- The rise and rise of Desi Americans
Like many students at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, Chandrasekhar Kethi-Reddy is paying close attention to the 2016 US presidential campaign. Kethi-Reddy, who studies industrial engineering, mathematics and philosophy, has personal ties to Andhra Pradesh. He describes himself as extremely involved, even going so far as to help organize a protest against Republican Donald Trump on the UCF campus, where “several hundred people joined in.” He supports Democrat Hillary Clinton, finds her extremely qualified, and believes she would do a great job. But he also urges voters to keep an eye on state and local elections, which he considers even more important than national ones in that they more directly affect people’s lives and livelihoods.
|This article is one in a series of pieces stemming from a collaboration between The New Indian Express and The India Center at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, Florida. The India Center is an interdisciplinary initiative dedicated to broadening awareness and understanding about India. UCF is the second-largest university, on the basis of student enrollment, in the United States.|
The presidential campaign, which inspired Kethi-Reddy to take action, has provoked a wide range of emotions on campus. There’s something for virtually all students to like or dislike. Indian-American students and those with Indian nationality – who account for several hundred of the university’s total enrollment of nearly 65,000 – are no exception. Their reactions to the competition between Clinton and Trump, as well as candidates from smaller parties, ranges from enthusiasm, amusement, motivation and entertainment to disappointment, shock, worry and confusion. Many see the campaign as unique in American political history.
Naureen Syed, who’s voting for a US president for the second time, prefers another adjective: crucial. She views the upcoming election as more important than any in the past. “We have two entirely different candidates with polar-opposite platforms and experiences,” Syed said. The health-sciences major, with connections to Bangalore and Karnataka, doesn’thesitate to state her reservations about both Trump and Clinton. But she dislikes one more than the other, and says she has already voted for Clinton using the vote-by-mail system (formerly known as absentee-ballot voting).
Civil and industrial engineering student Chirag Merchant has a different preference. Born in the United States, with links to Gujarat and Surat, Merchant says he discusses politics with friends and family almost every day. His favorite for president, though, isn’t one of the two major-party contenders. It’s Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. He likes Johnson, Merchant says, because of his experience (as a former governor of New Mexico), honesty, leadership, social tolerance and fiscal conservatism.
Priyanka Chandra, an integrated-business major who has ties with Calcutta, Chennai and Puducherry, says voting is “a privilege and a right, and it is something we should all do if we can.” Though she admits she isn’t following the campaign very closely, she says Clinton has her vote due to the former US secretary of state’s deeper experience.
Shashank Gidipally, a biomedical-sciences major with ties to Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh, also acknowledges being not overly involved with US politics. Still, he recognizes how important the election is. At this point, he labels himself “undecided and unbiased.”In his mind, both candidates bring “valid points on how to further develop the nation, but also … flaws.” In addition, Gidipally is concerned that the presidential debates devoted too little time to issues that matter to him, such as the economy, education, the national debt, and national and international security. Further, it bothers him that the leading candidates prefer to talk about each other’s past shortcomings than discuss the important issues of the day, something he describes as “unprofessional.”
Another biomedical-sciences major, Felicia Dhanie, has personal connections to Uttar Pradesh and describes herself as part of the Indian diaspora to the West Indies. While she watched the debates to see what the two candidates had to say, her political heart belongs to a former contender for the Democrats, Bernie Sanders, whose views on key issues such as women’s rights align with hers.
Vivek Mistry, a finance major with ties to Gujarat, is also a Sanders supporter. “As an educated young man from a minority background, born and raised in the United States, of course the election is a topic prevalent in my mind,” he says. However, he’s uncertain as to his choice at this time. Why? Because Sanders is out of the picture, and “lackluster” comes to Mistry’s mind when he contemplates the personalities of the leading candidates for president.
A third Sanders enthusiast, Karishma Assudani, studies English literature and secondary language-arts education. She has links to Sindh and Gujarat. Assudani says she has lost interest in the campaign after Sanders dropped out, because she views the remaining candidates as not that great. Still, she continues to read news headlines and listens to what others are saying about the presidential race. And, in the final analysis, Assudani– because she is “a future educator, a woman, Indian, and tend to concur with the Democrat Party viewpoints” – plans to vote for Clinton.
Shikha Mirchandani, also a biomedical-sciences major, has ties to Sindhi. She says she has been following the campaign “avidly” and finds herself “surrounded by politics” because of her sister’s work as a political-campaign manager. Mirchandani adds that she’s made sure to watch every debate, and says that while she tilts toward Clinton, she has family members who favor Trump.
Anay Patel, yet another biomedical-sciences major, has personal connections to Gujarat. She describes herself as “very interested”in politics and making an active effort to stay engaged – including by reading campaign updates most every day. While she’s quick to add that she doesn’t support any candidate one-hundred percent, if she had to vote today, Patel says she would go with Clinton.
In sum, students from UCF’s Indian-American and Indian population find themselves occupying the full spectrum of sentiments regarding the candidates, the campaign and the upcoming election. Many tilt toward Clinton, but they know Trump supporters among their families and friends. Others dislike both Trump and Clinton. Those interviewed for this article feel a responsibility to vote. A few have already done so through the vote-by-mail system. Several pine for candidates like Sanders, who are no longer in the running. And still others champion minority-party figures such as Johnson. In just a few weeks, though, the watching, waiting, wondering, worrying and weighing will be over, and – along with voters across the United States – they’ll have to make a final decision.
(Pratyush Goberdhan is the India Fellow, and Shannon Payne is the Senior Program Assistant for The India Center, UCF.)