INTERVIEW: White House’s Raghavan Highlights Indian American Contributions

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Washington – Gautam Raghavan, Associate Director of Public Engagement at the White House spoke to India America Today, among other subjects, about the contribution of IITians to American society and challenges facing the Obama Administration in dealing with the Indian American community.

Prior to joining the White House, Raghavan served as the Deputy White House Liaison for the US Department of Defense (DoD)and as the Outreach Lead for DoD’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Working Group. Gautam has previously worked for the Obama campaign, the Democratic National Committee, Progressive Majority, and is a graduate of Stanford University.

You are one of the driving forces of the White House’s public engagement team. What are the challenges and how do you handle them?

First, let me say that’s an incredible privilege to be working in this White House and for this President. It’s always a pleasure when I’m able to engage a group or community leader who hasn’t worked with the White House before. One of my biggest challenges is reaching out to communities that have not traditionally been engaged by the White House or the federal government. This involves getting outside Washington DC and identifying key community leaders and populations and getting their feedback and ideas. This takes a lot of time and effort but it’s critically important to our efforts.

With the Indian American community crossing the 3 million mark with a million plus voters, how do you see the White House addressing their issues?

In most cases, the issues of Indian Americans are the issues of all Americans – getting and keeping a job, accessing affordable health care, putting your kid through college, taking care of your parents, saving up for retirement – and these are the issues that the President and his Administration are focused on. And on the other issues that are important to our community – foreign policy with the subcontinent, civil rights protections for Sikh and Muslim Americans, immigration – I think we’ve made tremendous progress in the last few years.

There have been some doubts expressed by Indian American community leaders that Indian Americans do not like to be clubbed together with the Asian American group. Have you felt this while dealing with them?

No community is monolithic, and that’s certainly the case with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Each part of the community brings their own strength and beauty to our great nation. There is also strength in numbers and coalitions. I personally think it’s a missed opportunity for any one part of the broader AAPI community not to work collaboratively with others that have shared experiences and concerns.

You have been a big part of the DoD’s DADT policy framework; do you feel Americans, especially the Indian American community in the armed forces, accepts the changes?

Absolutely, but I’ve never doubted that our service members would implement the repeal of DADT with integrity and professionalism. And within the Indian American community, I’ve only heard positive, supportive feedback about the President’s leadership in repealing that discriminatory policy.

What is the White House’s perception of the Indian American community when it comes to gays and lesbians?

I’m an openly gay Indian American working in the White House, and I’ve felt welcome and part of the team.

After nurturing the American technology revolution over the years, and today in the Who’s Who of Fortune 500 companies, do you see any special role IITians (from the Indian Institutes of Technology) can play to enhance the efforts of the White House in the Indian American community?

As the son of an IITian (my father graduated from IIT Madras in 1974) I have seen firsthand the innovation and energy so many IITians have brought to the American scientific and entrepreneurial community – and I expect that will continue to be the case. But, more importantly, I’ve also seen a growing awareness of the significant disparities that exist within the Indian American community and, more broadly, in America; and with that, a growing willingness to leverage professional or financial success to give back to the community and participate in civic life. That, to me, is the more enduring legacy.

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