Community members, supporters and organizers gathered at the Sammamish Teen Center on July 1 to celebrate the beginning of two organizations, South Asian Americans Together for Washington (SAATWA) and South Asian Political Action Committee (SAPAC). The two organizations were both established in partnership with the India Association for Western Washington (IAWW) with the goal of creating positive change through political involvement within South Asian communities across Washington state.
SAATWA is a non-partisan grassroots organization primarily looking to increase political and voter engagement among the South Asian population in Washington state. SAATWA’s board president, Aseem Chipalkatti, expressed the importance of increasing political involvement within the South Asian community and addressed the necessity to increase voter engagement and awareness among the South Asian population.
“We are one of the largest communities in the state,” Chipalkatti said. “Our community is not totally civically engaged and organized and that’s something that we think is time to change.”
By increasing political involvement and voting within the South Asian community, Chipalkatti hopes that the organization is able to provide a platform for South Asian community members to have their values and voices heard more respectively amongst the greater population.
“The biggest thing is to make sure that we have a platform, a voice and access in Olympia,” Chipalkatti said. “The community is so ready for this.”
Although SAATWA stands as a non-partisan organization, Chipalkatti made it clear that with the government’s recent xenophobic stance on immigration, this doesn’t mean SAATWA won’t advocate for the inclusiveness and equality of all cultures and ethnicities. Chipalkatti noted that this is especially the case since the current restrictions on immigrants and their families not only impact members of the South Asian community, but also allies and other ethnically diverse communities that intersect within the South Asian community.
“These are not isolated incidents,” Chipalkatti said. “It’s important that we stand up for what’s right.”
SAATWA’s vice president, K. Jennifer Johal, added that as the organization continues to grow, the hope is that the South Asian community can become more relevant and involved with other diverse communities around the state.
“If we work together and unite… It’ll be a huge step in the right direction,” Johal said.
SAPAC is a bipartisan organization for the South Asian community and is the first political action committee in Washington state. SAPAC’s main purpose is to help raise money for South Asian political candidates that are going to be running for office and for those who are looking to get politically involved within Washington’s South Asian community.
Co-founder Tahmina Watson emphasized that the organization intends to bring diverse voices and help diverse candidates reach that level of political success. Watson said that in turn she hopes that the views and the values of the South Asian community can be reflected in the laws and policies that are being made at the government level.
“Now is a time where we can’t sit back anymore. Every one of our voices is going to be very important,” Watson said. “We need to be the change we want to see.”
Fellow co-founder Jubilee Seth added that SAPAC is not only looking to support South Asian political candidates, but that they also hope to encourage more members of the South Asian community to start thinking about running as political candidates in the future.
A large portion of the event was dedicated to the podium. Leaders and organizers from both organizations took the time to speak intently on behalf of the South Asian community, as well as did various political leaders from around Washington state.
In attendance at the event was Washington State Sen. Manka Dhingra. Dhingra represents Washington’s 45th Legislative District and took to the floor Sunday afternoon, emphasizing the cultural inequalities and ethnic disparities that many immigrants face within today’s society. Dhingra highlighted the importance of political engagement among South Asian communities and why community involvement is going to be a critical aspect toward implementing future change for these issues.
“It’s very important to make sure that our voices are heard over time,” Dhingra said. “These organizations are important because they allow people to get involved in our democracy.”
Another politician in attendance for Sunday’s festivities was Washington State Rep. Vandana Slatter. Slatter is a representative for Washington’s 48th Legislative District and took the time to speak about issues that ethnically diverse communities face in modern day society and what it’s going to take to create change during such a pivotal time period.
“Our democracy is based on participation,” Slatter said. “When their are groups like this who are interested in being part of the political process and being part of their government… That’s what I look for.”
Dhingra expressed that The South Asian community currently stands as one of the richer and more educated immigrant groups in America. Dhingra noted that at the same time, this community has not been very politically active or engaged with the issues that many Americans need help facing today. With an outpour of support, both of these organizations have made it their primary goal to try and change that for the future.