By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Following the announcement this year that Jim McDermott is retiring and vacating his seat for the 7th Congressional District in Washington state, a group of candidates quickly emerged. Two of the candidates, Pramila Jayapal and Dr. Arun Jhaveri, are members of the API community.
Pramila Jayapal is used to challenges.
She left her native India at the age of 16 to follow a lifelong family dream to attend school in the United States. Her parents used their life savings, about $5,000, according to Jayapal, to send her to Georgetown University in Washington D.C. “I was excited about coming, but also scared.”
Despite the unknown challenges, Jayapal recalls the excitement of studying in the United States. She had only two suitcases because that was what was allowed on the airlines. Her roommate had her whole family to send her off to college, whereas Jayapal was by herself, moving into the dormitories.
Jayapal reminisced about seeing snow for the first time at Georgetown. She also recalled a lot of explaining about where she came from. During her sophomore year, she made a big decision in going against the wishes of her father and choosing to major in English literature, rather than economics.
According to Jayapal, the three accepted vocations by her family were law, medicine, or working in business. A liberal arts degree was not viewed as a path to one of those three fields. Jayapal used her only phone call that school year to break the news to her father. As she recalled, she held the phone away from her ear due to her father’s displeasure that she was not following the plan. However, Jayapal let her dad know that she would still get a job in economics, but wanted to major in literature.
After college, Jayapal followed her dad’s wishes by getting a job on Wall Street, where she worked as a financial analyst at Paine Webber dealing with leveraged buyouts. She realized that this work was not for her.
“It’s just as important to do things you don’t want to do and learn from it, as to do what you want to do,” she said. “For me, being on Wall Street told me what I did not want to do.”
After Wall Street, Jayapal went to Chicago to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration at Northwestern University. While she was still unsure about her future, she met a mentor at Northwestern, who taught her how to apply business skills for social good. Instead of heading back to Wall Street or working in the financial sector, she learned about using economic development in depressed neighborhoods. She spent time in Asia working in areas of poverty.
Jayapal became a civil rights activist and served a stint in the nonprofit sector, including founding Hate Free Zone, a resource for immigrant communities after 9/11. In 2015, Jayapal won a seat in the state senate in Olympia, representing the 37th Legislative District.
“I feel like I really understand the issues related to the API community.”
Jayapal cites immigration reform as a near and dear issue that she hopes to address if elected to Congress.
“The family reunification system is completely broken,” Jayapal stated. She noted that it can take 20 to 25 years for families to reunite through the immigration process.
She also notes the need to examine the needs of individual Asian communities.
“Understanding you must desegregate the data,” explained Jayapal. “You can’t just say ‘Asians’ are doing well. We must look carefully as to where to support communities.”
Finally, Jayapal notes the need for more Asians to be involved in the process. “We, as APIs, have so much power and potential, but unfortunately, too few of us are registered and too few of us vote.”
Jayapal suggests a Federal Office of Immigrant Integration within the federal government that would focus on ESL, citizenship, and voting and participation.
If elected, Jayapal would be the first Indian American woman to be elected to Congress.
“It’s very important to me.” She would be the first South Asian American woman. She also notes that she would be one of very few foreign-born people serving in Congress.
“It is a different understanding that we bring,” noted Jayapal of foreign-born politicians.
“The underrepresentation is part and parcel that our communities of color have not had the same opportunities,” said Jayapal.
Jayapal lives with her husband in Seattle. They have a college-age son attending Wesleyan University. Her step-son lives in Colorado.
For more on Pramila Jayapal, visit pramilaforcongress.com.
Dr. Arun Jhaveri
Dr. Arun Jhaveri lives by an old adage from his grandfather. “If you have to do something by tomorrow, do it today. If you have to do something today, do it now. Do not procrastinate.”
Jhaveri announced his intent to run for Congress earlier this year. He was the first mayor of Burien when it was incorporated in 1992. He served two terms, spanning from 1992 to 1998. “We started from scratch,” Jhaveri recalled.
In a much bigger campaign, Jhaveri draws on his 40 years of experience in the private sector as a research engineer for Boeing’s 747 airplane program, his work for the U.S. Corps of Engineers, his public service as the mayor of Burien, and his time in academia as a professor.
Jhaveri says all this makes him uniquely qualified for this Congressional seat. “I’m a candidate for all people, including minorities and the people that are disenfranchised.”
Jhaveri, who is retired, also supports the sciences. His campaign slogan is “Because Science Belongs in Congress.” Jhaveri holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering Physics from the University of Washington, a Master’s Degree in Physics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a PhD in Educational Leadership from Seattle University. His doctoral thesis was entitled “Effective Leadership for Sustainable Development in the Public Sector.”
“Science, technology, and innovation should be an integral part of education,” said Jhaveri. He is proposing a new paradigm with the acronym of “ESTEEM,” which stands for Energy, Science, Technology, Engineering, Environment, and Math. “I’m adding energy and environment to the standard STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics educational programs supported by the U.S. Department of Education).”
“I think it’s important that all of our children and grandchildren … learn the interrelationship between science, technology, engineering, and math, along with energy and environment.”
Based on his wealth of experience, Jhaveri is running on a platform that would focus on three prongs: economical, environmental, and social issues. “I’ll be using those as a three-legged stool. I’ll balance all three so that they are all working in parallel with one another.”
Through his career working in senior management, he has utilized the three principles of sustainable development.
Jhaveri became interested in politics when he was a graduate student and saw John F. Kennedy (then a presidential candidate) speak at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “I was so impressed by this young senator from Massachusetts, speaking so wonderfully about the future of this country,” recalled Jhaveri. He became an idol and followed Kennedy’s career to the White House. He recalled the day that he heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination. He was working in his lab at the University of Washington and sobbed when he heard the news.
Originally from India, Jhaveri came to America to obtain his master’s degree. He is married and living in Burien. The couple has lived in the same house for the past 46 years.
They have two grown children, a son who is a pediatrician living in Seattle and a daughter who is a University of Washington professor in the School of Education, and two grandchildren.
For more on Dr. Arun Jhaveri, visit arunforcongress.com.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.