DINNER TABLE POLITICS
I was born in upstate New York, but I was raised in the suburbs of Washington D.C. in Silverspring, Maryland. My parents, my father especially, talked about politics over the dinner table. They discussed politics and voted. When I was in junior high school, I got involved in student government. In high school, I got involved in my first political campaign back in 1974, when I was sixteen years old. As time went on, I just worked on more and more campaigns.
I didn't have any role models, political role models, growing up. I was kind of self-motivated and my parents encouraged me. Unlike other Indian parents of the time, my parents encouraged me to be involved in student government and campaigns.
AN UNUSUAL NAME
Being Indian American, the advantage is I have a slightly unusual name. And having an unusual name is either a big plus or a big negative. In my case, I was able to make it into a big plus because it's easy to remember. When I ran in 1990, the big issue was choice. I was a pro-choice candidate running in a very heavily pro-choice district. So, I was able to link my name to the fact that I was pro-choice, and that was a big advantage.
Also, being a Democrat, I think Democratic primary voters are much more accepting of people from different backgrounds. And you might notice that of the four Indian American State Legislators in office, all four of us are Democrats.
FEAR OF POLITICS
I think still to this day, most Asian Americans, certainly most Indian Americans, have this impression that politics is something that would be very difficult for them, that it's hard to get elected because of ethnicity. I just don't buy that, I've never bought that.
I've always felt the biggest impediment for Asian Americans is that they choose not to be involved and not to run for office. In my experience, voters seem to be pretty broad-minded. I was judged on the basis of my stance on the issues and my qualifications, not my ethnicity. The people who don't accept me are extremists, the NRA types. But that's based on issues, not ethnicity.
I've always felt in politics, for the Indian community, my impression has always been that the greatest obstacles that you face are the ones that we choose to impose upon ourselves.
AN ASIAN AMERICAN FOR PRESIDENT
Well, Gary Locke could be President. I don't see any limits. It's very hard to win regardless of your background. But I don't think we have to impose limits upon ourselves. I think that Asian American candidates will rise to the very top eventually.
When Gary Locke gave the Democratic response, he looked every bit like any other American politician who could run for President. He's a Governor, for God's sake. I'd be disappointed if he didn't run for President.
KUMAR BARVE'S FUTURE
I've been very fortunate in my career, this is my 13th year (as of 2002) in elective office and I've made it to the very top of the House of Delegates. Not the very top -- the Speaker is the top guy, but I'm sort of the number two person in the House of Delegates, so I'm very pleased with how my career has developed.
I'm Majority Leader now and I'm in a small group of people who are at the table, helping to make policy. I'll just have to see where my career carries me. I mean, everything in politics is about timing and opportunity. I'll just have to see.
As the first person of Indian-origin to be elected a U.S. state legislator, Kumar Barve is a role model for many South Asian politicians. Barve is currently the Majority Leader in Maryland's state legislature. He is also the longest-serving elected official of Indian descent.