Glass Ceiling and Hyphenated Identity In American Politics: The Case of Indian Origin Politicians

Author Name

Priya Mathur

Author Address

Centre for the Study of Law and Governance (CSLG), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi Email: [email protected]


Indian Diaspora, Indian-American Politicians, Americanized, Glass Ceiling, Ethnic Identity, Hyphenated Identity


People of India have migrated to different countries for various reasons at various periods of its history. Among the immigrants of diverse nationality overseas, Indians constitute second largest diaspora of Asia next only to China. It is estimated that besides six million Indian citizens, there are more than 20 million people of Indian origin all over the world. In popular imagination as well as in academic discourse, Indian speaking diaspora in the United States of America occupies a prominent position. Indians have maintained their tradition of high achievements by contributing to the economic growth of U.S. and at the same time retaining their identity by maintaining their socio-economic and cultural links with their home country.

The professional and material success have not made Indian American community complacent rather it has led to the increasing awareness among Indians to participate in the political process and voice their opinion. They realise that without this they can neither protect their rights nor safeguard their interests as a minority. Therefore they are actively participating in American Politics. In fact over 1,000 Indian American organizations have been opened to protect interests of the community such as Federation of Indian American Associations (FIA), the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA), and the National Association of Americans of Asian Indian Descent (NAAAID), National Association for the Defence of Indian Americans (NADIA), Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE) etc. They exercise the most political influence through their campaign contributions and active involvement in fund-raising for political candidates on federal, state and local levels.

However despite all of this, not many people of Indian origin walk the halls of congress. While notable exceptions in the form of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley exist; more or less “glass ceiling” has prevented the ascent of all Asian Americans to the highest political position. In fact, there exists a notable split between who can and who cannot run for Congress with successful candidates tend to those with “Americanized names and personas” which is more palatable to other American citizens. This paper aims to interrogate the reasons behind this “glass ceiling” in American politics. The main trend that we must reflect on is that the push towards assimilation in American society directly translates into the rebranding of Indian origin politicians as ‘Americanized’. What we must, therefore, also reflect on is that how these politicians do then handle the question of ethnic identity. This is important given that Bobby Jindal in his Presidential Announcement downplayed his ethnic identity and argued that he was “done with…talk about hyphenated Americans” which disappointed many South Asians in the United States.

The paper will be divided into three sections. The first section will discuss the political history of India-Americans in the United States while the second section will reflect on the brand of politics of Indian-American Politicians. The third section will finally discuss the question of “glass ceiling” in politics to analyze reasons behind the lack of presence of Indian Americans politicians in Congress; despite “Americanized branding” for the same.


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