By Parveen Chopra
A first generation immigrant, Suraj Patel is an attorney, a professor at NYU and has worked for President Barack Obama. Now he wants to be the first South Asian from New York in Congress. Excerpts from an interview:
The South Asian Times: You are challenging a formidable candidate in Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney…
Suraj Patel: I am playing to win because the district desperately is trying for change right now. Coronavirus showed us inequities in our system and the government’s inability to respond to the Black Lives Matter protests means the systems are failing us and have to be changed.
I represent a cause that is needed to lead the next generation and our district into the next decade. My parents moved here with practically nothing from India. Thanks to their sacrifice in my education and opportunity and mobility in this country I was able to go to Stanford, and study law at NYU. These times call for that kind of experience in New York and in the country.
But for nearly 30 years, our representative is funded directly by banks and corporations that she’s supposed to regulate. Two years ago, we got over 40% votes. This time we have incredible amount of energy. We’re being reached out by people from every age group and every borough in this district.
Maloney is well regarded in the community because of her work in the Diwali stamp campaign.
Suraj Patel: She has been on the wrong side of every major issue that we are fighting for. She voted for the Iraq war, and against President Obama’s Iran deal. She sponsored 9 anti-vaccine bills. Her record on immigration and criminal justice is atrocious. Just because she helped with the Diwali stamp is not enough for the Indian community. We need results on H1B, green cards…. We need small business support. Maloney was not even in D.C. to vote on the care package deal.
Isn’t the Black Rights Movement going too extreme, talking about police defunding?
Suraj Patel: It is a mischaracterization, defunding police is not in the policy itself. But yes, 40% of many cities’ general budgets goes to policing and the prison system instead of spending money on economic opportunities.
Do you think South Asians are not doing enough to support the African-American community?
Suraj Patel: The South Asian community has an obligation to fight and march alongside our black brothers and sisters. If it were not for the civil rights marches in the sixties, the ’65 immigration act would never have passed, and people like my family would never even be in this country.
But I also think that everybody hasn’t been doing enough in the last 20 years. We have let police brutality and systemic racism exist. Everyone is waking up now. Now we have thousands of South Asians who are marching, who have supported, who are reaching out.
Your district is very diverse, is there any racism there?
Suraj Patel: But we had the infamous Central Park incident with the woman who called the police on a man who was simply birdwatching.
Any message for the South Asian voters?
Suraj Patel: I’m so proud of my heritage and my family. I grew up in a four-generation household. I speak Gujrati, I speak Hindi. We have a chance against somebody who has run a racist campaign the last three years against me and my family.