Frank F. Islam
At the Republic Day Event Hosted By NCAIA
Thank you, Devang, for that wonderful introduction. I appreciate your kind words.
I also want to thank the members of the NCAIA for your warm welcome. There is no other Indian American organization where I feel more at home than with you guys!
I have been attending or speaking at least one NCAIA event every year for the past several years. (I hope you are not tired of me!)
I want to let you know how grateful we all are to NCAIA for the great work you do in putting together Indian Independence and Republic Day events year after year. For those of us who have been away from India for decades, January 26th and August 15th are among the rare occasions we get to celebrate the great country of our birth. So thank you for organizing this event!
It is indeed an honor and privilege to be asked to speak at this Republic Day Celebration.
I have been asked to recognize the political accomplishments of the Indian American community. I will do so. I will also want to use my remarks to talk a little bit about the critical importance of political engagement
2016 was truly the Miracle Year for the Indian American community. Indian Americans made numerous strides in politics.
Personally, the November election was bitter sweet for me. Many of you probably know that I am a big supporter of Secretary Clinton and I was on her campaign’s national finance committee — a job that gave me an opportunity to traverse the lengths and breadth of the country to meet people and raise money. Sen. Clinton’s loss in November was a devastating blow for me. But, the American people have spoken through our electoral process. We should accept the result. We love our country. We will serve it; defend it; and never stop struggling. We will continue to fight for the soul of our nation. We need to redouble our efforts to reject hate and bigotry in all forms. I firmly believe that inclusive and diverse society enriches a nation and ensures all people have an equal chance to succeed. We must continue to fight for a fairer, stronger, and tolerant America. We need to stand firmly by rejecting the voices that seek to divide us or to limit our civil rights. We need to all stand together. We are stronger together. And, together, we can help shape a better future.
Despite the outcome of Presidential election, however, November 2016 also brought great joy for me because of the substantial gains made by Indian American candidates in the congressional elections. In the course of one election cycle, we saw our community’s representation increase by 500 percent. 500 percent! Can you believe that?
For the first time, we have an Indian American senator in Sen. Kamala Harris from California. Sen. Harris is a rising star in American politics. She is a real talent. I am certain that you agree with me that she will scale many more heights now that she is on the national stage.
We also saw Dr. Ami Bera from California returning to Washington for his third term, along with four new members: Ro Khanna from California, Washington State’s Pramila Jaypal and Illinois’ Raja Krishnamoorthi.
It was a proud moment for all of us when all these fantastic five members were sworn in as members of US Congress.
What it means is we, finally, have several seats at the table!
I know all of the five members will stand and fight for: protecting the rights of minorities, improving the lives of working families, and inclusive economic growth. They will be strong advocate of taking US-India relationship to the next height.
The 3.3 million Indian Americans, who consist of 1 percent of the US populations, have, at long last, representation that is proportionate to our population.
We are one of the very few minority ethnic groups in the United States that have representation commensurate with their numbers.
The Indian American community also is going to have a significant representation in the current administration. President Trump has already picked two Indian Americans for key administration positions. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, another real talent, is going to be our next UN Ambassador. Another high profile nomination Trump made was Seema Verma who will run the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services. We can expect the President to pick more Indian Americans for important posts in the coming weeks.
Friends, the size of our congressional delegation quintupled overnight—but our success didn’t come overnight. It’s the culmination of years of hard work by tens of thousands of people like you who realized the importance of political participation beginning at the grassroots level.
Recognizing this, my first Republic Day message to you is this:
While celebrating success today, we must not forget the work carried by the great men and women who paved the way for this generation to succeed.
I want to single out two such figures: Bhagat Singh Thind and Dalip Singh Saund.
Bhagat Singh Thind came to this country more than a hundred years ago as a student. He served in the US Army. He fought to become a US citizen, which was granted to him twice before it was rescinded.
Thind’s legal battle for US citizenship lasted 18 years.
Similarly, Congressman Saund was a true trailblazer. He became a member of Congress in 1957, when the size of the community was a few thousands nationwide. Saund was also the first Asian American member of Congress.
So we owe our success to the efforts of pioneers and courageous leaders like Thind and Saund.
We also must thank all great Americans who fought for the political rights of minorities in this country. America would not have been as diverse as is today without the efforts of leaders such Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., President Kennedy, President Johnson and President Obama.
Having gained electoral success, we must not rest on laurels. That’s my second message to you.
We must redouble our efforts to maintain and increase our participation in the political process, starting with local politics.
Here I would like to highlight the success the community had in Maryland, my state. Indian Americans have been doing consistently well in Maryland, with the likes of Delegates Kumar Barve and Aruna Miller being in the statehouse for a number of years. In fact, Delegate Barve has been serving in the statehouse for a quarter century. His name should also be right up there along with pioneering political leaders such as Congressman Saund.
It is critical for us to be politically engaged not only as Indian Americans but also as responsible citizens of this country. I firmly believe engaging in political activities create a common cause and a unified people. All of us should be involved in political activities in order to ensure that we continue to build a more perfect union and develop a country in a way that benefits the many as opposed to the fewer.
Political engagement is one form of civic engagement that we should invest ourselves in to make our society and this nation a better place. Political engagement is especially important because it can provide the lever for progress in other forms of engagement. President John F. Kennedy stated, “In a democracy, every citizen regardless of his interest in politics, holds office; every one of us is in a position of responsibility; and in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends on how we fulfill those responsibilities.”
President Dwight Eisenhower put it this way, “Politics out to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.
That’s a Democrat speaking and a Republican speaking. While political engagement can be partisan in nature, the act of political engagement itself is bipartisan.
That is why in conclusion, I urge all of you to stay politically engaged and take your political participation and activism to the next level.
The stage is ours. The time is now. That is why, as we gather at this India Republic Day Dinner to celebrate the results of 2016, I ask that we join together to declare that “we have only just begun”
In closing, let me say: we need to step up, speak up, and speak out on civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, and minority rights. We need to keep fighting the good fight as Hillary Clinton reminded us to “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can”. Secretary Clinton in a tweet on Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants from certain countries said: This is not who we are. I agree with her and let me also add this ban is shameful, wrong, divisive, and unconstitutional.
Thank you. And God bless all of you and this nation that we call home!