Avani Rai is a 15-year-old incoming sophomore at Normal Community High School who has already made a name for herself a young leader in McLean County.
She’s also a first-generation American. She’s from Indian descent, just like Sen. Kamala Harris, the new Democratic vice-presidential nominee. Harris’ mother was Indian. She is not only the first woman of color to appear on a major U.S. presidential ticket, but she is also the first person of South Asian descent.
Rai, of Bloomington, spoke to WGLT on Friday about Harris.
WGLT: As Joe Biden was deciding who to pick, did you have a favorite candidate that you hoped he’d select?
Avani: You know, for me, it wasn't really that. I wasn't that well versed into each individual's specific policies for me to have a take on who I thought should be the eventual VP candidate. I thought there were several possibilities that could have been considered.
And eventually Biden went with Kamala Harris, which I think was a nice way to even things out and kind of introduce more women and people of color onto the ballot.
What do you mean by "even things out"?
America is beautiful because it's a mosaic, right? It's a melting pot. And so eventually, step by step, our government representation is going to start looking more and more like the actual public of America. And so especially in the last 15 to 20 years, we've seen more people of color and more women starting to take on these higher positions, which I think is great because it shows that, you know, representation is also starting to look more and more like the public and the citizens of America as a whole.
What did it mean to you personally when Harris was selected, given that she’s the first person of South Asian descent on a major-party ticket?
Not just South Asian, but specifically Indian descent. We obviously have that common heritage. And so because of that, as a young lady also, it's good to see women being chosen, to share the national leadership, right? And it's not just the fact that she's a minority, and that's the reason she was chosen. It's not just because of that. It's also because of her accomplishments, right?
It's important to also focus on the fact that, yes, she was a minority. She was a person of color. She was a woman, but she was chosen for the vice presidential pick because of what she's accomplished and her excellence in her career as well. So I think just because of how far she's come in her career and in government and politics, that alone is a reason that she stands out as a powerful role model for young women and youth all across our country.
In the last few days, we’ve seen some nasty things. People mispronouncing Harris’ name seemingly deliberately. Others falsely suggesting she was not born in this country. When she was. How does that make you feel to see her treated that way?
It all comes down to the fact that whenever there's change being made, and whenever there's progress being made, there are going to be roadblocks in the middle of it, right? If it was easy, then this would have all gotten done so long ago.
So I think that all those issues that are coming up, someone has to face them, and Kamala Harris happened to be the first one. And so obviously, she's the one that's going to be the forefront and have to bear all of these challenges. But for me, at the end of the day, regardless of who the eventual vice president is, who the eventual president is, what color they are, what gender they are, the most important thing for me is, it's actually a Sanskrit phrase dharmo rakshati rakshitah that means that if everyone delivers on their responsibility, if everyone delivers on the role that they've been given, then we'll all be happy, because we're such an interconnected society. And especially with someone in a position as powerful as the vice president of the United States, that affects individuals on a global level. So all these things that are coming up now, I think they're cheap shots almost, that would be cheap shots for anyone, any individual, regardless if that person was a vice president pick or not.
And so for me right now, it's just important to focus more on the policies that people are looking at and to focus more on their stances and values for national government, rather than what they look like or that they might be different than what we've had in the past.
What else would you like to add, Avani?
I think it shows that our nation is evolving, right? Obviously, it's changing. America is always trying to work towards a better, more perfect, world that we live in. And we're trying to share that with other people globally as well.
And so, for me as a person of color, as a young lady, it's more important that the person that we pick, we focus on their policies. And we focus on what they want to make America look like in the future. And so for me, that's a leader that protects our country, that develops our economy for the fairness and safety of all citizens, regardless of how they look, and not just focusing on minorities and majorities, but also focusing on their individual accomplishments and making sure that the opportunity for accomplishment is available for every single citizen of our United States.
So I think that with Kamala Harris being the vice president pick, it's not just the fact that she might be the best or not the best vice president pick, but just the fact that she was given the opportunity to take upon this role, I think shows that our nation is starting to become more representative of the citizens of our country.
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