It was a chilly evening on 26 September at a bar in lower Manhattan. A group of well-dressed South Asian Americans, most of them in their early thirties, sat around a table fondly reminiscing about George W Bush, the former president of the United States. “Did you see that picture with him and Michelle Obama?” one of the women asked, referring to an image of an embrace that the First Lady of the United States had sharedwith Bush at the opening of the African American museum in Washington DC on 24 September. “It was pretty cute,” someone else chimed in. “Funny how we are now missing Bush…”
On a flat-screen television above, the NBC news anchor Lester Holt took his position behind a desk at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York. His background was fading into darkness to hide specially invited guests, while the camera cut to the stage. From the right side of the stage emerged Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, dressed in a red pantsuit. “Pantsuit!” shrieked two women on the table in unison and laughed. But when Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for the President of the United States, joined Clinton, the crowd I was with erupted into jeers.
I was at a presidential-debate watch party organised by the South Asians for Hillary (SAHILL), an autonomous campaign consisting of over 3,500 people, which is, according to its website, “dedicated to energizing and engaging the South Asian American community with the goal of electing Hillary Clinton to the presidency on November 8, 2016.” The logo of SAHILL—embellished with translations of its name in eleven South Asian languages including Tamil, Hindi and Bengali—is reflective of the diverse community the campaign is attempting to mobilise. According to figures released by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a non-profit organisation, in December 2015, South Asians are the fastest-growing major ethnic group in America—close to 4.3 million in all, over three-quarters of which are foreign-born. Yet, despite their varying origins, a majority of them have been consistently uniform in their political leanings. According to an exit poll, in the last three presidential elections, on an average, at least 90 percent of the South Asiansin America voted for the Democratic candidate and in each of these elections, over 70 percent were registered Democrats.