The Inter-Asian Council (IAC) hosted a talk with Aruna Miller, the democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Maryland, on Oct. 18 to discuss her struggles as an Asian American in politics.
Miller was the first Indian-American woman elected to the Maryland legislature. As the first, she faced an immense challenge trying to navigate an environment that was not made for her.
“I've spent my entire life trying to fit into a space that didn't have me in mind. Whether it was being an immigrant in a new country or a female engineer in a male-dominated field or as an Asian American legislator in a Caucasian male legislature,“ she said. “It took me a great period of time to finally be comfortable in my own skin, in who I am and who I'm not.”
Junior Kobi Khong, who is on the executive board of IAC, organized the event. In an email to The News-Letter, Khong shared his own thoughts on Miller’s talk.
“I really appreciated hearing her talk about her experiences in having to be that trailblazer and the only person of her identity in a room that has historically ignored who she is,“ he wrote.
He highlighted that he related to the uncertainty faced by other students of not having a relatable figure in the political sphere.
Miller opened her talk with an anecdote about her first day of school in the U.S. when she was seven years old. She did not know any English and tried to fit in by mimicking the other children around her. Miller went to the cafeteria and ate American food and tried cold milk for the first time.
“I'm thinking they're all going to be my best friends by the end of lunchtime. I feel really proud walking back to the classroom, and I proceed to vomit all over the classroom,” she said.
She felt mortified and told her mother that she never wanted to go back to school and wanted to return to India. Yet, at the end of the day, one of her classmates arrived at her front porch with a stack of paintings that the entire class had made for her.
Miller reflected on this moment, noting the importance of empathy and kindness shown by the other students
“The most telling part of the story is the educator in the classroom who taught every one of those kids what I believe to be one of the most important qualities as a human being, no matter what profession you're in, and that is to have empathy for others,” she said.
Empathy and service were two guiding principles that pushed Miller into a career in public service. After graduating with a degree in civil engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, she worked as a transportation engineer for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
Her first experience with the political sphere came after the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. After noticing the controversy around that election, Miller started working with her local Democratic Party at the grassroots level as a precinct official, where she learned about American democracy through tabling and volunteering.
She expanded on the importance of making political information accessible to all people.
“One of the main reasons why our immigrant community kind of shies away from being more engaged [with politics] because it's not easy to understand,” she said. “It's a luxury to be able to take the time to understand all these different positions of what they mean and do the research on them.”
Senior Isabel Veloso, president of IAC, explained in an email to The News-Letter that she attended the event because she was planning on voting for Wes Moore and Aruna Miller in the governor election and wanted to learn more about her.
“I had never heard of an engineer getting into politics before so it was cool to hear her experience and what brought her to run for public office,” she wrote.
Graduate student Dipika Daga expressed her excitement to see Indian Americans in places of power in an interview with The News-Letter.
As an Indian American immigrant herself, she felt empowered after learning of Miller’s success in the U.S. and identified with a lot of Miller’s stories.
“It gave me a lot of hope for myself because I am planning to pursue my career here,“ she said. “To see people move grounds at such a powerful level... this is beautiful to feel the pride I hold in my own identity as an Indian and see someone else out there pulling that off.”