Meet Ashmi Sheth: Candidate for Congress Representing NY-10

Very rarely do we find young Asian Americans spending their 20s campaigning on the bustling streets of New York City, canvassing for the rights of citizens and historically marginalized communities. However, if you head to District 10, there is a brilliant activist and public figure, Ashmi Sheth, who announced her campaign for U.S. Congress on April 5.

I had the privilege of having several conversations with Sheth, during which she impressed me with her humility and charm, allured me with her stories and spoke to me at length with intention, passion, and conviction. 

We have spoken at length about how the history of our parents and ancestors has shaped us and our values, which is very telling in the way we communicate and display our work. Tell me a little bit of your story.

“Unlike most people around them who had arranged marriages, my parents are high school sweethearts. They fought for their love. They met in Mumbai, dated for seven years and married in California. 

They had less than $25 when they arrived [in] the US. I witnessed indescribable emotional heaviness: the culture shock, pain and trauma my parents experienced, from having significant credit card debt and repeating their education when it wasn’t internationally recognized to navigating their identities — who they are individually and where they collectively want to go. 

My brother and I are bridges of my parents. Ma is the creative and Papa is the strategic long-term planner. We are resourceful and did not take for granted free museums, public libraries, schools, colleges and neighbors who took care of us after-school. We had countless long family dinners with direct and honest conversations around what it means to be self-sufficient and how to manifest your own power in a positive way — especially for me, as someone with fibromyalgia for thirteen years. 

I have cried hard when I remember the mental toll my family has experienced, but our family story has made the four of us resilient — and that grit and empathy built the roots of my journey in public service. Few directly understand the costs of immigrating to the U.S. Our community’s oral history has not been recognized or shared widely enough. We must and will do more. 

For me, running for Congress as a Brown woman given where my family started — it feels like our wildest dreams.”

Congratulations on announcing your campaign on behalf of all young Asian Americans! How has education shaped you and your interest in public policy?

“I went to a Title 1 school, but studied hard and got accepted into a specialized public test school (was the last person selected from the wait-list). The Humanities magnet program at Poolesville changed my life as I took advanced courses in history, media, language and the arts. So much of success comes from the people you surround yourself with at an early age and every child must have the opportunity to access high-quality education no matter what neighborhood they live in. 

It began with a high school internship in county government and 500+ hours of community service in the summers. At the University of Maryland College Park, I worked on many state-level campaigns and organized hundreds of students, while graduating in 3.5 years with two degrees. I earned a Master’s in urban and economic policy from Columbia University, where I met my fiancé, Shivam. From international projects in Bangladesh, assessing how farmers could sell milk without it spoiling, to meeting policymakers in China, to working two to three jobs at a time, through it all I am a whistleblower and an organizer. I may have started early, but I want people to know that the time is now to build a movement for a cause you care about.”

[Read Related: Deepti Sharma: Small Business Owner and Community Organizer Runs for Queens City Council]

What you are doing is truly a one-in-a-million opportunity that some may struggle to muster up the time, energy and confidence to do, especially during the pandemic, where burnout and mental/physical exhaustion is at an all-time high. What is your outlook on forging your own path?

“I want people to think about what it takes to manifest your own ideas into reality. I know people in our community have done it in the past, and hope that many more do it in the future, but we need the strength and support to take the paths of more resistance. 

For me, it meant quitting my job at PwC where I was nipping corporate fraud, waste and abuse to take a $20,000 pay cut and work at a nonprofit think tank, Bipartisan Policy Center. It meant not succumbing to the apprehension of my family members who didn’t know what a think tank was but trusting my gut. There, I had direct access to Congresspeople and co-published reports on the 2008 financial crisis and how to build the small business ecosystem. It meant studying public policy and then working at a space no one in my family had taught me about — the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As I worked in these spaces, I vividly remember being tokenized at work, being usually one of the only women or women of color in the room, and having to code-switch. I also remember learning about large systems of power and how easy it is for them to leave people out. 

I am concerned that our community is not considered unified and so few of us are in politics. Our voice will not resonate in rooms of power until we put ourselves there. People my team regulated, who make millions every year, have no idea what life was like for people like my mom and dad. We cannot be okay with rising costs of tuition, inherent sexism in systems of power, immigrant experiences with poverty, lack of scholarship opportunities or lack of climate urgency. Broad-scale policy decisions that affect our quality of life cannot be made for us without us there.

I have always been a confrontational and unapologetic advocate, and I refuse to sit passively. I want to let people know that I’ve talked to thousands from our community, and I know we want to be seen. We have a rich shared history but our cultures have had little to no recognition. There are barely any museums or nationwide school holidays, and most of what I’ve seen is mostly people commenting on how good our food is. We need to do more to have a collective voice and to share our story and history.

We also have to take the ego out of success and show care to our villages (our schools, teachers) and that means, if feasible, putting our time and money where our mouth is. It means public service and giving back — not just through careers where we profit but through external expressions of solidarity. “

Tell us a bit about the campaign and the platform you are standing for.

“Running for Congress and for office takes an incredible team, thick skin, will and stamina. We talk to 200-500 people a day. The word “organizer” has so many meanings now — organizing communities to register and vote, organizing our team, organizing our comms + fundraising + field — there’s a lot. 

At its core, our campaign is based around two questions: What do you care about? What needs more attention in politics?

The entire movement has been a conversation with people, many of whom are not represented in government. So many issues have been ignored by politicians, problems that can no longer be left off of the docket. What we do is crowdsource ideas on how to make government better and that becomes the foundation of our policy platform.

We have built a campaign that advocates for the very policies written by people with the lived experiences. We spoke with therapists and mental health advocates to write Mental Healthcare for All, and bridged someone who cared with a Senate budget advisor to write Eliminate Tax Shelters. We heard from doctors who warned us about our country’s unacceptable levels of maternal mortality, especially for Black mothers and wrote Decolonize Birth Now.

I quit my job regulating big banks with the Federal Reserve because advocating for underrepresented voices is a 24/7 commitment. My partner and I sacrificed a level of stability and comfort to follow an unfamiliar path. There is always uncertainty around starting something new, but support from my village has turned that apprehension into confidence and persistence. Our first IG live was 15 minutes, our first video took hours to make and our first brief wasn’t published for a month. Those are the realities of a grassroots campaign. Now, we’ve posted over 40 different policy pieces, finish multiple videos a day and speak with people every day with pride and conviction.

We are fighting to expand financial security for working people and the middle class, to ensure transparency in systems of power, to lead a forward thinking government and to build diversity and inclusion. We won’t stop — we are a new generation of leaders.”

[Read Related: Moumita Ahmed Helped Organize Millennials for Sanders. Now She’s Running for City Council in Queens.]

What are some of your favorite things that you do “off the clock?”

“Shivam and I bike everywhere and have an annual Citibike membership — we bike in the dead of winter too when there is cold wind blowing on our faces! We would bike crosstown to Lamarca to eat homestyle Italian food — it is our favorite. 

Hanging out with people I love, and empowering people to fight for their rights are my favorite things to do — check out our Instagram!”

Support Ashmi through her website, and be sure to tune in on June 16 at 6:30 p.m. EST for BrownGirlMag x Ashmi IG Live!

By Anushree Sreedhar

Raised in Edison, NJ Anushree is an avid reader, imaginative creative writer, dramatic storyteller, obsessive shopper, experimental yogi, and a … Read more ›

Oak Creek: A Story of Hate, Hope and Healing

Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting. 

[Read Related: Oak Creek Gurdwara Massacre’s 4th Anniversary: Young Sikhs Express Optimism for the Continued Struggle Against Hate and Ignorance]

In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance event centered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.

In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships. 

Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality. SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.

[Read Related: Anti-Sikh Hate is on the Rise: Here’s What we can Do]

While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.

Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular


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By Kiran Kaur Gill

Kiran Kaur Gill is an accomplished professional with exemplary executive experience. In her role as Executive Director, she is responsible … Read more ›

Op-Ed: An Open Letter to President Biden in Light of Prime Minister Modi’s Visit to the States

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.

Dear President Biden,

As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.

Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.

Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law. 

India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Indexwhich examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi. 

Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. 

Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.

As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.

— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).