LEXINGTON, MA— Getting Involved Group, which was founded by Indian-Americans in Lexington, MA, to encourage compatriots to participate in local elections and get involved in civic activities, on Saturday held a successful seminar on civil engagement that attracted not just Indian citizens from the town of Lexington but from other Massachusetts towns such as Framingham, Ashland and others.(Photos: Anil Ahuja.)
Also present at the seminar were representatives of Chinese American Association of Lexington.
“It was evident that other towns and ethnic communities are eager to learn from the success of Indian Americans in Lexington,” said Vineeta Kumar, one of the organizers of the event and an elected member of Town Meeting Member. “In the last three years the number of Indian Americans in Lexington town government has increased to 14.”
Lexington is the only town in the United States where Indian-Americans participate actively in local politics and civic engagement and have the largest number of Indian-Americans elected to the local town government.
Kumar said that excluding Narain Bhatia and Dinesh Patel who have lived in the town for over four decades and served in Town Government for a couple decades, five of the twelve remaining members are women.
“It is also an accomplishment the group is proud of,” Kumar said.
The seminar started with a welcome note by Kumar, who was elected earlier this year. She said that her motivation to run for the local election came from a desire to give back and the belief that “when it comes to getting involved beyond the self, for the community, there is never a better time than NOW”.
The panel included Indian-American elected members of the Lexington government: Bhatia, Kumar, Shailesh (Sunny) Chandra, Vikas Kinger, Anil Ahuja, Ravish Kumar and Pam Joshi. The panel was moderated by Sanjay Padaki.
Bhatia, a Town Meeting Member (TMM) from Precinct 3 and Vice-Chair of the Economic Development Advisory Committee, shared a brief history of Getting Involved Group and highlighted the accomplishments of GIG in a short time frame.
“I have always believed in what Tip O’Neill former Speaker of the House said that all politics is local,” Bhatia told the audience. “We were surprised by the election results that all six Indian American candidates won! We were also surprised that nearly half of them were women ,some with school going kids and working full time.”
In her keynote address, Suzie Barry, Chairperson of Board of Selectmen of Lexington, covered an overview of Lexington town government and various ways people can get involved in the town, through elected and non-elected positions. She also addressed audience questions and stayed right till the end to interact and encourage the community.
Barry acknowledged the of lack Indian American appointments to the Town Committees and said “There is a gap and it is a challenge.” She encouraged the audience to review nearly 80 committees and express their interest by applying. She said “99% of the time you will be accepted when a vacancy arises.”
The Vice-Chair of the Board of Selectmen, Michelle Ciccolo also addressed the audience and encouraged people to engage in whichever way they feel comfortable. Ciccollo will be running for the State Representative position in place of Jay Kauffman, who announced his retirement last month.
Padaki, who is a TMM from Precinct 8 and also a member of the Appropriation Committee, moderated a panel discussion consisting of Indian American TMMs.
The panel shared reasons for running for election and experiences through the election process as well as in town meeting.
“So many people volunteer their expertise pro bono… from lawyers, professors, business owners and CPA’s. It makes our town a great place to live and we as Indian American town residents should do our part as well,” said Padaki.
Kinger walked the audience through key steps and milestone dates in the election process and fielded questions with help from Barry and Ciccolo. During the panel discussion Kinger shared an example of how he leverages his professional experience in technology in his role as a TMM.
Ahuja, who provided a one-on-one on town government talked about why it was important for him to know “where is my tax money going? Is it being spent the right way?” which was one the reason he ran for a TMM position two years ago.
Ravish Kumar, TMM from Precinct 7 who will be running for his second term in 2018, engaged with interested candidates in a break out session. As a young family with both spouses working, Ravish talked about how he is able to effectively balance work, family and volunteering.
Elected Indian-American TMMs are: Narain Bhatia, Dinesh Patel, Aneesha Karody, Anil Ahuja, Anoop Garg, Hema Bhatt, Pam Joshi, Ravish Kumar, Rita Pandey, Sanjay Padaki, Syed Ali Rizvi, Vikas Kinger, Shailesh (Sunny) Chandra and Vineeta Kumar.