I remember the day like it happened yesterday. I walked towards the American consulate in Mumbai with trepidation. I had just gotten off the bus, passport in hand. It was the rainy season and cloudy skies over me. As I neared the consulate, I saw the American flag fluttering and my heart leaped. There was something magical about it! Today, my dreams were either going to hit the stars or be shattered. I could barely think straight as I walked through the door into the air-conditioned comfort and calmness of the consulate, soaking in the special fragrance of the interior. An American student visa was a hit or a miss and I wasn’t sure which side I would be in a few hours. Graduating from one of the best engineering schools, I was still not sure if I had the merit to qualify for a visa.
We exited the consulate. My brother — who my mom had forced to join me — and I had to kill time until 4 pm that day when we could pick up my passport…. stamped with the American dream. I was on cloud 9 and in a daze. I must have opened up the passport to verify that the visa stamp was intact — a few hundred times. It was surreal!
Growing up in an apartment in Mumbai, my dad worked super hard in the cryogenics industry, and my mom sometimes struggled to keep up the demands of 3 high energy boys. It was a stark middle class life. I remember how my dad drove the Vespa scooter many kilometers away to purchase good quality rice, as the rationed rice that we picked up from the government quota was not the best. We would enjoy a fabulous family Sunday lunch with the “high quality’ rice, still ingrained in my memory as I would look forward to it so much. As little kids, we would pile onto the small scooter for outings. Being the youngest, I would get to stand on the floor of the scooter, my dad’s arms around me as he steered the scooter. Those moments, I would feel like a King!
Taking the bus to school, I would see the life in Mumbai: abject poverty at many levels. I worried how life would play out for me. Fight to survive or perish. Bombay turned me into a fighter — a fighter for the poor, because I felt they were poor for no fault of their own. I wanted to fight for all the good things, the right values; characters ingrained into me by the potboilers of Bollywood that were conceived in my own city, as evil always lost and the good always won. My mom had planted these very seeds telling me stories when I was barely three years old about ancient Kings and Queens who had wonderful hearts, and did magnanimous things, demonstrating courage and fortitude. Stories akin to that of an underdog “David”, who walked into the “Goliath’’ lair, and came out the winner while never having a fighting chance! If you had a good heart, if you cared for people, if you had courage and if you had compassion, you would always win. I wanted to be like them.
Arriving into graduate school I discovered a country that I had deep reverence for, and still do today…passionately. I love this country for how it embraced me, claimed me as their own, Professors inviting me to Thanksgiving dinners — I found America to be a country that just willingly gave. I was struggling to find my footing, but I loved the kindred spirit. I for sure benefited. Someday, I would give back.
I found that opportunity to do so in Saratoga where my wife Seema and I ended up — chasing that innovation dream. We found Saratoga to be that perfect bubble to raise a family — she was working for Cisco and I for IBM. As I got aware of the unique culture of my city, I discovered little problems in my community. I would look around to see who would step up. A neighborhood break-in. I looked around. No one! Perhaps me? I discovered that the long established frameworks of the Neighborhood Safety Watch program could help. I knocked on doors to see how I could organize us and I was told, “I have lived here for 30 years. We don’t need such things.” But something kept me going. Little did I realize that an incredible journey had begun with that first step. I joined the planning commission. I became an activist, jumping into problems of the school district, hurting businesses, a senior center strapped for funds, or organizing Lego Robotics and Entrepreneurship bootcamps for the students of Silicon Valley . I developed my confidence, which I never knew I had to organize events and activities…a desire to help.
My anomaly of a political journey started in 2012 when a state senator invited me to a meeting and asked me to run for a political party position. I wondered, why me? I was subsequently very surprised at winning the Executive Board and Delegate position — the top spot. I was also surprised when the establishment-entitled party insiders hurled abuses at my win. I had apparently done nothing to deserve a seat on the table. I shrugged my shoulders, and pushed ahead to discover a platform and success applying the tech “getting things done” approach. The results were very encouraging. But, I had to work 10 times harder and found myself an easy target for everyone — as I never had the so-called “powers that be” supporting my run. As a person of color, I had to prove myself again and again, especially when pioneering a new course.
When a local councilmember met me at a Starbucks and shouted at me to NOT engage with a critical community issue, I realized that I NEVER ever buckled under pressure. Bring it on! I pushed back, and decided I would join this person on the city council, and find a seat on the table, preferring to NOT be on the menu. I barely scraped through the first election, winning by 71 votes as the same councilmember made it a personal mission to keep me out. I took my role very seriously, as I almost never had it. I worked hard, taking on tough challenges and solving them. I was running against the mayor for my re-election. I was told, “Don’t worry. You will still win, but #2 is not bad.” I had worked hard for 4 years, put my heart and soul into it, and believed that I deserved to be on top. I have always believed in running stellar campaigns. We knocked on every door of our city — something that had likely been never done before. Surprise, surprise! We beat the mayor easily — I was re-elected with the most votes in city history. The people with the valley mindset of “getting things done” were the ones who really appreciated what I had accomplished, and results I had delivered — to support me with such massive numbers.
The drum started beating hard that night — “take the leap and run for higher office.”
On the election night of March 3rd, 2020, I looked back to a yearlong campaign struggle. We had come far with just 5 close friends and 18 student interns. That has been the political story of my life. Every political run was an anomaly, that no one gave a fighting chance for. But we always won! And on that day, once again, we lived to fight another day…
That day is here. I look back at the last 8 months of the covid-19 world — phase 2 — of our grassroots campaign with over a thousand volunteers, over 50 town hall meetings, over 100,000 doors, and a million phone calls, 1.2 million views on TikTok. Wow! How did that come about? During the pandemic, my team called 86,000 seniors offering help with groceries, medication and masks. Hundreds of our volunteers helped thousands of neighbors during the pandemic and California fires. That is the diligence I will bring as your next Congressional Representative. When we hit a crisis, I will call you with, “How can I help?”
This congressional run, too, has not been easy. The establishment of Silicon Valley has cast aspersions, made up false rumors, called me “Batman” or said “Rishi does not deserve to even be on the city council” and surrogates have pressured people to pull endorsements. Even news reports targeted me with “an axe to grind.” My own turned me over for absolutely nothing. But I will always fight on….with and for integrity.
My run seeks to bring ethical integrity into politics by NEVER accepting PAC money or Special Interest Group money. I bring a result-driven outcome to challenge the Washington status quo and divisive partisan politics. America is ready for a new leadership and a change of political culture.
Now is NOT the time to sit on the sidelines. I invite you to jump in and support my run — allow me to take these values to Washington. I promise you — I will never let you down!
This country is a dream come true. I want to give everything I can for America and Silicon Valley, who I love dearly.
Today, I will be outside the doors again …of the U.S Capitol. Will my “visa” for entry get stamped? It is up to all of you — neighbors I seek to serve. We will find out soon.
If you have not voted yet, please vote by 8pm. The turnout is going to be 85% I hear. Voting locations or the process is at RishiKumar.com/vote
🇺🇸 Rishi Kumar 🇺🇸
Candidate for United States Representative, California’s district 18