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WLP 2017 Week 5: On Authenticity


Before this summer with WLP I only had 2 South Asian role models: my mother and astronaut Sunita Williams. Both are incredible women in their own respects but I had trouble projecting my own dreams in their careers or lifestyles. This year has been the year of brown women- from Kamala Harris to Priyanka Chopra. While I admire all the South Asian women I see in the news and in entertainment, for me it felt like the lives they were living were unattainable. They jump from opportunity to opportunity in a seeming haze of serendipity- they’re depicted as all iron, no vulnerabilities and no fear.

If this was how I felt prior to this summer, my sense of struggle has radically dissipated. In WLP, you are surrounded by strong, South Asian women. From the WLP board members to the high profile South Asian women we have been meeting, these women are resilient, intelligent, and authentically themselves. For some context, this week we met with K.J. Bagchi [Desis for Progress Chair] and Rina Shah Bharara [Republican strategist]. While both were engaging and helpful, it I really connected with Rina. She talked with such passion and purpose about her work, her Republican identity, and her place in Trump’s America. As one of the RNC delegates who publicly expressed her disapproval of Trump, Rina alienated many in her party, but refused to stay lost in the political limbo both parties wanted to place her in. I was inspired by her strength, and more importantly, her dedication to our country, not her party.

In a similar vein, later in the week we met with the awe-inspiring Vinita Gupta, former head of civil rights for the Department of Justice. Like Rina, Vinita Gupta is dedicated to her cause, fighting for what she believes in and while she is a Wonder Woman on Earth, she was real enough to show us the chinks in her armor. Similar to the struggles of most women, Vinita shared with us WLPers how her commitment to her work didn’t leave her much time with her kids or her friends. I found her honesty incredibly refreshing in a world where women, especially, feel the need to prove how on top of everything they are, even when it is unrealistic. Between meeting these Rina and Vinita, WLP had a great fundraising event which culminated in the gathering of South Asian women who thrived in everything they did. From public office, to sports, to national security, the women affiliated with WLP work incredibly hard to move their life forward. And through their candor and authenticity these women have become role models for real, young South Asian women like myself.

Riya Patel

Department of Defense

Tufts University

#WLP2017

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© The Washington Leadership Program 2017 by Shaunak Turaga