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AAPI Heritage Month: Pramila Jayapal

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Pramila Jayapal is the former senator of Washington state, and the first Indian-American woman elected into the House of Representatives. Born and raised in India, along with being raised in Indonesia and Singapore, Jayapal’s personal journey has strengthened her advocacy for immigrants’ rights, with a focus on women and children.

While in senate, Jayapal has advocated for the expansion of reproductive health care including access to abortions, preventive care such as mammograms and ovarian cancer screenings, and ensuring that individuals on Medicaid would have access to contraception. 

Angered by the backlash that the black and brown community faced after the September 11th attacks, especially Muslim women in hijab, she founded OneAmerica, originally known as the Hate Free Zone in order to bridge the gap between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. 

From a January 27th article on Elle.com, Jayapal reflected on the power of women in her culture, and familial background and representation in politics and how that can mobilize change. 

“I come from a state in India that is a matrilineal state, Kerala. And so women really are seen as very powerful. My great aunt was one of the first OB-GYNs in India. She wrote the definitive textbook for students who were studying to be OB-GYNs and spent a lot of time in the rural villages doing her work. When I went back to India years later on a fellowship and I was working in northern India, people would practically fall at my feet when they heard that I was her great niece. Her work was so crucial for women and for reproductive health in India.”

“Eventually, I started my own immigrant advocacy non-profit, OneAmerica, and it became the largest immigrant advocacy group in the state. We had a national profile. And then I left to work on a national campaign called We Belong Together. And I realized, doing all of that work for 15 years, that instead of trying to get other people to do the things we felt needed to be done, it was time for me to just step up and try to do it myself from the inside. And frankly, I was really very tired of never—or very rarely—seeing people like me represented in politics. I felt that we needed far more women, far more people of color, far more activists involved in this process.”

Jayapal’s tireless work and mission to gain these rights for immigrants fall into the umbrella of ensuring reproductive justice and we are excited to see the work she continues to do on behalf of immigrants of color.

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