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What Do Americans With South Asian Heritage Think Of Kamala Harris As VP Pick?


Sen. Kamala Harris makes history in several ways, including this - she is the first American of Asian descent on a major party presidential ticket. And for many members of the large and growing Indian American community, her selection is a thrilling moment. One of those celebrating is our next guest, Sri Preston Kulkarni. He's also running as a Democrat for office this November. He is hoping to be the next congressman from the 22nd District of Texas.

Thank you for joining us.

SRI PRESTON KULKARNI: Thank you for having me, Ari. Pleasure to be here.

SHAPIRO: Well, after the announcement yesterday, you tweeted, I can't emphasize enough just how important and exciting it is to finally see ourselves represented on the national stage in this way. What went through your mind when you heard the news, and what have you been hearing in the last day from other Indian Americans?

KULKARNI: Sir, it's hard to overemphasize how important this day was yesterday for somebody like me, a kid growing up here in Texas, as an Asian American who's running to be the first Asian American ever elected to U.S. Congress, this is going to inspire all of us. Asian American families across my district and across this state are going to be energized like never before. Our community is the largest, the fastest growing community in Texas. And Texas 22 has the largest Asian American population. Kamala Harris being nominated to vice president is going to excite and energize people. You're going to have a record turnout from our community. It's going to help flip Texas 22 blue. And it's going to help - Texas blue as well.

SHAPIRO: She is also of Jamaican descent. It sounds like you're saying that in no way dilutes the Asian American community's enthusiasm for her. Is that right?

KULKARNI: No, absolutely not. I mean, we are all energized. This district is one of the most diverse districts in the entire country. We have a huge African American population, a huge Asian American population, huge Anglo American population, huge Latino American population. But none of those are a monolith. So, for example, in the Asian American community, in our campaign, we were reaching out in 21 different languages. So we reach out in Chinese and Vietnamese, Gujarati, Telugu, Hindi, Urdu. And the result of that was that we got 30,000 new people to show up in 2018 who hadn't voted for president. And then we registered 50,000 new voters on top of that. And our incumbent dropped out of the race because the truth is diversity is who we are here in Texas. But inclusion is what we do. And so this is about bringing all communities together. There is one message out there of division in this country, and there's another message, another vision of inclusion. That's what we're trying to do is run the most inclusive campaign ever.

SHAPIRO: President Trump has touted his close personal relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Last year, about 50,000 members of the Indian diaspora came out to see Trump and Modi at a rally in Houston, your backyard. Is there a risk that Democrats are putting too much weight on demographic identity? Many Indian Americans are social conservatives who might lean Republican.

KULKARNI: So what you've seen happen in our district is that most of the Asian Americans were not being communicated to by Republicans or Democrats. Seventy-two percent of them had never heard from either party. And when you talk to them, when you actually work through their communities - we like to say our campaign is powered by aunties who call other people within the community and they bring them out. They have the same concerns. They care about health care. They care about reasonable leaders who care about protecting our families from coronavirus, about education, about a clean environment, safe schools for our kids. That's why people are coming out. They don't like this instability that we're dealing with right now. They want to get back to normalcy.

SHAPIRO: Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni is running for Congress in the 22nd District of Texas. Good to talk with you today. Thanks for your time.

KULKARNI: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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