Pramila Jayapal – the first Indian American of Kerala roots – is the present representative for the state of Washington’s seventh congressional district. She is also the first Asian-American and the first person of Indian origin to represent Washington in Congress.
Born in Chennai, India, but raised in Indonesia, Jayapal came to this country when she was just 16-years-old and with whatever savings her parents in India had at the time. She had no set plan to get into politics, in fact, her first job was as a financial analyst. It was through various unprecedented events that Jayapal realized she was meant to do more for this country.
“I think I realized that I have been working so hard to try and get people in office to do the things we thought they should do.
“And I remembered observing there was a remarkable lack of diversity in our elected officials and so therefore there was a remarkable lack of perspectives of people that I was working with and representing, and so I just decided it was time for me to get in there and to see what I can do from the inside.”
Just days following the Sept. 11 devastation, she chartered the nonprofit Hate Free Zone, presently known as OneAmerica, whose mission statement is to “advance the fundamental principles of democracy and justice at local and national levels by building power within immigrant communities in collaborations with key allies.”
When asked why she stepped into the world of politics, Jayapal said it was her experience as an activist and advocate and because she “believes in this democracy,” and “we have to continuously work together to strive for that more perfect union.”
“I came into this world not knowing what I was going to be doing per say, but after 9/11 when I ended up starting OneAmerica — it was to take on injustice.
“I had no idea I was starting up an organization, I had no idea that it was going to grow to be the largest immigrant advocacy organization in the state, I had no idea that we would successfully take on the Bush administration and stop the deportations of thousands of people across the country — that all sort of just happened because I did what I believe to be right and the only thing I knew to do.”
It was the confidence and belief in Jayapal’s intuition that has led her thus far.
“I have always paid a lot of attention to my gut and my heart about what is the right thing to do. I have never been somebody who’s planned into the future and said in 10 years I wanna work in congress and so let’s work backwards from that’ — it’s not me.
“Everything that has happened, has happened because I’ve listened to the moment and understood that there is an opportunity in that very moment and try to figure out what makes sense — not just for me, but the world around me.”
Congresswoman Jayapal is exceptionally proud of how Washington State is being recognized and said the city of Seattle, “is at the forefront for minimum wage and paid safe and sick days,” and when it comes to immigration issues, Jayapal isn’t at all shy in explaining how Washington is leading the country with immigration reform.
“On immigration issues — I am very proud, because of the collaborative efforts that have been put in to get this done. We are one of the best states for immigrants and refugees. Our services are the ability to provide driver’s licenses for everybody, our citizenship drives — so I think we’ve really led the country in a number of different areas and lot of innovative work that happens here that the country looks to.
“I think people see Seattle as a dynamic, innovative city — not only on the business side, but on the social justice side.”
Now that Donald Trump is the President, however, Jayapal does have her concerns. But she hopes to work with him on issues that are going to move the American people going forward.
“We are going to have to help lead, inspire, and work to be a part of a moment that will have to demand equality and justice.
“I have hope — I hope that he has a real transportation infrastructure plan that he’s willing to put money into — that we actually not increase the federal debt and deficit or give tax breaks to the wealthy, but come up with real dollars that we put into transportation. I hope that he is willing to work on a real immigration reform package. I hope he is willing to invest in education so workers can really get the training they need for the new jobs in this economy.
“That said, I will say that the people which he has appointed do not give me great hope. Most of the people he has appointed are people who have ideologically opposed public education — Betsy DeVos — his education secretary — would love to gut our public education and privatize it.
“Andrew Puzder, the labor secretary, has spoken against increasing minimum wage and does not want it to be raised.
Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development has said, he doesn’t believe in public housing — so, yes I am very concerned about what this looks like.
If Donald Trump is going to move forward an agenda that is bad for regular folks across this country, then I am going to oppose him. If he wants to move forward something that’s good, then I will work with him.”
So what can we as citizens do to fight back? Jayapal encourages everyone to speak out no matter how desolate the situation may be.
“I think it’s really important to speak out no matter how afraid you might be —to write to your congress members, to talk to your family members who may be in other states — because some of our more liberal states, in conservative districts need to really know what’s at stake.
It’s really important to tell your stories.
“I need to hear — and your congress member needs to hear how terrified you are because it actually does matter. People need to know the human toll of these policies that are being proposed, the general aura of this administration and what it’s doing to people’s mental health and sense of security and safety.
“And I would say we need people to simply show up. Show up at rally’s, we need them show up in newspapers and to write editorials – we need media to focus on the fact that this President has taken the oath of office and is almost immediately in violation of the constitution.
“A clause in the Constitution – the emoluments clause – it essentially says no holder of the highest office(s) should be beholden to foreign government. It’s about conflicts of interest and Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns – and so there should be editorials across the country calling out to release his tax returns and to make sure he liquidates his assets and puts them in a blind trust. There should be editorials across the country that call for an independent investigation of the Russian interference with the election.
“So, we are going to need the media and regular people to write op-eds, and write letters to their congress member, and to show up to rally’s and events It is really important that everybody does not feel paralyzed or hopeless and that people understand their voices can change all of this.”
To know more about how to get involved with Pramila Jayapal, you may follow her on Twitter and Instagram @PramilaJayapal, on Facebook, or sign up for her email alerts by subscribing via her website.