An Immigrant’s Passion: Becoming the First Immigrant Hindu Woman In Michigan’s Government

Anyone who has been following the U.S. political news since President Trump was elected knows about the incredible response this presidency has stirred in women and their journey to power!  All over the U.S. women are shattering whatever ceilings have been built, in small community settings, in science, in media, all the way up to the state and federal governments!

And within these, it is especially inspiring to see women of our own South Asian descent going not only beyond the cultural barriers within the Indian communities, but beyond and breaking the limits of even the western societies!  One such person is Representative of Michigan’s 41st district, Mrs. Padma Kuppa.

She has since become a household name and a symbol of achievement and even hope for many South Asian women in the U.S. We can simply search her name to get a history of her campaign and check out Facebook to follow her current engagements.  However, who is Padma Kuppa?  What drove her on this path?  Where are her beginnings and what is her hope for the future?  West Gully had the incredible opportunity to find out, directly from Padma! Below is her story…

Rep. Padma Kuppa came to the U.S. from India at the age of four with her parents, who came to America for graduate degrees. Her grandparents are from Andhra Pradesh and she speaks Telugu.  She grew up in America, attending public schools from kindergarten through tenth grade, before moving to Hyderabad as a teenager. (Her parents are still there, and they have retired). As a child, she always loved Math so she decided to pursue engineering after studying intermediate at Stanley Girls Junior College.  Her mother achieved the highest education of her siblings, a Ph.D. in Biology, setting the bar high for Padma. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the National Institute of Technology Warangal, Padma moved back home to the U.S. for graduate school with two suitcases and $250, and the belief that nothing was going to stop her.

She moved to the 41st district more than 20 years ago. Since then, she has worked as an engineer and project manager with a career that spans the automotive, financial, and IT industries. Throughout her life, she has sought to bring people together to solve problems in the professional world and this desire also transcended into the community.

Padma is nothing short of a true civic leader, serving the Bharatiya Temple of Metropolitan Detroit since moving to Detroit. She volunteered with the PTA throughout her children’s K-12 education (she has a son and a daughter).

She founded the Troy-area Interfaith Group, created to bring people of all faiths together, and supported other community organizations that provided services. She was appointed to the City of Troy’s Planning Commission and has served on multiple advisory boards and committees there starting in 2002. She served the Hindu community nationally by advocating on issues with the Hindu American Foundation and was involved with both the Hindu American Seva Charities and the Hindu Mandir Executives Conference in leadership roles.

She also volunteered with various Indian community organizations when her kids were young, to keep them in touch with their Telugu culture, including Troy Telugu Association, Nadopasana and in various classical arts and music through the Hindu Temple Rhythms programs, and the Great Lakes Aradhana Committee. Whether at a temple, a Indian organization, an interfaith event or at a mainstream American event, she showcased her love of saris and her wonderful collection of handloom and traditional silk saris.  She even took the oath to her office in a wonderfully traditional blue silk sari, with her right hand on The Bhagavad Gita!!!

Padma found it important to volunteer in the community, to fully embrace being Indian American. She feels that we must move further from the concept of diversity, which is about counting people to see if there is enough difference, and more towards inclusivity, which is about making people feel counted, that they are a part of the larger community where their voices are heard and their opinions matter.  She works hard to balance her identity as an Indian American, and raised her children with awareness of both the culture that is their inheritance, and the culture they live in.  Married for more than 25 years, she and her husband Sudhakar Tadepalli, also an engineer from India, are now empty-nesters, with daughter Shreekari and son Shreyas both in college. She wants them both to be happy, successful and at peace with the world.

Padma is now serving her first term representing Michigan’s 41st House District, which encompasses the cities of Troy and Clawson.  She is currently President of the Troy Historic Society and a board member of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, a statewide organization that seeks to create equal opportunity for all.  As the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the State Legislature, she hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the State House.

Padma had no interest in politics or running for office – although she had always been involved in activism and advocacy. No one in her family had ever run for something political in the US or in India as far as she knows.  She was always interested in local issues and addressing them by building relationships and getting involved within the community.

Her interest in running for state representative came slowly, and through a lot of encouragement from people around her: Indian American mentors such as former Rochester City Councilman Ravi Yalamanchi and Wayne State Board of Governors member Dr. Anil Kumar; from current and former state Representatives, Democratic Leader State Rep. Chris Grieg, now State Senator Stephanie Chang, and now-Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib; and of course, through Padma’s close friends and family.

As she got the immediate support of people who encouraged her to run, the campaign infrastructure also began to fall into place, and many people who had worked with her over the years came to help her and donated to her campaign.  Padma quit her job as a IT Business Analyst in March 2018, and instead began knocking on doors full time in April – canvassing for awareness and supporters within the communities she had hoped to serve. As she canvassed, more and more became aware of her commitment to the community and the momentum grew – support signs could be seen all over the District and people wrote neighbor-to-neighbor postcards in support of her candidacy.

But politics means a lot of strategy.  Just like Padma, her opponent also had signs and mailers, which Padma had to learn to counteract.  How can you do this?  By the only means left – through direct interaction with voters and other means of connecting with them – radio, TV and digital media (Facebook etc).

Padma addressed the crowd at the watch party and went to bed on election day a little past midnight.  She said to her supporters “We know we have done everything that we could, we left it all on the field.”  She felt the rest was in God’s hands, as per her favorite verse from the Bhagavad Gita: Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma Phaleshou Kada Chana,  which translates to ‘you have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions’ (Bhagavad Gita 2:47).

Well, God did hear and he proved that she has earned the fruits of her labor!

She heard the news at 4:35 am on Diwali morning and fell back asleep until the phone calls started coming in a few hours later to congratulate her on the victory. In January 2019, when for her swearing in ceremony, she chose to wear one of her favorite saris and put her hand on the Bhagavad Gita to take the oath.  She feels that it is that verse from The Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2, that drives what she does. Padma always put in 110% into fulfilling her responsibilities, her dharma, whether as a wife, mother or in the civic and professional arenas. She feels that doing this in the political arena is just the next step of her life’s journey and her pursuit of dharma.

Padma’s goals as a legislator are to serve her constituents. She wants to protect public schools, as education is a building block for a strong economy and the foundation for a bright future for all people. The other key issues that she and her voters care about are preserving the environment (Michigan has more than 20% of the world’s fresh water supply in the Great Lakes) and strong infrastructure (even the Governor wants to fix the roads), lowering auto insurance in a fair and equitable way, and ensuring that there is quality, affordable healthcare for all Michiganders.

She believes in government transparency and will be holding meetings with constituents regularly, in the district and in Lansing. She has been assigned to two standing committees to work on policy: the Energy Committee and the Local Government and Municipal Finance Committee.  Her experience and skills as an engineer and STEM professional, and her work in local issues as a Certified Citizen Planner, member of the Zoning Board and Planning Commissioner, will make her a great member of both of these committees.

She is excited to work in the various caucuses she has joined and within the committees she has been assigned to as an advocate for her constituents. She is co-chair of the Asian Pacific American (APA) Caucus along with the only other Asian American in the Michigan State Legislature, Sen. Stephanie Chang. They will be working on commemorating Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American who resisted internment during WWII and celebrating the month of May as APA Month with a reception in the legislature on May 9, 2019. She wants to end the month with a specific day for all Indian Americans in Michigan to come to the State Capitol and meet their elected representatives, with an Indian American Legislative Day on May 30.

Living in the city with the most immigrants in Michigan, and an immigrant herself, Padma is very aware of how important immigrants have been to America’s history and economy. She wants to make sure that they also feel represented and included in the democratic process. She strongly believes that when everyone has a seat at the table and when the various perspectives are considered and valued, that is when the best decisions are made and the best policies created.

Padma has proved that change starts from within – as a daughter, a wife, a mom, a professional, she did not stop saying her plate was too full!  She persevered and kept going, becoming more and more engaged in her communities, identifying issues and gaps, working towards resolution and betterment!  Not only did she become a beacon of hope for our readers and women alike, she also set a wonderful example to her own children, her community, and to herself.  There is no dispute that women wear multiple hats, but this story proves that following your passions, little or small – getting involved in a small community activity like a cultural event, or getting involved with community service such as the PTA, or striving for voice within a broader audience, only you can limit yourself!  The saying is true, nothing will hold you back like standing still.  Take a step, then take another, then another…eventually you would have moved closer to your goals, passions, and dreams!  Worrying about what may hold you back, the problems associated, or telling yourself that it’s too hard will only prevent you from taking the first step.  It will not change the situation and further it will keep you from even trying.

On behalf of the West Gully team and personally from me, and I’m sure I’m speaking on behalf of our readers, the women of the South Asian community, and all the well-wishers from around the nation and the world, we wish Padma Kuppa the very best!  A good heart can only achieve positive outcomes, no matter who or what it is standing against!

For more on Rep. Padma Kuppa, please visit her webpage: https://housedems.com/kuppa

Also, be sure to check out more about her current projects on Facebook:  MI State Rep. Padma Kuppa (@mireppadmakuppa)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s