Updated: Apr 19, 2022
By Srijana Dhakwa
As many did, I watched in shock as the results of the presidential election rolled in on November 3, 2016. The disbelief was absolute. As the reality sunk in, I began reevaluating my place here in this country.
Am I an intruder?
Am I an economic opportunist?
What am I in this “great experiment” in democracy called America?
I had always been civically engaged. As a young girl growing up in a Catholic school in Nepal and active in Jesuit programs after school, I had been given a sense of responsibility for the welfare of others. I always thought that I would express that through political engagement in Nepal. But the country was in the grip of autocratic royal rule and I did not come from a political family.
The pursuit of academic challenge and career freedom brought me to California. In spite of having all the trappings of an American, I always felt that I was a foreigner in a foreign land. Years passed and I became a US citizen, yet my feeling of being a foreigner in a foreign land remained. It was strange. I had graduated from a good school, held a job, owned a house, drove around the country, knew how to live within the system but felt that I was not part of the system.
Nevertheless, I became a huge admirer of American ideals. In Nepal, popular uprising toppled absolute monarchy. I was very hopeful. During those times, I became a keen student of American Independence. I read the biographies of the Founding Fathers and watched every PBS documentary related to the era. The brilliance of those men captured by imagination. The fact that a ragtag bunch of rebels were able to create a democracy in the era of kings and emperors that sustained through centuries was mind boggling. In Nepal, the independence movement spiraled into civil war. I wondered how American democracy would have proceeded if George Washington had agreed to be king. As things got worse in Nepal, the Founding Fathers of this nation became giants of men in my mind for what they were able to achieve. I was ready to belong to the American democratic experiment.
But when I started going to political party meetings, I didn’t see anyone like me involved. I was just a naïve brown foreigner with an accent—an uncommon specimen in the scene of American political activism. I struggled to accept myself and to be accepted. My political activism at best was disjointed.
Then I heard about They See Blue. I started joining their calls; I heard about registering uncles and aunties to vote and I could relate. For the first time, I felt at home in the political landscape of my adopted country. I could take part in American democracy without feeling like an outsider.
The country now is at the cusp of change. Soon the people who are not of white European ancestry will be the majority. This country was founded on the principle that “all men are created equal.” During the time of the Founders, “all men” meant white Europeans. The rest were the enslaved and the colonized. The continuing struggle since the country’s founding has been to include “the rest” in the American ideals of equality. And this struggle continues. As we, the South Asians partake in America, perfecting the country’s ideals, also becomes our struggle. Starting from the ballot boxes, and through the halls of legislature and nations’ court houses, our efforts become part of the fabric of the American experience.
They See Blue provides us, the people of South Asian descent, a platform to be active in this democratic experiment without having to feel alien in our adopted homeland. We can be ourselves—with all our weddings, masala dishes, saris and bangles, latest Bollywood gossip and fashion, extended families, myriads of family gatherings, and cultural celebrations—and still feel at home participating in the great American democracy. Our lives as immigrants from South Asia can come full circle.