How has Kamala Harris helped Indian Americans in politics?

In a sign of the group’s growing sway, more Indian Americans than ever are running for Congress.

In the last six years, nearly 80 candidates made it on the ballot, soaring far beyond numbers seen in past elections. Leading the wave are successful candidates from California, like Kamala Harris, who rose from a Senate seat to become vice president.

Thanks to a long-standing immigration pipeline to the U.S., Indian Americans have become one of the country’s fastest growing ethnic groups. Their numbers have increased five times over since the 1990s and make up 1.3% of the U.S. population.

No state has more than California, which is home to more than 800,000 people of Indian descent. Voters in the state have elected four Indian Americans to the U.S. House and Senate, more than all other states combined.

Unlike other Asian groups that are mostly concentrated on the West Coast, Indian Americans have increasingly spread out across the country. As their numbers grow, their political power is strengthening and more Indians are appearing on the ballot in the Midwest and the South.

Top 10 U.S. metro areas by Indian American Population

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Top 10 U.S. metro areas by Indian American Population

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Top 10 U.S. metro areas

by Indian American Population

“We have roots in almost every part of this country,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat elected to represent parts of the Bay Area in 2016.

Khanna, a son of immigrants who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, said Indians can be found all across the country in part due to professionals in medicine, education and technology moving to areas where their skills are in high demand.

The result is that many Indian Americans live in swing states where their vote may be vital in a closely contested election. Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College, points to races like last year’s crucial elections in Georgia, where President Biden and two Democratic Senate candidates narrowly won. High turnout in the Atlanta area was key to the victory. The area is home to more than 125,000 Indian Americans who lean Democratic and Sadhwani says contributed to the party’s victory.

There are many Indian Americans across the country, including in states that flipped from Trump to Biden in 2020.

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Population by

Metropolitan area

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Population by

Metropolitan area

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Population by

Metropolitan area

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Population by

Metropolitan area

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Population by

Metropolitan area

A second generation inspired to step up

Former President Obama was key to advancing the careers of Khanna and fellow California Rep. Ami Bera, an Indian American who represents parts of Sacramento.

Both were inspired to change careers and run for Congress after Obama became the first person of color elected president.

Bera, a practicing physician, said a desire to join Obama in reforming the healthcare system led him to seek office. It wasn’t until he was elected, he said, that he realized he would be the only Indian American in the House and committed to helping others with a similar background get elected.

That would require convincing other Indian American professionals to consider a career change to get involved in politics.

“This isn’t about becoming an engineer or a doctor,” said Bera. “It’s also about how can you get to the table. And how can we bring the values of our communities into this broader conversation.”

Bera and Khanna are both second-generation Indian Americans raised by parents who immigrated to the country. Many Indian American candidates come from a similar background. That includes Vice President Kamala Harris, who grew up in Oakland with a Jamaican father and mother who was born in Chennai, India.

Khanna said his parents’ immigrant generation was mostly focused on settling in and making a life in the States, which led many of them to avoid rocking the boat and getting into politics.

Due to their parents’ success, many second generation Indian Americans now find themselves with some advantages.

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Asian American median annual income in U.S.

U.S. median income ($68,703)

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Asian American median

annual income in U.S.

U.S. median income

($68,703)

Indian American wealth is a pool of money that can be tapped by political campaigns. Khanna credited the Indian and South Asian communities with generously offering to donate. After he lost his two bids for Congress, a strong South Asian base helped him on his third try.

Early in the 2020 presidential campaign, Indian American donors, many of them eager to support Kamala Harris’ bid, gave more than $3 million to primary hopefuls. That haul surpassed the vaunted Hollywood donor class.

Expect this trend to continue

Organizers are now striving to build on recent successes. The Indian American Impact Fund in Philadelphia, is an example.

The group’s annual budget has jumped from $300,000 to $15 million in just two years, said Executive Director Neil Makhija.

Makhija aims to use the money to mobilize voters and help candidates get elected at the state and local level, which could groom the next generation of national politicians.

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Most Asian sub-groups have only a few members in the House of Representatives…

Amount if the House was reflective of the U.S. population

Number of representatives

… some have more members in the House than their U.S. population would suggest.

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Most Asian sub-groups have only a few members

in the House of Representatives…

Amount if the House was reflective of the U.S. population

Number of representatives

… some have more members in the House than their

U.S. population would suggest.

Your alt text here

Most Asian sub-groups have only a few members in the House of Representatives…

Amount if the House was reflective of the U.S. population

Number of representatives

… some have more members in the House than their U.S. population would suggest.

In 2020, 35 South Asian candidates ran for state office nationwide, more than double four years prior. Forty-six first-time South Asian candidates are already expected to run for similar offices in 2022, according to data compiled by the group.

One example is Janani Ramachandran, who is seeking a California State Assembly seat representing parts of Oakland and other nearby cities.

If Ramachandran wins a run-off election in August, she would become the first South Asian woman elected to the state assembly, as well as the first LGBTQ woman from any Asian group.

Ramachandran said she was inspired by the way Harris incorporated her Tamil heritage into her campaign.

“There was that moment where Kamala Harris talked about her ‘Chitti,’ and I started tearing [up],” said Ramachandran. “She’s from Oakland too, and to have a Tamil woman from the Bay Area be on this national platform speaking our language was just a real moment.”