[Series] South Asians Spicing Up Politics: Aftab Pureval
1. What experiences led you to public service?
My mother is a refugee. She fled Tibet when the Communist Chinese took over. She married my father in India and they immigrated to the U.S., specifically to Beavercreek, Ohio where I was born and raised. When I reflect back on their bravery, the courage that it must have taken, I’m just blown away. My own story - from being the son of two immigrants, to being an attorney for Procter & Gamble, then an elected official - is one of the American Dream.
While in law school, I represented women in court pro-bono who were stuck in a cycle of domestic violence. As a United States Special Assistant attorney, I fought for those who needed an advocate - namely, children who had been the victims of abuse. I ran for the Clerk of Courts, and we changed things - bringing our website into the 21st century, getting paid family leave for our employees, and creating a Help Center, which assists people with legal issues when they cannot afford an attorney.
I never intended to run for Congress - this was never part of the plan. But as a young diverse candidate, I feel a duty to stand up and to serve. This is a unique time in our country’s history. I see leaders in Congress voting to take healthcare away from millions of Americans across our country, including half a million Ohioans. I see Congress not representing the American people, time after time, choosing special interests over the best interests of the country. What I don’t see is my opponent - he has not held a real town hall meeting since 2011, failing to hear the concerns of his constituents.
I seek to represent the community by giving people a voice for those concerns and an advocate for their needs. The people of our district deserve someone who is willing to fight for them. I have fought for the people of Southwest Ohio - when I was an attorney, and currently as the Clerk of Courts - and I will continue to do so in Washington.
2. What role has your South Asian American identity played in shaping your political perspective?
I don’t think that my identity has played a dominant role in shaping my political perspective. For me, politics is about doing the right thing for as many people as possible. In nearly every case, the “right thing” sees no color and knows no race. That being said, my South Asian background has played a major role in developing my personal identity. It influenced how I was raised. It impacted how I, as a minority living in rural Ohio, saw the world. It comes up every time I introduce myself - when I first ran for office, most people weren’t asking “who is Aftab?” but rather “what’s an Aftab?” I am so proud of my heritage.
3. What advice do you have for South Asian Americans who might run for office?
I took what people perceived as my weaknesses, and I made them my strength. Instead of running away from my name, instead of renaming myself from Aftab to Adam or to Al, which a lot of people suggested I do, I made my name the most prominent and memorable thing about me. In my TV spots, every time I said my name, a big yellow duck puppet would jump up and say my name in the Aflac voice. It wasn’t dignified. But instead of running away from my name, I made it the central feature of my campaign. It was memorable. It was funny. It was accessible. It made people remember me as the duck guy. Everywhere I go now I get quacked at. So I’d tell you this: instead of running away, run towards who you are. Think about how to connect with people creatively, and most importantly be yourself. In the Asian American community, we’re confronted with the challenge of assimilation. I would never judge anyone on how they assimilate. If you want to change your name, you should do that. If that makes you feel comfortable and that’s the way you’ve chosen to assimilate, you should absolutely do that, but you should never lose track or lose sight of who you are, what you believe in, what your core values and principles are, and you should be ready to effectively communicate that.
4.Why should the South Asian American community vote?
My hopeful answer is: Why shouldn’t they? Regardless of our background, we all should have faith that our participation in the democratic process will be worthwhile. But for too many people politics isn’t for them - especially among Asian Americans, where voter turnout levels are almost always below 50%, even in presidential elections. As a South Asian American who is also an elected official, I’ve been a part of those conversations about politics. One of my goals for this campaign is to show our community that political involvement can make a difference in your life. There are candidates who represent your values, there are candidates who want what’s best for you and your family. And I hope to be that for the South Asian community.