- Aparna Iyer
WLP 2019 Week 5: Diverse Individuals, Diverse Experiences
This week was a whirlwind. While the entire program up to this point had been characterized by meetings with incredibly admirable and successful individuals from our community, none of the events quite pushed me to question my views or my career insights quite like this week. All my life, I felt like I had been surrounded by the same people with the same career aspirations, South Asian or otherwise. I never dreamed that it would take flying across the country to find so many fascinating individuals, each dedicated to public service in their own right, with each completely altering my own vision for the future. I realized that while people may joke about the lack of South Asian representation in D.C., everyone we met is incredibly successful in their own right, occupying positions in firms, offices, or companies that seemed entirely out of reach to me before arriving here. The community is stronger than ever.
Our first event of the week was the “Trump and the Desis” Panel, featuring an in-depth discussion and debate about the impact of the current administration on the South Asian community specifically. Not only was I particularly interested to find out more about this niche topic and about issues that I may not have even considered to be affecting my friends and family, but the diverse array of viewpoints in the room was intriguing to all of us. One of the most important lessons I have taken to heart this summer is to surround myself not necessarily with people I disagree with, but with those who challenge me to defend my thinking, or who are simply different from me in one way or another. It’s hard to come to the realization that you may have been funneling your viewpoints into an echo chamber. After personally having the experience of being from a politically polarized household, it became clearer that being able to engage in civil discourse is an invaluable skill. Each of the speakers presented his points in a manner that was convincing, thought-provoking, and respectful, leading to what I thought was a very productive conversation about whether the values and needs of our community can be coalesced into one.
The next day, we were fortunate enough to have a panel dedicated just to campaign work. From an expert in opposition research to a specialist in candidate background research for Emily’s List, we definitely had the entire spectrum of campaign work and experience represented right in front of us. I was taken aback by the level of passion and dedication that the speakers had, both to their specific roles and to the ideal and importance of democracy. I am sure it takes a certain level of courage and grit to fall in love with the uncertain and fast-paced lifestyle of campaign work, but needless to say, I think we were all highly considering the field by the time the event was over (2020 maybe?).
We ended the week with one of the most highly anticipated events of the summer- the intern reception: a night of networking, pizza-eating, Congressmember-meeting, and getting the opportunity to interact with some of the most high-profile South Asians in the area. While we were initially anxious about having interesting things to share and about selling ourselves to people with years of experience over us, seeing a few familiar faces and fellow interns was just the amount of comfort we needed to get situated. After hearing from Congressman Ami Bera and Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who have done wonders for their respective communities, I was made aware of the seemingly archaic barriers that still exist for people of color in their line of work. Above all, they noted that the support of their friends and families and their drive to serve was what helped them the most. Though everyone in the room was so different, and so incredibly accomplished in his or her own right, our unifying South Asian community always gives us a support group to fall back on.
So far, WLP has given us the priceless gift of meeting incredible people with wildly diverse areas of experience and expertise (including within our own cohort). Although we’ll all be sad to leave, we’ve been able to learn something valuable from every single person we spoke to, no matter how briefly. I’m just as excited for the rest of the summer.
Aparna Iyer Office of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal University of California, Berkeley