The First Indian-American Woman Elected to the House of Representatives
Indian-American women have done so much on a global scale, but we're so happy to finally see one in the House of Representatives. Meet Pramila Jayapal, the force behind the state of Washington's 7th congressional district—endorsed by Bernie Sanders himself. Born in the Indian city of Chennai, she's also the first Asian-American to represent Washington in Congress and was even recognized as a "Champion of Change" by the White House in 2013.
Jayapal was raised between Indonesia and Singapore and came to the United States at sixteen to attend college (yes, you read that right—sixteen) . She holds a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University and an MBA from Northwestern University, and began her activism career by founding the Hate Free Zone (now known as OneAmerica). OneAmerica is an advocacy group for immigrants founded after the September 11th attacks—together they registered new American citizens to vote and lobbied on immigration reform. One of their greatest accomplishments was successfully suing the Bush Administration's Immigration and Naturalization Services to prevent the deportation of over 4,000 Somalis across the country. In 2008,
Continuing her activist work into a political spectrum, Jayapal negotiated Seattle's $15 minimum wage and helped in the unanimous selection of Seattle's first woman police chief. In 2014, she ran for the State Senate and won the primary with more than 51% of the vote—then she continued to win the election in November 2014.
In the State Senate, Jayapal has made great strides for women—from administering a pre-apprenticeship program targeting women and people of color to co-sponsoring a bill to test and track thousands of police department rape kits. Lucky for us, just over a year ago she announced her candidacy for Congress and won the election in November 2016 with 56% of the vote.
Seeing an Indian-American woman in this position is so important, especially right now. For so many young Indian women, their role models have typically come from very specific areas—most notably professions in law and medicine. While these positions are wonderful, Jayapal represents a new kind of role model—a political figure for these girls to look up to. The more we do as women of color, the more spaces we provide role models, the more younger generations can develop and grow. We don't know what Pramila Jayapal is up to next, but we know we'll be behind her every step of the way.