SATYAGRAH SOULS is a monthly political series presented by Bay Area’s community leader Rishi Kumar in highlighting the community involvement and success of role-model Indian Americans. This series seeks to inspire each of us in giving back to our local community. Indian Americans are going through a transitional evolution while getting entrenched in a new world, exerting zealous work ethics, supporting the American economy as entrepreneurs, high tech geeks, doctors, lawyers and more.
We are definitely imposing the positive intentions and good citizen values upon this fantastic country. But can our involvement run a bit deeper with issues near and dear to our hearts, within our local city with the local public school that our children attend? Do we sometimes hear your conscience imploring us, “Am I doing enough?”. Yes we can get involved just a bit more, push our comfort zone and enhance the learning and involvement.
Our involvement can simply start with developing a healthy curiosity in our local community, instead of being ‘busy’ bystanders. Once we get involved, we will quickly discover, how easy it is for us to make change happen and how receptive everyone around is to leverage our skills for the betterment. There are leaders waiting to be discovered, why not take that first step? More importantly, how freeing and energizing the experience is; personally rewarding and transformative at the same time.
There are many who have made their mark in doing just that. With this monthly series, we want to highlight these SatyAgrah souls who are showing us the path. Here is a SatyaGrah soul, who has found the calling:
Congressman Ami Bera represents California’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. A first-generation American born and raised in California, Bera is guided by a desire to serve his community. He attended California’s public schools from grammar school through medical school, earning both his B.S. and M.D. from the University of California, Irvine.
He credits much of his success to his country’s investment in him, and he’s working to ensure that we continue to invest in hard working Americans to keep the American Dream alive for the next generation. Bera is a physician with over 20 years of experience in the medical field, and he uses the skills he learned as a doctor to listen to the people of Sacramento County and to put their interests first. His top priority is to build an economy that works for the middle class by working with his colleagues regardless of party.
A proponent for strengthening United States’ strategic and trading relationship with India and Asia, Bera is co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman Bera is the only Indian American currently serving in Congress. He resides in Elk Grove with his wife Janine, who is also a medical doctor, and their daughter Sydra.
Community candidates incredibly qualified; need encouragement
Congressman Bera, how does it feel to be the only Indian American currently in Congress?
It’s a privilege to serve my friends and neighbors from Sacramento County in Congress. We’ve been able to help many people to navigate the federal government – our office has resolved over 6,000 constituent cases since 2013 and returned over $3 million to the taxpayers. I’ve also made it a priority to work with other representatives from both sides of the aisle that don’t have a lot in common with me on paper. But we’ve tackled many problems that face working families of all stripes. Congress has a lot of problems, but making a point to work with my colleagues on common ground has been successful in many ways.
As a community, what else can we do to get more Indian Americans elected to office? When you ran in 2012, there were 14 Indian Americans running for Congress. Only 1 made it through – you.
I’m humbled by the support of my supporters every day – they’re the reason I’m in office now. We had hundreds of grassroots supporters who got out and knocked on doors and made phone calls on my behalf, and we were able to beat my opponent despite millions in outside money spent against me. I feel very fortunate to have that support, and I work to earn their support every day by delivering results for Sacramento County.
What was your calling? From a medical professional to a congressional run? How did that come about?
I grew up instilled with strong values: work hard, get a good education, and help other people by giving back to the community. I also credit the great education I received in public schools in California, from grammar school through college and medical school at University of California, Irvine. I was able to put myself through medical school, working part-time, taking advantage of federally-funded student loans, so I was fortunate to graduate with less than $10,000 in debt.
I’m thankful for my country’s investment in me and my education, and I’m working to ensure that we continue to invest in hard working Americans to keep the American Dream alive for the next generation.
During my medical career, I’ve worked to make care more affordable and accessible for people seeking quality treatment. I was able to put my medical experience to work for my community by serving Sacramento County as chief medical officer. I worked to reduce the cost of health care, create jobs, and deliver care to tens of thousands of my neighbors in Sacramento County.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work as a clinical professor of medicine and associate dean for admissions and outreach at University of California, Davis, where I taught the next generation of doctors. I also helped the University’s student-run clinics find innovative ways to engage with the community and deliver care to those who needed it most. That experience prepared me well to serve my constituents as their representative in Congress.
What are some of the core challenges you are seeking to solve for your district?
My district is facing challenges that middle class families are facing throughout the country. They’re hard working families with both parents going off to work every day to make a better life for their family, but many feel like they’re just not getting ahead like they should. We need to fix that. If you work hard and want to get a good education in America, you shouldn’t be held back by the burden of student debt.
eople who have worked for years and responsibly saved for their retirements shouldn’t be worried if they’re going to be able to pay for their health care costs. These are the issues that my friends and neighbors raise with me when I speak with them, and it’s important to me to find ways that the federal government can help them.
What are the Indian American issues in this country that you are most passionate about?
Indian Americans face the same challenges as other Americans: putting their kids through college, saving up to buy a home, and working hard to build a better future for the next generation. I hear the same concerns from people of all backgrounds. For me, this country invested in me through public education so I could become a doctor, and I want to make sure that others have that same chance to do what they love.
The Indian American community has a strong sense of family duty, and ensuring that our aging population has the resources they need to get quality medical care, as well as the ability to save for retirement, is a priority that I’m working on. Internationally, the United States has strong ties to India, and I’m proud to have worked to strengthen our economic and strategic defense ties with India, which has been beneficial to both nations.
Is political empowerment important for the future of our Indian American community in this country?
Absolutely. I think it’s imperative for everyone to have a stake in what’s going on in their community, whether that’s the Indian American community or in their physical community with their neighbors. I’m proud to support other Indian candidates for office at all levels of government, because it can be daunting to run when it seems like you don’t fit the mold.
We have incredibly qualified candidates that would be excellent public servants, but need a little encouragement. The great thing about America is that if you want to get involved, you can through hard work, and I hope more Indian Americans see that opportunity.
What advice do you have for the young Indian American kid who is inspired by your leadership in Congress to make a political career?
I’m humbled to be able to serve my district in Congress. It’s an honor and a responsibility that I take very seriously. I work with people on both sides of the aisle that I may disagree with on a number of issues, but on common ground we can come together and make real change for our communities. I hope the next generation can learn from my example in this respect. I think my story is not a traditional one – lifelong Californian who worked hard to become a doctor and then got into politics as a result of wanting to help my community.
It’s a natural extension of how I was raised to help others and give back to my community, but the jump from medicine to politics was not one I anticipated when I was younger. I hope kids are inspired to get involved in their communities and be generous with their abilities. We have so many smart kids that can achieve their dreams if they work hard – that’s what makes our country great.
Ami thank you! We wish you success with all future endeavors.
Do you have a story to share? We invite you to introduce us to folks in your community who are making a difference – we would love to profile them. Are there similar stories you are familiar with locally.
The ones who helped address a simple issue in the community to make life a bit better. Perhaps someone you know decided to make a run for school board, was appointed to the planning commission. Provide us your insights on Indian Americans locally and nationally who are making things happen.
These perspectives will help construct roadmaps for our community to empower ourselves, to hopefully ignite a desire in all of us to represent our local communities as doers, leaders, establish and entrench ourselves in this glorious country of America and help make it a better place
ABOUT RISHI: Rishi is Silicon Valley’s community worker seeking to make a difference in his local community. As an elected city councilmember in Saratoga, CA and politically active in the state of California, he continues to follow his passion for community service, seeking to provide services to his citizens cheaper, faster and better. Rishi has community outreach and engagement a key focus for his political leadership. As Saratoga’s community organizer, Rishi is host of many community events in Saratoga, many of which are free and always inclusive usually addressing a need or a cause.
Rishi’s day job is as a Silicon Valley hi-tech executive but his zeal for community service is effervescent. Rishi is also the President of the Bay Area Indian American Democratic Club (www.baiadc.org) whose charter is to further the interests and values of Indian Americans, work towards political empowerment and advance ethical standards in the political system. You can reach him via his website www.RishiKumar.com.