Kamala Harris says more Indian American representation is needed in government

Addressing a crowd of Indian Americans this week, Vice President Kamala Harris asserted the importance of South Asians running for office, saying there’s not nearly enough compared to the group’s size in the U.S.

Indian Americans are now the most populous “Asian-alone” group in the country, surpassing Chinese Americans in September. This means 4.4 million people identified themselves as “Indian-alone” — or 100% Indian — on the 2020 U.S. Census, marking a 55% increase over the course of a decade.

Despite that, there are just five Indian American members of Congress out of 535. Harris called on that to change in remarks Wednesday at the nonprofit organization Indian American Impact’s annual summit “Desis Decide” in Washington, D.C.

“Over the years, we’ve had so much more participation by Indian Americans in the electoral process running for office,” Harris said. “But the numbers are still not reflective of the size of the growing population.”

She encouraged the group to participate in any way possible and to regard this upcoming election as vital to their lives. Sixty-eight percent of Indian Americans lean toward the Democratic Party, making them one of the most progressive Asian American groups.

Experts say that Indian Americans are a demographic politicians can’t ignore this election season, as they have the potential to be the deciding vote in some of the regions where they’re concentrated. But despite the vice president’s appeal to South Asians at the event, the community is looking at both her and President Joe Biden with a critical eye. Many have mixed feelings.

Biden’s presidential approval rating has dropped among AAPI communities, Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and executive director of AAPI Data, told NBC News last month. Among Indian American voters, Biden has 43% approval.

Harris’ approval rating among Indian voters dropped from 62% in 2022 to 56% in 2023.

Kamala Harris speaks  next to a sign that reads

Kamala Harris speaks next to a sign that reads

The progressive organization Hindus for Human Rights staged a walkout during Harris’ speech at the Desis Decide summit in protest of the Biden administration’s handling of Israel’s war in Gaza.

“Our tradition of speaking out against injustice is part of a long and proud political movement inspired by figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who used their faith as a foundation for social and political activism,” the group said in a news release. “Just as they fought for the rights and dignity of all people, we too fight against the ongoing genocide in Gaza and elsewhere.”

It’s an issue that’s important to young South Asian voters this cycle, some of whom say they’re questioning whether to vote Democratic for the first time in their lives.

“Our walkout was a direct expression of our conviction and pain over these issues. We believe it is our moral duty to hold government officials accountable, no matter the platform,” Hindus for Human Rights said.

During her speech at the summit, Harris emphasized the importance of expressing desires for change at the polls.

“This election coming up in six months, I think, is presenting a question to each of us,” she said. “What kind of world do we want to live in and what kind of country do we want to live in? And one of the ways that we answer that question is to seek office and to participate in elections knowing that the outcome of those elections matter in fundamental ways.”

Though Indian Americans still don’t see themselves represented prominently in government, Harris assured them change was coming; she cited herself as evidence of that.

“You are going to find yourself invariably in rooms where you are the only one who looks like you, the only one who has had your life experience,” she said. “You must know that you are not alone. There is so much that we still have to do as a country. And a lot of the work that we each do, which is why we are here together, is born out of a belief in the promise of America. And dare I say that, I am empirical evidence of the promise of America.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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