When political speaker Chanda Parbhoo’s family gets together, the room fills with politics, passion and a sense of pride for being Indian. “That’s what I want [politics] always to be,” Chanda says, a path “to bring people together and to be proud of who we are.” It’s part of why she started her own Plano/Dallas organization: South Asian American Voter Empowerment (SAAVE).
SAAVE started unofficially after the elections last November when Chanda realized that South Asians had the lowest voter turnout rate, according to the statistics for Texas. More often than not, Asians capable of voting chose not to vote, she says.
So, Chanda stepped in. With a group of 10 of her friends, she started registering people to vote and learned why voting had been previously overlooked. “People were telling us they didn’t understand what they were voting for, who the candidates were, or how it affected them, and we took that as an opportunity to fill in that gap,” Chanda says.
She wanted to make sure everyone had a voice in politics by educating them on the political process. Speaking at temples, music festivals and other events in the area, she worked on replacing preconceived notions of voting with newer, more powerful viewpoints.
Often, the people she met would say they go to general elections but stay out of city politics. Chanda reminds people, “If anything, this affects you first – long before the president will affect your personal life in Plano or Dallas.”
Born in South Africa during Apartheid years, she knows what it feels like to be considered a second-class citizen, to not have a choice at all. “We’re now in a first-world country, but you become a second-class citizen by choice when you don’t go vote,” Chanda says. “It’s critical to being an American,” she emphasizes.
In 1979, the year of the Iran hostage crisis, Chanda came to Texas. There weren’t many Indians here at the time, and it was common for people to confuse Indians with Iranians. The racism she faced then – people telling her to go back to where she came from – returned after last year’s election. It frustrated her, but gave her the courage to speak up for her community.
Mary Jacobs, a local journalist and producer who knew Chanda back when their kids were in preschool together, remembered her as a petite, soft-spoken woman. When she heard Chanda speak at a recent SAAVE event, she was pleasantly surprised to see this conviction in her. “Words meant to hurt or intimidate can serve to light a fire under you. Hearing her story reminded me that we should not take our freedom or our democracy for granted,” Mary says.
Chanda, surprisingly, had no prior aspirations in politics, but she rose to the occasion. Her advice to women is simple: “Never undermine your potential, and follow your passions. You can translate that passion into a leadership position.”See all of the 2017 Girl Bosses >