SALSA Hosts State Assembly Member Ash Kalra in Sacramento
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The South Asian Leaders Support Academy (SALSA) held a well-attended event at the Flamingo Palace Banquet Hall in North Highlands just north of Sacramento, California on Monday, January 30, 2017. The Chief Guest for the evening was Ash Kalra, the first South-Asian to be elected to the California State Assembly (27thDistrict). Ash has succeeded in the seemingly impossible task of uniting the usually divided block of South Asian voters. He is an Indian-American from a Hindu family who won his seat with the support of locals and people of all faiths and national origins in his constituency including Muslims and Sikhs. And his popularity has a Sacramento connection now since he will be working here at the Capitol when he is not back in San Jose or Santa Clara County.
This event, a Meet & Greet, was sponsored by Five Rivers Insurance Services, Shanti Wines, ProEquities and Patiala Development along with the Flamingo Palace. And present here were members of various groups and organizations including the California State Fair, Cultural Advisory Council (InderjitKallirai), American Muslim Voice, IVACC, APAPA, Kohinoor Club, Indian Association of Sacramento, Desi Swag, Sikh Temple Fairfield, Sikh Temple Elk Grove, Gujarati Samaj, the American Petroleum Convenience Store Association and members of the ethnic South-Asian media.
Amongst the distinguished guests present were Steve Moore – Sheriff San Joaquin County, ManjitSappal - Police Chief – Martinez, Eric Guerra -Sacramento City Councilmember, Steve Ly - Mayor City of Elk Grove, Anne Marie Schubert - Sacramento County DA, Kevin Spease, Bobby Singh Allen – Elk Grove Unified School Board, Bhavin Parikh- Elk Grove Planning Commission, YK Chalamcherla - Folsom City Parks and Recreation Commission, and Ajit Pal – Planning Commission City of Suisun.
In his introduction our host emcee Inderjit Singh Kallirai thanked all for attending this event and for supporting Ash Kalra, the first South Asian, the first Desi, first Punjabi elected to the California legislature. The best thing is the groups showing their unity in supporting a South Asian. He also thanked a number of people for their support in making this evening happen. He also pointed out many attributes of the South Asian community, hard work and enterprise being amongst them.
Khalid Saeed, National President of the American Muslim Voice Foundation (AMV), in his speech said that his organization was based in Palo Alto in the bay area and has had the privilege of interacting with Ash Kalra on a number of occasions and was looking forward to working with him in his new capacity in future. Khalid explained that AMV was basically a bridge building organization which tries to develop relationships with other communities so that we can all get to understand one another. He also congratulated Ash for his victory. (On a side note it is important to note that Ash Kalra was an honored guest at the Pakistan Flag Raising Ceremony held by the AMV in San Jose last year where he presented a plaque to its Executive Director SaminaSundas)
After speeches by a few other distinguished guests, California Assembly member Ash Kalra was introduced and invited to speak. Ash appeared relaxed and pleased as he was amongst his South Asian community friends and their friends here. He thanked the hosts and greeted everyone with traditional Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim greeting and commended the organizers for gathering together such a wide range of diversity here. Kalra shared some of his family history and the fact that his father was born in the city of Lahore (now in Pakistan) and how his family moved to Lucknow, India after partition where they struggled to rebuild their lives. He said similar challenges due to partition were faced by many families no matter if they were Hindu, Sikh or Muslim. Some later immigrated to the western world, including his own as Ash himself was born in Toronto, Canada.
Ash said that he grew up in San Jose, and felt blessed to live a middle class life in beautiful California and shared his feelings about visits to India and seeing children there like him in the grip of poverty. He added that this fact (seeing such challenges) impacts South Asian thinking at an early age. He attended high school in South San Jose, then UC Santa Barbara and later Georgetown University. He said that contrary to typical expectations he did not become a doctor or engineer but a lawyer, and in that field too he got involved with defending the poorer section of the community and later journeyed into local San Jose area politics to arrive at where he stands today. Ash thanked the community and his family for supporting him during this process.
Kalra shared his admiration for South Asians, for their work ethics and efforts towards community service, especially the Sikh Gurdwaras for serving everyone. He also expressed his concern about rising intolerance and hate crimes and urged all Americans (not just South Asians) to stand united and vigilant against such behavior. He added that the entire community that he serves comes first for him and all their concerns are his too. Kalra said that he was proud to be a South Asian and very proud to be an American (as we should all be) and concluded his speech by sharing how humbled he was at this outpouring of affection from the Sacramento area Desi community.
To conclude, thanks are in order to the SALSA organization for putting together this event. It was good to see some (unfortunately not many) South Asian origin women here because their role in developing future community leadership is crucial. And our youth needed to be here too because Assemblymember Ash Kalra is a role model for them.