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U.S. rep from California inspires South Asian youth in Elmhurst

U.S. Rep. Ami Bera is surrounded by SAYA! students, staff and leadership for a photo. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A California congressman came to Elmhurst Saturday to meet with South Asian youths.

U.S. Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) shared his story with teens at a South Asian Youth Action conference in the hopes of engaging them in the political process.

“You can do anything you want to in your life. You really can,” he told the crowd of high school students. “A lot of people will come up to you and tell you they don’t think you can do something, but if you believe in yourself, you’re the only one that holds the key to unlocking your full potential.”

A doctor by profession, Bera was told he would never win his seat as he had never held a lower level of public office and his district was less than 1 percent South Asian. He is the third Indian American elected to Congress.

“Nobody told me I wouldn’t be any good in Congress. They just said I wouldn’t win,” he said. “But my parents instilled in me that you can do whatever you want to do in life.”

Bera’s parents immigrated to the United States in 1958 to build a better life and raise their family.

“I grew up the youngest of three boys with a strong sense of who I was as an Indian-American kid growing up in California,” he said. “I ran on who I am.”

Bera stressed the importance of education and talked about how it served as a foundation in his own life.

“Any young adult like yourselves who wants to go to college, should be able to go to college. There’s no more important investment that we should be making as a nation,” he said.

The freshman congressman put himself through medical school by working part time and taking advantage of federal student loans. He graduated with less than $10,000 in debt and attributes that to the investment the country made in him.

“Wouldn’t it be cool to see the first South Asian president of the United States? That could be one of you out there in this room,” he told the group of teens in the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, at 54-05 Seabury St.

After he finished speaking, Bera answered questions from students about his life and experiences.

“It was very enlighteni­ng,” said Ralph Yul Valenzuela, a senior at Flushing High School who represented the group of students in a speech before the congressman spoke. “He gave us a lot of helpful advice.”

SAYA! has served the Elmhurst area for 17 years and provides South Asian students in Queens with enrichment and leadership programs in the hopes of better preparing them for college. Their after-school programs run in 14 different schools daily and include tutoring, essay writing workshops and SAT prep opportunities.

“The kids got really excited about having someone of their own background in public service,” said Susan Maher Singh, the interim executive director of SAYA!

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 6:34 pm, April 3, 2014
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Reader feedback

Arun Chandra from Forest Hills, NY says:
Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) is not the first Indian American elected to Congress. Dalip Singh Saund was the first Indian American elected to Congress in 1957; he served three terms. After him, Bobby Jindal also served in the Congress from 2004 to 2007, when he ran and won the election for Governor of Louisiana.
April 1, 2014, 1:23 pm
Arun Chandra from Forest Hills, NY says:
This story had initially (incorrectly) stated that Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) was the first Indian American elected to Congress. After I corrected the author (above), he modified the story to remove that assertion (without acknowledging his initial error).
Feb. 20, 2015, 5:16 pm

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