More Indian-Americans participating in local politics

(Left to right) Ms. Savitha Vaidyanathan, Sheriff Laurie Smith, Dr. Romesh Japra, Rajesh Verma and Chandru Bhambra
Mayor Sheriff
(Left to right) Ms. Savitha Vaidyanathan, Sheriff Laurie Smith, Dr. Romesh Japra, Rajesh Verma and Chandru Bhambra

FREMONT, CA: On Tuesday April 10, the Fremont Hindu Temple welcomed two distinguished guests –the former Mayor of Cupertino, Ms. Savitha Vaidyanathan and Sheriff Laurie Smith of Santa Clara County.

Usually, Indian-Americans have stayed on the sidelines of politics and not been much involved with civic decision making in their adopted land. However, this is changing as seen with a number of Indian American immigrants in Silicon Valley actively running for public office.
One such individual is Ms. Savitha Vaidyanathan, former Mayor of Cupertino, who is again running for this office. Ms. Vaidyanathan is the first Indo American to hold the post of Mayor in a major American city.

The former mayor, along with Sheriff Laurie Smith, spoke at the weekly FOG (Festival of Globe) meeting and later addressed the gathering of devotees in the main hall of the temple. At the meeting, Mahesh Pakala, FOG Chair of Political Engagement, joined Dr. Romesh Japra, FOG Founder and Convener and other key members of the FOG/FIA committee – Mr. Rajesh Verma and Mr. Chandru Bhambra.

Ms. Vaidyanathan mentioned her early days volunteering for the community, which paved the way for public office and emphasized the importance of participating in the political process, without which one could not be involved in decision-making.

She serves on the VTA (Valley Transportation Authority) Board. As an example of how having a representative at the table impacts the community, she said, “I really worked hard to ensure that our seniors and our children still have the bus routes that they have. Otherwise, they couldn’t get to the temple, to the community centers, the schools that they need to get to. So, mass transit is really close to my heart. So those are the things we really need to work out with our community and those are the things I am going to work again for the next four years if I am elected.”

Mayor Sheriff Mahesh
(Left to right) Mahesh Pakala, Ms. Savitha Vaidyanathan, Sheriff Laurie Smith, Dr. Romesh Japra, Rajesh Verma and Chandru Bhambra

As a person of Indian origin, Ms. Vaidyanathan was also uniquely suited to understanding the needs of the community when it came to law enforcement. Knowing that Indians usually buy authentic gold jewelry during the festival season, she informed the sheriff, requesting for additional protection.
The sheriff’s department increased its neighborhood security, and the number of household burglaries came down significantly.

The former mayor also educated the fire department about the Indian practice of lighting a lamp in the home altar every day.

At the FOG meeting, she laughingly shared her experience of pitching a baseball for a San Francisco Giants game. Sheriff Laurie praised her pitch, to which Ms. Vaidyanathan responded that she had practiced for an entire month.

Sheriff Laurie Smith profusely thanked everyone for inviting her into their temple. She said, “I truly appreciate it.” Referencing the rich, diverse population in the Alameda and Santa Clara counties, she said, “If we don’t understand the cultures beneath the differences, the similarities, we can’t provide law enforcement in the manner we should. So, thank you for welcoming me here. I am always willing to learn more and to work very, very closely with you.”

Sheriff Smith also mentioned that her department was always looking for new deputies and invited people to apply for positions.

Ms. Vaidyanathan referred to Sheriff Laurie as “Durga” and exhorted everyone to treat the Sheriff and her team as friends, to approach them when help was needed rather than fearing them.

It was thus a meeting of minds from different cultures and two great nations.

Lakshmi Iyer
India Post News Service