By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK, 9 March 2023 (IDN) — When Nina Davuluri became the first Indian American woman to be crowned Miss America back in September 2013, she virtually re-wrote history
The victory at the beauty pageant—traditionally considered the intellectual birthright of white and Black Americans—came amidst the achievements of a rising generation of Indian Americans in political, academic and social life in the United States.
After her crowning, a Hollywood comedian joked: “We took this country from the American Indians—but the Indian Americans are taking the country from us.”
But indigenous American Indians, also called Native Americans, were the original inhabitants of the US, with a long history of being discriminated against, ostracized, neglected and confined to “reservations”.
According to the Foundation for Economic Education, Native Americans are the most regulated demographic in the United States and not coincidentally the most impoverished.
In Hollywood Westerns, set mostly in the Wild West era, hundreds of American Indians were slaughtered on-screen—justifying the massacre on the outrageous ethnic slur that “the only good injun is a dead injun.”
But I digress.
According to a report on National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in the aftermath of the Miss America pageant, Davuluri’s win was followed by a raging controversy as some criticized her ethnicity, ignorantly accusing her of being “a terrorist and labeling her an Arab” (while her parents were Hindu immigrants from India).
“Miss America right now or Miss Al Qaeda?” one viewer tweeted. Another: “I swear I’m not racist but this is America.”
At a press conference, Davuluri reportedly shrugged off the backlash: “I have to rise above that,” she said. “I always viewed myself as first and foremost an American.”
And more recently there has been a significant change in attitudes and platitudes as Indian Americans have successfully climbed the ladder of political and social success—admirably.
Currently, holding one of the highest political offices in the country is US Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother was Indian American and father a Jamaican American: Donald Harris and Shyamala Gopalan.
Besides being an Indian American, Harris is also the first African American and first Asian American US vice president.
Last month, Nikki Haley, a former US Ambassador to the UN, declared her candidacy for the US presidency for the upcoming national elections in 2024.
She is a former Governor of South Carolina—and her parents are of Indian ancestry: Ajit Singh Randhawa and Raj Kaur Randhawa.
A second Indian American—Vivek Ramaswamy—has also announced his candidacy for the US presidency.
Last month, US President Joe Biden nominated Ajay Banga, a former President of MasterCard, to be the next President of the World Bank.
In a statement announcing the nomination, Biden said: “Ajay is uniquely equipped to lead the World Bank at this critical moment in history. He has spent more than three decades building and managing successful, global companies that create jobs and bring investment to developing economies, and guiding organizations through periods of fundamental change.”
“He has a proven track record managing people and systems, and partnering with global leaders around the world to deliver results.”
Banga was recipient of several awards and honors, including the Foreign Policy Association Medal in 2012, the Padma Shri Award by the President of India in 2016, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the Business Council for International Understanding’s Global Leadership Award in 2019, and the Distinguished Friends of Singapore Public Service Star in 2021, according to a White House statement released February 23.
When Joe Biden took office as US President in January 2021, some of his early appointments included over 50 Indians to key leadership positions prompting the president to jokingly remark that Indian Americans are taking over the country.
A Press Trust of India (PTI) report said that in less than 50 days of his presidency, Biden appointed at least 55 Indian Americans, later estimated at 130 plus, to key leadership positions in his administration and to almost every wing of the government.
In a front-page report titled “Indian Americans are a Rising Force in Politics”, the New York Times said February 27 that the US Congress last month sworn in five Indian Americans, with nearly 50 in state legislatures. In a legislature known for its political caucuses, the Indians call themselves the “Samosa Caucus”.
The Times pointed out that the relative wealth of Indian immigrants and high education levels have propelled a rapid political assent for the second and third generation of Indians.
In 2016, Bobby Jindal, a former governor of Louisiana, was the first Indian American to run for the US presidency.
In a speech in 2015, Jindal is quoted as saying: “My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans, not Indian Americans”.
Meanwhile, in the American corporate world, where chief executives (CEOs) keep constantly changing, scores of Indians hold some of the highest offices, including Sunder Pichai of Google, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Shantanu Narayen of Adobe, Vivek Lall of General Atomics, Punit Renjen of Deloitte and Raj Subramaniam of FedEx.” [IDN-InDepthNews]
Image: Miss America, Nina Davuluri, at the International Alliance for the Prevention of Aids benefit dinner. CC BY 2.0
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