Rutgers senior Mussab Ali won a tight race for a seat on the Jersey City school board.
Other notable events, though certainly not exhaustive, included Preet Bharara, the U.S.
Attorney for Manhattan being kicked out of office by President Trump early in the year. Almost reveling in his ouster, Bharara turned it into a cause celebre snagging not just an exclusive podcast “Stay Tuned With Preet,” but also becoming a regular on CNN.
In March, Jenifer Rajkumar, a former Democratic Leader in Lower Manhattan, became New York State’s director of immigration affairs and special counsel for the New York Department of State in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
From religion to social services, and youth action to education, Indian-American organizations are poised to build on their leadership positions in their spheres in the Tri-state area. From the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple to social service organizations like Chhaya Community Development Corporation based in Jackson Heights, N.Y.; South Asian Youth Action of Elmhurst, N.Y.; South Asian Council for Social Services (SACSS) based in Flushing, N.Y., these organizations are making a change.
The youth organization SAYA, announced the launch of its monthly giving program: 21 for 21, in 2018, which celebrates SAYA’s over two decades of service. During 2017, SAYA said it had encouraged more than 1,000 youth to belong, grow and thrive. “From STEM courses to campus visits, youth from elementary school through college had the opportunity to explore their interests, discover their passions and achieve their goals,” the organization which is led by Indian-American Rasika Reddy, said on its website.
Seniors organizations around the tri-state area grown to help the increasing number of older Indian-Americans; and women’s organizations like Sakhi and Manavi have continued their work. These non-profit groups have become established over the years and gained standing as well as sometimes state government support.
Chhaya helped hundreds of South Asians with housing, loans, immigration issueis including new legislation, renters rights, family safety (hate crimes, Islamophobia, xenophobia), and how the new tax plan could impact individuals and families’ financial well-being.
The SACSS will continue with its successful South Asian Pantry, offering ethnic-specific foods like pulses and spices, to help those in need, including seniors and those with disabilities. It’s pantry was featured in the New York Times. Created in 2000, the organization helps individuals and families in the areas of healthcare access, senior services, other benefits and civic engagement. It provides basic and advanced English and computer classes. All its programs are free and those availing of the programs, are helped by staff who speak Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kannada.
Be Jersey Strong, a New Jersey non-profit, founded and led by Aakash Shah, that trains volunteers from campuses across the state to connect with eligible, but uninsured individuals for healthcare coverage, was honored Dec. 7, in the state Assembly.
Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, drew admiration for introducing at least 10,000 girls to coding through after-school and summer programs. She also rejected an invitation from the White House to discuss a computer-science education initiative that Ivanka Trump, advisor to the President, was spearheading. “She wanted the organization I founded, Girls Who Code, to join,” Saujani revealed in a September oped in The New York Times. After a Trump administration ruling barring Syrian refugees to come in, Saujani decided to stay away from it.
Entrepreneur Anu Duggal, who started Female Founders Fund or F Cubed, was recognized in InStyle magazine’s list of Badass Women in 2017. F Cubed has helped more than 30 women procure investor funding to start their own tech companies, raised more than $400 million in venture capital over 3 years. Companies she helped now employ more than 600 people across the New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles areas, InStyle reported.
New Jersey teenager Indrani Das, won the top prize of $250,000 in the Regeneron Science Talent Search competition for her research on treating brain injury and disease.
Among Other Achievements
By no means were the achievements of Indian-Americans in the tri-state area restricted to politics. Comedian, author, and filmmaker Aziz Ansari’s received some Golden Globe nominations for his segments in Master of None; New York Times books editor Radhika Jones was appointed editor-in-chief Vanity Fair, the celebrity-driven fashion and culture magazine; Broadway production designer Neil Patel was critically acclaimed for bringing to life “Time and the Conways,” a 1937 “drawing room” play written by J.B. Priestley.
As he year wore on, U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, a Columbia University professor, appeared to be on his way out after years of service to the organization.
At the Glamour magazine Women of the Year Summit gala in mid-November in Brooklyn, the first Barbie in a hijab, named after U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhhammad, was released, much acclaimed by Muslims and non-Muslims in the Tri-state, and the country.