Aruna Miller is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. She represents District 15 in Montgomery County, Maryland. In this interview with Overachiever magazine, she talks about sexism in the workplace, discarding labels, and coming from a place of love.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
If you’re talking about my personal achievements, then being a mother and a daughter. But professionally, definitely serving the people of Maryland
How do you filter out negativity?
You see a lot of that at the national level, because that’s what sells, people are interested in the hyper-partisanship so the media does focus on that. But at the local level that I’ve had the fortune of working at, you don’t see the type of negativity that you see at the national level. Here, it is about people from different walks of life coming together with their different ideas of how the state of Maryland should be moving. We try to remember that differing opinions should not be met with negativity. I definitely try to respect people who have differing opinions. It’s about policy making over politics.
Here, it is about people from different walks of life coming together with their different ideas of how the state of Maryland should be moving.
What do you do to relax?
I play with my dogs, who I absolutely adore. They add so much value to my life, and I feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t felt that. I also love watching YouTube! It’s just incredible how much information you have at your fingertips. There’s a lot of good and bad, but I try to focus on the good. I love watching speeches by great leaders, self-help and self-love videos, and cooking videos.
(Side note: I *had* to ask the delegate what breed her dogs are: border collie and Australian shepherd!)
Do you think Democrats in Congress are being active enough, in standing up to President Trump and the GOP?
I do believe that they are, but I also believe that as a society, a party, and individuals, you cannot build your whole platform on fighting against something you have to fight for something. When you come from a place of fighting for something, you’re coming from a place of love. When you are fighting against something, you’re coming from a place of hate. I think it is important to push back against the things we do not agree with, but I think it’s also important to fight for something.
When you are fighting for something, you’re coming from a place of love. When you are fighting against something, you’re coming from a place of hate
What are your thoughts on Asians being called the “model minority”- that is, the model minority myth?
I have a lot of problems with that term, simply because I believe that there is no such thing as a model minority. As minority groups in this country, we come with a whole different set of experiences, challenges, and histories. For example, if you look at African-Americans in this country, they are a minority, and because of the civil rights movement of 1964, they opened the door to allow other minority groups to come to this country. In 1965, LBJ recognized the incredible impact of the civil rights movement within the borders of this country, and started looking outside the borders. The civil rights movements helped to make him aware of the incredible discrimination immigrants face, and he lifted racial quotas for immigrants. Jewish-Americans are a minority, African-Americans are a minority, Latinx-Americans are a minority, we all have our own unique challenges, so there can be no model minority. African-Americans worked hard for our civil rights, we obviously benefited from that, and we need to recognize it. We all need to make sure we have a level playing field, that’s the model we should aspire to. We have no right to call ourselves the model minority. When we came here, we had more opportunities, opportunities that African-Americans fought for.
We have no right to call ourselves the model minority
Do you think that there is a stigma in the Asian-American community against Asian women running for office?
I don’t think so, but I am only speaking from my experience, I would not want to speak for someone else. I think that because there are so few Asian-Americans running for office, our community is so excited to see someone running, whether they are a man or woman. I’ve no doubt to believe that that stigma does exist, because we come from a very patriarchal culture, but I personally have not experienced that.
What is your stance on affirmative action?
I absolutely support it, and here’s why: there are so many minorities who have the skill set, who are just as equally qualified as non-minorities, but it is not a level playing field. There is so much discrimination. I am 100% behind affirmative action, because it creates a level playing field. It is not about giving a job to a person who is less qualified because they are a minority. It’s about giving the same opportunities to people who have the qualifications, but doors are being shut due to the color of their skin, the religion they follow, their accent, or their gender.
Who inspires you?
There are so many people along the way who have inspired me, but I think I’d have to say my grandmother and my parents.
What advice would you give to Asian women running for office?
I know a lot of women got very inspired to run for office after the presidential election, which is wonderful, because there is nothing more important than being engaged as a citizen. However, it is one thing to wake up and see the injustices in our country, and another to decide to run for office out of the blue. You need to know what you are running for, the different levels. I see a lot of people being triggered to run, but there are so many other ways to give back. You can work for local government, volunteer with your political party, help other candidates get elected, go join special interests groups that speak to your heart. I think you need to get that under your belt before running. It takes a while to understand the process, but Asian women- make that part of your dream. It is awesome to be part of policymaking that writes the next chapter of our country’s history. But first, take some time to learn about every part of it.
It is one thing to wake up and see the injustices in our country, and another to decide to run for office out of the blue
Do you think Asian-Americans are adequately represented in Congress?
Asian-Americans make up 3% of the US population, but that should not mean we only get 3% of the seats. Look at Caucasian men, they make up 37% of our population, but represent 70% of our government. Look at the Supreme Court, there are only 2- why not have all of them be women? Our country fares best when we have candidates that represent the diversity of the country
What is a common misconception about you?
*Laughs* I don’t know! I guess that it’d have to be that I’m a nerd. Let’s hear it for the nerds!
How do you stay in touch with your heritage?
I came to this country when I was 7 years old, and my father would not allow us to speak anything but our native tongue, which was wonderful, because it’s the only reason I can still speak and understand it. Back in the 70s, there weren’t a lot of Indian-Americans in this country. The small groups of families in my community would get together for holidays, such as Diwali, which we celebrated at someone’s home. Today, it is being celebrated in the White House. Imagine that! Going from a single home in the midwest to the White House. It’s amazing progress. In the age of information, everything is at your fingertips. Being American does not mean you have to give up your ethnicity. It’s wonderful to be American, but darn it, I am proud of my Indian heritage
Being American does not mean you have to give up your ethnicity
Have you ever wanted to change your name to something “less Indian”?
No, I loved how unique it was.
Do you feel that Asian-Americans are less discriminated against than other minorities?
I don’t think so, but every few years, a different minority group is persecuted. It goes in and out.
Have you ever personally experienced discrimination?
Absolutely! However, it’s more subtle for Asian-Americans, in my experience. It’s not outright discrimination, like someone wearing a white pointed hood. I was an engineer in a male dominated field, it was always the men who got promoted over the women who worked just as hard. I still see it today. Every woman has faced this, I think. We were born as females and it is held against us. I think we’re starting to see changes to take place, but they are baby steps. One of the areas we really need to make this change is in the political space. When we make changes in policy, it makes a big difference to have someone there who has personally experienced discrimination.
What is the hardest part of being an elected official?
Knowing that I’m not going to be able to please everyone. Ultimately, it’s about what you stand for. You do not waver on that. You’ll be in situations where people tell you to bend, but I believe that whatever you do in life, you have to follow your conscience.
What is the best part of being an elected official?
The people you meet along the way. It is just incredible, the stories you hear, the people you meet.
Did you have any particular goals when you started out as a delegate, and if you did, do you feel you have met them?
I wanted to give back to the country that welcomed me. I am so grateful to be a citizen, and to have the ability to pay it forward. I’ve been a public servant almost my entire my adult life, first as a transportation engineer for the local county department, and then having the incredible privilege of serving the people of this legislative district of Maryland.
I am so grateful to be a citizen, and to have the ability to pay it forward
- What is your go-to coffee order?
Panera Bread’s hazelnut coffee, black
- What do you consider the biggest problem facing Asian women today to be?
It’s just about the same thing all women have faced, that we live in a very misogynistic world. No matter your profession, I feel that we face this challenge because of a world that’s been created where the rules of the game were made by men. We cannot accept this. As a gender, we need to get up and challenge this, and say that we are equal to our male counterparts, and work even harder to level the playing field. We cannot separate ourselves into black women, or latina women, or asian women, we are just diluting our voice when we do that. We need to fight for what we believe in, together
Looking forward: Delegate Miller will serve out the end of her term as a delegate, and after that continue her work as an advocate for the community.