Soniya Gokhale, the founder of A Desi Woman Podcast

A Bipartisan Interview / Indian American women shaping US politics

Season 1
Season 1
A Bipartisan Interview / Indian American women shaping US politics


[00:00:39] Welcome back to another episode of A Desi Woman podcast. I am your host. Soniya Gokhale. And the voices I am seeking may have never been heard before, but their stories deserve to be told. What is a Desi Woman? She’s a dynamic, fearless and strong woman. She’s your mother, your grandmother, your daughter, your sister. She is every one of us who’s on an endless pursuit of self empowerment and fulfillment. I am Soniya Gokhale and I am a A Desi woman. [00:00:39][0.0]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:00:41] Welcome to a very special edition of the A Desi Woman podcast. I am your host. Sonia Gokhale and I’m ecstatic to present a first of its kind bipartisan conversation with some truly amazing Indian American women. [00:00:56][15.7]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:00:57] My guests this evening are a tremendous example of the influence and impact that Indian American women are having on the U.S. political scene while they are all immigrants from India. There are also currently elected officials, past candidates and even current candidates who have taken time out of their grueling campaign schedules to participate in this groundbreaking dialog that is inclusive of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Republican candidate Manga Anantatmula is joining us tonight. She is vying for a spot in Virginia’s 11th Congressional District and has worked for various federal governmental agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. Please welcome Nima Kulkarni. In 2018, Nima became the first Indian American immigrant to be elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. She serves on the Judiciary, Economic Development and Licensing and Occupations committees and was the only woman appointed to the Public Assistance Reform Task Force. Nima has been an immigration attorney for over a decade and is a member of the Kentucky, Georgia and Louisville Bar Associations. We are also joined by Srilekha Palle, who is a Republican leader and former district candidate in Fairfax County, Virginia. Finally, we are joined by Usha Reddi. Usha currently serves as the mayor and city commissioner for the city of Manhattan, Kansas. She was first elected in 2013 and again for a second term in 2017. She is the first Indian American to serve as a mayor in Kansas. She is also the first immigrant and the first woman of color to serve on the Manhattan City Commission. Before we move on to some questions for our esteemed panelists, I would like to offer that it is my belief that the first female president of the United States could easily be an Indian American woman and that we will continue to proliferate the political landscape of this country at the local, state and federal level. Whether it is Senator Kamala Devi Harris, Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, Haley, one of my panelists or another well deserving Indian American woman from the domestic political scene, it is clear that not only are we impassioned about issues that face our country and its constituents, but also as a diaspora with deep ties to India, we truly value the United States. Its democratic principles and even the concept of the proverbial American dream. However, make no mistake. It is a daunting endeavor to contemplate going from being a private citizen to a very public political candidate and elected official, even more so as an immigrant to this country. Yet all four of my guests this evening, a woman who embody this exact phenomenon. My first question is for you, Nima What made you consider unturn the field of political candidacy and activism? And along those lines, what have been the biggest challenges and surprises that you have faced when you embarked on this path? [00:04:30][212.2]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:04:30] So the first thing I would say in terms of me running for office is that I was always interested in policy because of my background as an immigration attorney. Immigration is a very policy driven area of law and it’s very, very changeable based on the political mood of the moment and the administration that’s in power. And so I’ve been sort of attuned to that for many years. And in 2016, we had a shift. You know, we haven’t always been the most immigrant friendly nation in. Our history that there was a real abrupt shift in the tone of how we were treating immigrants who are ultimately the majority of the population growth, the majority of the labor growth. And, you know, the numbers don’t lie. But we were treating these folks as something other. And I think at some point in my mind, I thought I could do a lot more good for the people of Kentucky and for the immigrants in Kentucky and for the economy of Kentucky. If I ran for office and actually had some decision making power in the policies that were implemented on a state level. So that is essentially what prompted me to run was I was seeing policies being enacted and talked about on a national level sort of coming down to a state level. And they were not policies that I felt were beneficial to the Commonwealth that I am sworn to serve. [00:05:58][88.0]

Nima Kulkarni: [00:05:59] Excellent. Excellent. Thank you. Manga, same question for you. What made you consider entering the field of political candidacy in what is undoubtedly a Democratic bastion of constituents? [00:06:15][15.6]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:06:17] I. Got into politics by accident. [00:06:21][3.9]

Manga: [00:06:22] And prior to getting into politics, I became an Hindu activist by accident again, and then I became an equal and equal opportunity education activist again by accident. It’s all but driven by some incidences that have happened around me that make me this activist. And I’ve been doing this for five long years. And I’ve created an army of Hindu activists, an army of for equal education activists, the Hindu people that are being discriminated in Ivy League schools. That’s what motivated me to take up the second part of my activism. And when I first started doing it with an organization called Asian-American Correlation for Education, nobody believed. But I’m still the one and only when I started I was the only Indian and I’m still the only Indian who is actively involved in that fight. And now what’s happening in almost every state. Just not at the country level in the universities. It’s also happening in the high school levels and the magnet schools in the states. So you go away. I mean, our fight has been continuing all the five years. And last fall we have had a very high success rate of 25 percent more admissions into Ivy League schools for Asian students and the Indian students. [00:07:58][96.0]

Manga: [00:07:59] So that is directly the result of our activism and the lawsuit and everything. So now the whole world knows about us and our activism, and now we are engaging with the politics and also with the Department of Education so that there are more than one reason now for me to get into politics and screaming from outside probably did not. [00:08:24][25.1]

Manga: [00:08:24] It does a lot of help. So I decided to become one server so that I can be a change that I want to bring change about. Be a good legislator. We have a commonsense legislation that helps and improves quality of education. And that’s where I came from. And that’s where they think I’m heading to. And I think I have a great chance of winning. And I’m not giving up the fight. I know, as you say, it’s densely Democratic state. But then my opponent is the most hated lawmaker and he has passed zero bills in the last twelve years. [00:09:05][40.6]

Manga: [00:09:05] What kind of a congressperson or congresswoman or a man will not pass a single bill in four years? So he is the most hated. [00:09:14][8.6]

Manga: [00:09:15] And I think the change that people are looking for. There you go. I mean, these are, I think, good enough reasons for me to be here. And I’m also a real fighter. I believe in cause. And I go for. Doing it and just getting things done. I mean, getting these things done is the most important thing that we needed a certain level which people have gotten in the last four years. So I think time to get back to work. [00:09:42][26.9]

Manga: [00:09:42] Roll up our sleeves and start working for people. [00:09:46][3.3]

Manga: [00:09:47] Excellent. Excellent. Thank you. And the same question for you is Srilekha. [00:09:51][4.6]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:09:52] So thank you, Sonia. That’s a great question. I always say that it was a very gradual process for me. I don’t think that I came to United States about two decades back. You don’t walk into United States as an immigrant wanting to get into political life. [00:10:09][16.5]

Srilekha Palle: [00:10:10] You walk into United States wanting to make a better living for yourself. It was surely a gradual process. I’m a healthcare professional by background. I was always passionate about their idea of health care conditions, like anything that has to do with chronic disease, mental health, health equity or public health and international health and so on and so forth. So while I was kind of working on public policy, I got involved with an organization called Swordfights as Outpatient Public Health Association, as a vice president of the organization. It is a premier organization that was dedicated to addressing public health issues, impacting basically patients in the United States. So during my association with that organization, I took upon myself to promote the health and well-being of siltation communities through interactions among health professionals and shared resources, focusing on research, education, communication and advocacy. That’s where my advocacy passion began. So while I started doing a lot of advocacy and activism and vocalizing concerns and leading issues related to salvations, in my early part of my career here in the United States, I was also very passionate about Indian Americans and being a Hindu American. I was naturally inclined to Hindu American causes as well. So I became a term president for our temple in the Northern Virginia area while serving the temple. I did come across several political candidates and working with several political candidates and was advocating for community issues, especially with the with regards to senior citizens in our temples. Worked with a lot of youth clubs, very focused on educational advocacy and so on and so forth. So while I was doing all of that, I presumed I was a Democrat. Like, most of the immigrants are Democrats. But they did come a moment where I had to walk away from the Democratic Party. [00:12:05][115.3]

Srilekha Palle: [00:12:06] And that was and then I had to embrace Republican Party values wholeheartedly for several years. I’ve been active in the Republican Party supporting Republican values, lower taxes, free market capitalism, obviously increasing malem military spending, deregulations that all have been part and parcel of my life right now. So I’m going back to I said that’s how my political process have become again. Advocacy is how I started. Now I’m pretty much I kind of live and breathe there, being in part of political goals and trying to help Republican candidates like Manga, like many other congressional candidates in Northern Virginia area and Virginia in general. [00:12:48][41.8]

Srilekha Palle: [00:12:49] Going back to your second question, asking, why do you think? I believe you also asked a question saying that what was what was the most surprising thing during this process? I think one of the thing that surprised me the most and biggest challenge that I thought was how little immigrants understood about local politics, like school board, role of school board, member, school of board of supervisor members. [00:13:13][23.8]

Srilekha Palle: [00:13:13] I think if I had to kind of talk to immigrants, I think I would like to tell the immigrants that as much as presidential elections are important and the role and responsibilities of those federal politicians are important, but local politics and school board and board of supervisor roles and responsibilities are equally important. And I think that’s what surprised me the most during my entire process. Being in politics, best far wonderful. [00:13:41][27.4]

Srilekha Palle: [00:13:42] Thank you so much. And finally, Usha Reddi [00:13:44][2.7]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:13:46] The same question to you. [00:13:47][1.0]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:13:50] Thank you, Soniya. And thanks for getting all of us together. I think one of the things I enjoy about this particular podcast is that you have four woman immigrants from India that are involved in politics. [00:14:02][12.5]

Usha Reddi: [00:14:03] And to me, I never saw myself running for politics anywhere. And I’m not sure I would have had the same chance if I was still living in India. So I’ve been here in the United States for close to forty seven years. I live in Manhattan, Kansas, currently. [00:14:17][13.9]

Usha Reddi: [00:14:18] I graduated from Ohio State University, but I was a stay at home mom for a long time for close to 19 years of my life, and was doing odd jobs here and there. [00:14:27][9.1]

Usha Reddi: [00:14:28] Once I started volunteering in schools, I decided to go back, get my teaching degree and got more involved and became teachers union leader president at the time. And I realized at that point the policies that the Board of Education makes or has so much impact on our staff and faculty, our families and our children. [00:14:49][21.1]

Usha Reddi: [00:14:50] And that was not I was not always on board with those policies. And there was this reluctance within the community. I didn’t know the word union had a negative connotation. So I built a relationship with our radio, local radio station. [00:15:04][13.6]

Usha Reddi: [00:15:04] And every other week I would go on the radio and tell parents for one minute what they can do to improve their child by their special needs, math, whatever it is, and built that trust and broke the union label as a bad thing. [00:15:17][13.0]

Usha Reddi: [00:15:17] And now they were looking forward to hearing my voice, because ultimately we want our future generation, our children, to be the leaders and we want them to be competent leaders in our community. And within that relationship, I ran for State Board of Education and ultimately ran for the city commission. And I feel there needs to be representation at the table and being a school teacher and also an immigrant and a woman. There are so many policies that are currently made by with one gender and one lens. There’s definitely our community is much more than just male. Why? It’s not that they’re doing a bad job, but there’s so much more to our community than than that. So I think my voice mattered and I was able to convince enough constituents to vote. And I think I’ve made a difference by also putting people in positions on advisory boards and making empowering them as the next bench of people to make policies. [00:16:13][55.9]

Usha Reddi: [00:16:14] And this falls with all types of backgrounds, whether they’re whether it’s a single mom trying to raise two children and holding an hourly job, whether it could be senior citizen who may not have health insurance, but they need lots of medical care right now, nursing homes, daycare centers, college tuition loans that all of the students have to take just to make ends meet. So there is a vast array of policies that needed a different perspective and more conversations to have. And I think I enjoy the position. I mean, and I’m very proud to be in those positions. If you invite others to run for office, oftentimes they’ll say yes or they will look they will think about it. Most often most people are not asked to run. So you just have the same old folks running for the same positions. And I think that’s where I see my role as a leader, is to make sure to bring other people on board that have different perspectives and want to make change for the better in our communities. And fortunately, Manhattan, Kansas has been good to me and my children. And the challenges are, you know, I’m a Democrat and a Republican state. So I welcome that community nature and the humanity of Kansans that have elected me. But at the same time, I do know that racism is there and sexism and sexism is there. But policies need to be discussed. And I think that’s sometimes convincing others that we have a problem. Some people don’t see a problem and you can’t find solutions unless you get people on the same page as talking points and what we need to get done in the community. And I think, you know, just the cadre of women that you have on your podcast, we’re all just doers. You know, we don’t make excuses. We just try to get things done the best way possible and pretty resilient folks. I think that’s that’s one of the virtues that I, I treasure about being a political leader and making sure we do what we can for our community. [00:18:07][112.4]

Usha Reddi: [00:18:09] Wonderful. Thank you. And I cannot underscore enough how proud this conversation makes me to be an Indian American woman. I have an 18 year old daughter, and I could only hope that I could have role models such as yourselves who are actively engaged in the political process in this country and immigrants no less! And so my next question is, how do we get the next generation of Indian women or those of all ages to be more engaged and participatory in local, state and federal political issues in an age? Unprecedented divisiveness. This is one of the few joint sessions that I am seeing that I wanted to present to listeners everywhere. [00:18:58][49.6]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:18:59] And I don’t find it especially unusual, but it’s a group of Indian American women because I have great confidence in what we can do. Our country of India has an incredible amount of diversity in religious aspects, socio-political, you name it. And so I think all of you are a great example of what can and should occur in this country. [00:19:24][24.3]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:19:24] And so I’ll start with you, Nima. You’re an amazing representative for younger generations. What are you perceiving as barriers to their greater engagement and participation in this country and the political process? [00:19:36][11.6]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:19:37] So I think it helps us to remember just what an unprecedented year this has been. It’s an election year. It’s a very divided election year. We are hearing nothing but noise and rhetoric from both sides. [00:19:53][15.8]

Nima Kulkarni: [00:19:53] And I think one of the things that I’m so proud of to be here tonight with these women is with Usha, Srilekha, with Manga is that, you know, the passion for a cause, for an issue for a community is why we’re all here. And that is something that I have found is resonating more and more with the younger people, whether they’re immigrants or not. They’re not concerned about a party, about an ideology, about any set of values that you’re trying to. Teach them about, I think, at least from my primary, I just went through a primary where I essentially beat the same person that I had to get this seat back in twenty eighteen who had been in there for 20 plus years. So this is an individual who is there without a single primary challenge. And when I ran, we had four people running against him in the primary. So clearly the time had come. And it’s the same kind of mentality here where in where young people are not interested in what you want to teach them. They are passionate about issues like climate change. They’re passionate about issues like debt relief. For their education loans, their ability to buy a home, which we all may take for granted, but they are not able to do climate change is a real thing for them. And I have all of these issues. I think that’s what they want to hear from us about. They don’t care if I’m a Democrat. I was grilled. I was grilled during the primary by young people who were like, sure, you’re a Democrat, but what do you think about climate change? What do you think about debt relief? What do you think about all of the racial tension that’s going on right now in Louisville or around the country in the wake of a lot of these police shootings and policing reform initiatives that have been implemented? That’s what they want to hear, hear about, at least for me. And I’m talking about Kentucky, which is not at all a blue state. I live in Louisville. I represent a district in Louisville, which is a blue dot in a very red ocean. And I think part of that is because I’m able to articulate issues and solutions for what they want to hear. And that’s true not only of the younger generation, but increasingly it’s true of my older constituents as well. So I think all across the board, what we are seeing is an actual imperative need to engage people on a level that they can understand because they don’t care anymore about the rhetoric. They don’t care anymore about the divisiveness. They want solutions. And they want to know that we understand and that we’re listening to their problems. And that is what I’m focusing on. That’s what I’m encouraging all of our Democratic candidates to focus on. And increasingly, with a Republican majority in the legislature, that’s what I’m seeing from our Republican colleagues as well. So I’m hopeful that we can engage the younger generation and maintain the electorate from an older generation because we are changing the way that we look at politics to put people above party, to put people of rhetoric and make sure that we’re serving the constituents who elected us in the first place. [00:23:30][216.8]

Nima Kulkarni: [00:23:32] It’s an amazing response. I really appreciate that. [00:23:34][2.7]

Nima Kulkarni: [00:23:35] And Manga for you who are working hard on the campaign trail. What are you doing to reach out to younger voters and constituents? [00:23:44][9.9]

Manga: [00:23:48] It’s always difficult during the times of Bandari to reach out to more people. I try to reach out via Facebook or Twitter are my small windows, but I, I agree a lot with what Nima just said. The younger generation really do not care which party you are, but although there are people who are already set in their mind that they would just want to be Democrats. But more and more, I see that people are leaning toward party inclination. Our party, our party son came off thinking, but I think, ah, probably because she is now Nima is in a Republican state and city. That’s the difference. And here where I am, it’s mostly a heavily democratic city county. So in it, it’s a different story around here. So it’s more of a partizan kind of thinking are not a sensible, viable solution. Kind of. Because now the political environment is so heated up and so partizan that rhetoric is just I think is out there and new candidates like myself don’t get to put our views out there. How many people can you actually reach during the time of pandemic if you just simply go and can go out and you you have to make a name for yourself? But we still I think I do agree that we need to reach out to the younger population that are really ready to take better solutions rather than cookie cutter kind of solutions that I think we have always been throwing at them. I think we have come to a boiling point and they have come to a boiling point and definitely their. Debt for education is one of the biggest things that they really do care about, because that’s a big challenge for anybody who is graduating from college and going into the real world working. And by then, they will have accumulated so much debt. What are we doing to help them? So they have a legitimate question. So what I would do, I always reach out to younger generations and say is, OK, what are your problems? We need to we every time I get an opportunity, even if I find somebody walking on the road, I stopped my car, get out of the car and go talk to them. I mean, that’s how I’m trying to reach out to younger generations, talking to them in person. What is it that matters to you most in this election? Would your debt relief be more appropriate solution for you at this point of time and for everybody? Yes, that is for some it is none of it. They’re all on different spectrums. Not everybody is a college grad to worry about debt relief for education because 60 percent of the younger generation are not college grads. So how are we going to. [00:27:09][201.4]

Manga: [00:27:10] What is it that’s important for this group of our set of youngsters and young adults that is important for them? So that that is also another big question, why we are not making attempts to satisfy the needs of people who are on. Not college grads. Yeah. Debt relief is theirs, but then are we promoting small businesses? The moment I say I’m here to promote small businesses. Their eyes get bigger and I get their attention. So we eat. There are different ways of getting their attention. And you have to just simply ask them directly, what are we doing for you? What can I doing? What can I do for you? How can I be more useful as your congresswoman? [00:28:05][55.1]

Manga: [00:28:06] And would I have a chance if this is what I’m offering for you? What I tried to get attention from the younger generation, especially the high schoolers, as even though they are not ready to ward, some of them are getting ready to ward off. So I tell them what, expanding education be a good and better choice for you. My idea of expanding education for high schoolers is skill based training. Why are we only focusing on specialized schools of for STEM? [00:28:43][36.5]

Manga: [00:28:44] Why not for other skilled training? Because not everybody is going to focus on college education. [00:28:52][8.3]

[00:28:54] I don’t want to leave behind anybody, any high schooler thinking that they are not worth it because if they are not able to go to college, that’s where I come from. And that’s where my philosophy is taking best education to school, not outside the school. I know B. being coming from an Indian background and for Asians. We spent a lot of money on our children’s education. We paid for their tuition. We take enormous time to take them for tutoring classes outside of the school. But then that’s not the same for everybody. He’ll get offered. So these are the solutions that I’m trying to take, and when I get out of the car and talk to them, they really get excited about hearing these solutions. So I think that’s the approach I’m taking. [00:29:45][51.5]

Manga: [00:29:46] I mean, one on one, they need to they need to feel that you are really a genuine person. You are just not throwing something at them just for the sake of winning the election. [00:29:59][13.0]

Manga: [00:30:00] Excellent. Thank you so much for that. And then moving on to you, Usha. I know that Manhattan is home to a very large university and curious to hear what your thoughts are on this topic. [00:30:10][10.1]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:30:12] Yeah, I think, you know, Manhattan is a university town and we also have a military base near us. [00:30:19][6.3]

Usha Reddi: [00:30:19] I think one of the things I noticed being a school teacher, my as well as raising three children and living in a community, a university community within my own campaign, the platform for young folks is very different. And so social media is a big part of their life. But I will say, you know, when I think of me being in office even now, it’s because so many woman came before me. So somewhere somewhere along the line, somebody intrigued me enough to take a risk on politics. And I think it didn’t seem like a risk so much as an adventure. And I think that that’s what I when I when I say earlier, I said I try to put people on boards, invite them to these discussions, which are they may not typically be invited. And I do that across the board for high school students and college students, making myself accessible and approachable. So if I come in contact with anybody these days, Veoh, Zoom or any other place, I’m on so many Zoome meetings these days. I usually just put out my cell phone number and my email address and let them know to contact me. And they often do. So once you create that relationship with that, with our young folks, college students and high school students and also, you know, a young man and woman in their 20s and 30s who are just trying to figure out what they want to do at a different level, because some of them are just in the survival phase of, you know, working, coming home, making their meals and moving on with the next day. But at some point, they want to be involved in other decision discussions. So they always need to keep that door open, making sure you’re inviting all of them. So whenever you’re having a meeting or something. I try to put it on Facebook and Twitter about things that are going on in the community, things that I think they might be interested in, and not just focus on one one demographic or one age group or anything like that. So if I if there’s something that’s going on at the university, I tried to put it out on social media platforms. If it’s a high school, if it’s in our community. And that’s how they get to know my name and figure out, oh, she’s the mayor. And now if they have a problem, whether it’s with their rental housing or whether it’s a pothole or whatever it might be, they know that they can just email me. And oftentimes I respond back. And that’s the other part of the relationship building. You can’t it just can’t be one way. You have to respond back. And sometimes they may not like your response, but they need to they will respect you knowing that you took time to respect their email and respond to them instead of a generic one or sending it by a administrative assistant of some kind. So I think these are the ways that a lot of Indian young folks have reached out to me when I was doing my campaign. And even if they don’t reach out, it’s just having this. Oh, wow. You know, there’s another Indian woman running for office or there’s a woman or there’s, you know, somebody who is a teacher who’s running. So you they feel some something they can relate to and you have to give that to them. And that makes it easier when they want to do things and getting their voice heard. So many people, like I said, are just in their daily life that they don’t even think about it. And oftentimes the four of us or the five of us chose a party, you know, because we are all immigrants oftentimes in the United States, they’re born into a party, kind of like you’re born into a religion. So most kids that I’ve noticed don’t even think if they’re a Democrat or Republican, they just vote the way mom and dad did, because that’s all they know if they vote at all. So there is still this voter apathy out there as well. But they are more into justice. They’re more into what is right and wrong. They don’t like to play games. They’re very loud and they want to be heard and they like challenges. And like I said, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, all of those are their platforms. And they do care about health care and they are very reasonable and passionate people about the economy and about their own well-being. [00:34:16][236.6]

Usha Reddi: [00:34:17] And we have a lot of good future leaders among us right now. And I think they’re just they just need a seat at the table and we need to give them that seat regardless of how it looks. And just knowing that you are accessible matters to them and they’re watching you and they’re watching your words. So you never know what the media is going to put out about you. So you always have to be sensitive to who you are sending that message to because people are listening to how you represent and they and you want to be the leader they want to follow instead of descript being resprout, disgraceful or disrespectful. So I think that’s that’s the lead I take as a teacher. That’s the lead I’ve taken is teaching my first grade students and as the mother and now as an elected official. So I try to lead by example and pull them in into the conversation. [00:35:05][47.8]

Usha Reddi: [00:35:06] Well, thank you so much for that response. And then moving on to Srilekha your perspective on this topic. [00:35:11][4.8]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:35:14] So, Sonia, I think you were doing the podcast itself tells us that you do value this generation, right, the younger generation, because they do listen to a podcast and this is one medium for us to reach out to them. [00:35:26][12.1]

Srilekha Palle: [00:35:26] So I appreciate the fact that you value that generation. I do have an 18 year old entirely at all. And so I hear that interactions. I hear their friends interactions. I drive them all over the town because they’re both our sports kids. So I’m constantly hearing what they speak. And I usually tell my friends’ friends and any of the people that I come across that. Do not underestimate our younger generation that much smarter than we think and give them credit for their thought processes. I feel that generational differences have long been a long been a factor in U.S. politics, no doubt about that. And these divisions are now as wide as they have been in decades, as we can see the potential to shape politics well into the future at this point. So what I do urge, though, I do urge older generation to take young people that are that involved in politics are not to order that just waters more seriously is what I would urge because they have power to create change may be small wave compared to world leaders, but their passion for change is vast, like an ocean. And I say that because I ran for the board of supervisor position. I’ve been in these schools. I’ve been in their football stadiums, giving them my pamphlets, talking to those kids and then to their civil civic engagement classes. Talk to them about my campaign. So I understand that they and they their talks may be small, but their passion is like an ocean and they’ll do wonders. They’re very smart. They’re very engaged, very motivated, very process oriented. But I think one thing that still continues to disheartened me about this younger generation, especially when it comes to universities, is how liberal universities have gotten. Right. Like, I was just talking to our young ladies in the call right before the podcast is that I’m completely OK. Whichever side of the aisle we are in. But as long as that is a balancing notion. So when we talk about any universities or schools, I think there should be a discussion about conservative talk. There should be a discussion about liberal arts. So if any younger generation is listening to this, I think they should have an opportunity to hear a conservative speaker in the university. They should also have a liberal speak about it so they can make their minds up. But now, just kind of coming to the younger generation, I believe Nima spoke about this. I think what millennials and Gen Zs are very strongly supportive of. They support issues such as greater racial justice. Inclusion is what they care about. They care about more favorable treatment of immigrants. They want to do the right things. They definitely care about it. Environmental protection and effective gun control. Hence, I think putting these policies, their support, such as measures, should definitely be the priority list for any any politician that that is out there. So we do have a lot of folks that are running out there. So that’s that’s some of the things that I usually say. Think about what the younger generation is really looking forward to and put their priorities as part of your policies at this point. I think millennials just want to do something with their life other than just earning a living. I think going out those days where people just want to sit and make a living, they want to do something more. If you look at the history, I mean, almost even though 70 percent of Americans voted for Clinton, only 30 percent voted for Trump. But I think Americans clearly felt that both candidates did not really discuss societal and economic issues that specifically affected that group. And that has to change. And that has to change now in order to ensure that we are engaging our younger generation moving forward. And I think that with proper engagement and with the enthusiasm they have and with all the initiatives, somebody like a great May or like Usha is doing to engage them. I think we have a bright future. We just really need to engage them positively and keep them motivated. [00:39:29][243.5]

Srilekha Palle: [00:39:32] Wonderful. Thank you so much. And, you know, I’m coming to my last question here, our time together has really gone by way too quickly. My last question I’ve got to end on a very optimistic note, if at all possible. What are your hopes and dreams that you have about the path forward, not only for your own personal political campaigns? [00:39:51][18.9]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:39:52] Some of you are in the trenches of that right now, but just in general, with the upcoming elections and at all levels. And I’ll start with you, Nima. [00:40:00][8.8]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:40:01] So, I mean, one of the things that makes me very, very optimistic is this podcast. I’ll just throw it out there. Thank you, Sonia. Thank you. Usha. Thank you, Srilekha. And thank you Manga so much for being so involved and engaged in this topic. I think, you know, I tend to view everything that I say and I do through this lens of immigration, because not only because I’m an immigrant myself, I’m an immigration attorney and I know the history of immigration in this country and immigrants built America. We chose to come here. We came here to do work to actually literally sometimes build America. We were brought over for labor. I think it’s important to understand that context, because my hope is that we bring that same mentality of immigrants getting things done, which I think I’ve even seen on a T-shirt, getting things done on a political level, because what we’re seeing now, we’re all immigrants, right, on this on this podcast. But the next generation have grown up here, born here. Grown up here. And I think what we need to make sure they understand is their history, not just the history of their family, but the history of this country as it relates to the immigration of their family, because that will put into context how important their engagement is and their involvement is in this next step, which is always political. That’s always the next step, is how you get into the hierarchy of power, how you get into the halls of power, how you find your way to a seat at the big table. And I am incredibly hopeful just because of conversations like this. I’m hopeful that we can get away from talking points. I’m hopeful we can get away from rhetoric, because the point is, as immigrants, we are all bound together and we should all recognize a common thread and we should all work together to get ourselves a seat at that table. And I’m hopeful that that will happen. It happened in Kentucky. It will. It’s happened in Kansas. It’s going to happen in Virginia. And I am I’m rooting for a Manga. I’m rooting for Srilekha Usha. It is not about party. It is not about party. It is not about politics. It’s about what are you going to do to make your community better. And I think that has got to be the message that we send to everybody that’s listening to this podcast. Everybody that’s our constituent, everybody that we’re looking at as a potential voter and as a potential engaged citizen. I think that this is a good first step. But the main thing is making sure that we recognize how important it is for us to become politically engaged, politically organized, as a bloc, as a voting bloc, as a political bloc, as a civically engaged and informed bloc of people. That is the next step in this country’s evolution, in my view. And I’m very, very excited to see the next chapter. [00:43:22][201.2]

Nima Kulkarni: [00:43:24] Those might be some of the most inspiring words that I’ve heard. That is just amazing. And I couldn’t agree with you more. Manga. [00:43:30][6.1]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:43:31] Moving on to you. Same question. What makes you optimistic? What are you looking forward to? [00:43:37][5.9]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:43:39] Well, as immigrants, this is land of immigrants. Nobody can refute that. We immigrants have come here. We have contributed to the economy, the skills and everything. All the best things. If you see a 360 view of our contributions, we’d illegal. We aren’t and we give it back in form of taxes very diligently. And we are we we keep out of trouble with the law. So we we are one of the best citizens this country can ever have as immigrants. We do contribute tremendously to the growth of this country. But where I think we lack as immigrants and the patriotism level, we are not displaying the best bet to autism that this country would like to see in immigrants. I mean, my my son was 17 year old I when he joined college in me right after he had within four few months, he came home and went on to the Ts, joined in ROTC because he wanted to become a U.S. Navy officer. And that is just simply never heard of from the Indian community. My son was the first U.S. Navy officer who was commissioned. It was never heard of. And the entire community was very upset with our son’s decision. And as parents, our decision to let our son go. This is not about choosing somebody choosing at military as a profession. It’s also about something that displays our patriotism. It’s about giving back to this country. Any time I hear Americans say what immigrants lack is they don’t look at us as patriots because we are not taxes. Yeah, all of us pay. But what is it that we want to give back to this country as our new home? They think that we lack and little bit of loyalty because we always talk about our motherland that we come from. [00:45:55][136.7]

Manga: [00:45:56] And, oh, we never want to give it in the form of becoming part of military family. [00:46:02][6.9]

Manga: [00:46:03] I mean, I’m I’m very proud of what my son has become is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. And I think that part of it, we need to really start telling our children. It’s it’s one of the most honorable thing to do to engage with the military, with the veterans and to be part of the military community and serve in the military. [00:46:26][23.4]

Manga: [00:46:27] And that rest comes automatic. [00:46:31][3.4]

Manga: [00:46:31] The leadership comes automatic. If you are in the military, the acceptance in the military comes very, very easily. I mean, why are we an idea? Definitely. The ultimately politics is the place to go for your own representation, for your wise to be heard. Definitely. I would say we must. But even as our immigrants, who has come here 30 years, 40 years, have a long time ago. We still tend to have that gender differences in our community. I think that should start little bit of smoothing things off. Everyone wants to raise their daughter ready, independent and be very vocal about hard choices. But when it comes to another women being successful, we don’t we as women leaders don’t get as much help and improvization from the community, from men and becoming really involved. And our children are watching us, regardless whether they are saying anything or not. They are watching whether women candidates are being really supported by the community men. So how are we going to change the perception of our children, how they’re saving our men? So we need to start engaging in these kind of discussions also to start changing the thinking among our male folks. Also for our next generation to become true leaders and acceptable leaders that everybody pitches in. To help that candidate, regardless of whether that’s a girl or a boy or a man, a young young woman or a young man, that’s how it’s supposed to be. That is truly equality and equal opportunity and respect. I think we need to work on that side of the house being immigrants. [00:48:33][121.5]

Manga: [00:48:34] We need to be more cognitive of how we are engaging and treating women. [00:48:40][5.7]

Manga: [00:48:41] Excellent. Thank you so much. And I got to move on to Srilekha same question for you. What are your hopes and dreams? What are you looking forward to, not only in the upcoming elections, but in general on the political landscape? [00:48:51][10.2]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:48:52] Gives me a lot of hope for that. They put that country or a party. They put out community, immigrant community or party lines. And that’s what makes me feel so hopeful about this entire process. [00:49:05][13.0]

Srilekha Palle: [00:49:07] So along the same lines, I also would like to say that we hope we can put voters first by fostering a more present day do on functional Godman to the bigger picture that I am. So one thing that kind of still stuck by me recently when I was hearing to Jodrell and Schill there, Tulsi Gabbard was part of the show, although she is a Democrat. Listen to her a lot because I think she’s a fairly sensible person. So she she she kind of said set an example about her as a freshman congressman. Mangement, she entered into into into the legislator house. [00:49:44][36.6]

Srilekha Palle: [00:49:45] She was given an orientation and during orientation, she was given a handbook. And after the handbook, both the Republicans and Democrats got the same orientation as it is. The orientation was done. Democrats went on to one side of the aisle and Republicans went on to one side of the aisle. And then they had a separate orientation where it was basically said that anything that Republicans would for Democrats have to tone down regardless of what it is and vice versa. [00:50:13][28.4]

Srilekha Palle: [00:50:14] Right. So, I mean, that’s obviously not a very hopeful thing. But I think what gave me hope after listening to that is somebody as young as Tulsi Gabbard, who is in her 30s, is willing to speak up and said that’s wrong. So it is very freshening to me to see a progressive Democrats stand up and say, you know what, that is happening currently in political war. That is wrong. And I do not want to see that happen. So it gives me immense hope that if many more younger politicians come out and say that is wrong, that should not happen. If a policy that’s coming out of Republican side of thing is right. Whether they’re Republican or Democrats, we need to support that or vice versa is what gave me then I had hope. Believe it or not, it just made my day. So I think just kind of the thought process that there are politicians out there that are willing to put their country first step makes me feel good. [00:51:12][58.8]

Srilekha Palle: [00:51:13] There are people like you all that are willing to put communities and immigrants forward. Makes me feel very, very hopeful. And I hope that we will have some sensible immigration reform along with border security. And I’m also hoping that with all the vaccines coming out, I work as a health care professional. I have been tiredly working with Corbitt patients from March day in and day out. So I’m finally trying to understand that there is a vaccine going to be out. So we are going to get some respite out of it. That makes me feel very hopeful about the entire situation. So once not but though it is over, no matter how it goes. Hopefully we all will kind of reconcile our differences and we move forward as a bright country that peace and prosperity. That’s my closing statements. And then you’re asking about DOE. What do I feel most hopeful about? [00:52:06][53.7]

Srilekha Palle: [00:52:07] Deb, thank you for that. [00:52:08][1.6]

Srilekha Palle: [00:52:10] And finally, rounding the session are Usha. Same question to you. [00:52:14][4.0]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:52:14] Yeah. Thank you, Sonia. You know, I think I once again, I’m I’m thrilled to be with all four of you here this evening. There is this idea of the model minority when it comes to Indians or Asians. [00:52:26][11.4]

Usha Reddi: [00:52:27] And I think as as a woman and an immigrant and Indian, I, I don’t see myself as part of that, even though I am an elected office. [00:52:36][8.8]

Usha Reddi: [00:52:36] I think, you know, not only am I all of the identities I just mentioned, but I’m also divorced. [00:52:42][5.3]

Usha Reddi: [00:52:42] And I also had a horrible childhood. [00:52:43][1.2]

Usha Reddi: [00:52:45] And I graduated with a one point nine out of high school and I got kicked out of college and I had to reapply to get back in. And, you know, I’m a divorced person and I had three children. And then I remarried and I married a Catholic man and. And there is lots of life experiences that most Indians may not have had, and that’s atypical. So I and but I embrace it. And for a long time, I didn’t embrace it. I kind of was in denial and pretended to be the Indian that everybody wanted me to be. And once I got past that and found my identity and found my voice. Things were so much better not only for myself, but my children. So now my children look up to me as a hero. And in an odd sense, I mean, being a city commissioner gives me five hundred dollars a month. So certainly it’s not the money and the. I think what they see is perseverance, resilience and doing things in your life because it’s your life. [00:53:49][64.0]

Usha Reddi: [00:53:50] And I think that’s that’s what I want to leave for my children and the people around me and anybody that comes towards me and wants to be a part of the process or be part of anything, whether it’s they’re trying to find a job or whether they have a job and they want to move on to the next level or if they want to plan a trip somewhere or go into politics or go into something else. You know, I know it’s possible and it’s only possible in the United States of America. That’s the other opportunity that I will never, ever forget. [00:54:21][31.6]

Usha Reddi: [00:54:22] I think these same opportunities I was given in the United States would not have been there for me. I’m sure my life would have been over right after a divorce or several of those things I just mentioned to you earlier. [00:54:33][10.6]

Usha Reddi: [00:54:35] So this is the land of hope, the land of opportunity, and the fact that you can be anything you want to be, literally be anything you want to be at any age and no matter what your sexual identity is or your gender is or your political affiliation or your financial background. [00:54:51][16.5]

Usha Reddi: [00:54:52] And I think that’s what I see when I look at my children. [00:54:54][2.0]

Usha Reddi: [00:54:55] So within my own three children, I have two physicians and one that’s in New York that’s into politics of his own. But you and I, I’m I’m a Hindu. But my kids, you know, they chose one as a Hindu. One is an atheist and one is agnostic. [00:55:09][13.8]

Usha Reddi: [00:55:10] And and I want them to look in the mirror and be the person they want to be, not the person they think that mom wants them to be or the person they think their dad wants them to be or the person they think the society wants them to be. And that’s a gift. And I think that’s the gift I would like to pass on to the people I come across, regardless of who they might be. And that’s a very sincere and genuine. And I think the United States, right after November 3rd, after that election is over, regardless of who the winner is. Life goes on. And in most countries or other countries that I know of. It’s not so, you know, people do have assassinations and chaos breaks out among them in their communities. And. And the beauty of being here is that life goes on and everybody still moves forward. And we will still disagree and we will have discourse and we will be angry. But it’s still somehow I’d rather be here than anywhere else. And that’s because the hope of not only my generation, but the next generation that’s about to come before me and and the peace that comes with being here. So I think that’s that that I have a lot of hope for. For the United States and for the people that live here and the life that we have. [00:56:26][76.5]

Usha Reddi: [00:56:27] So that’s my take on hope. [00:56:29][1.3]

Usha Reddi: [00:56:30] Thank you so much. [00:56:31][0.8]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:56:32] And in closing, I was inspired to put this podcast episode together because I was extremely frustrated with the divisiveness that I was witnessing across all aspects of society, but especially as it pertains to politics and issues related to social injustice, within 48 hours of making that decision to do something to impact change. I was able to reach out to each one of these women crossing party lines. And not only did they respond to me enthusiastically, but in a very short amount of time, we were on a call together to discuss this episode and possible related topics. [00:57:13][40.8]

Soniya Gokhale: [00:57:14] So to our listening audience, never give up on the idea that we can listen to one another. We can engage in civil dialog about topics that are important to us. And I would suggest this is just the began some groundbreaking dialog. And I cannot wait to bring these amazing women together again. Thank you very much for joining us for another edition of a A Desi woman podcast. [00:57:14][0.0]


Leave a Comment