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May 24, 2024, Friday
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Harry Bhandari: First Nepali American state legislator in the US

२०८० चैत्र २६
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खबरमाला संवाददाता

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I began my early education at a public school established by my grandfather in our village of Parbat. After completing my secondary education there, I decided to pursue higher studies in Pokhara.

During my time in college, I actively advocated for the welfare of students, especially those from rural areas. This involvement sparked my interest in politics focused on helping others. I successfully earned a master’s degree in English literature from Tribhuvan University. Additionally, I served as a school principal in Kathmandu at the young age of 23. I’ve also authored numerous school textbooks and collaborated with two friends to develop the literary theory known as ‘Labyrinth Conscience’.

In 2005, I had the opportunity to travel to the United States to present a research paper at George Mason University. Following that, I decided to stay in the US to further my education. I supported my studies by working at a gas station. Despite arriving in the US at the age of 27, I had already acquired a substantial understanding of American culture, society, and its democratic system through extensive reading.

My journey into American politics commenced with volunteer work on former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. By 2012, I had assumed the role of president within a community association. In this capacity, I engaged in discussions with elected officials on topics such as park renovations, infrastructure development, and attracting investments to the community. I was also actively involved in the Young Democrats of America and held the position of national secretary of the minority caucus.

My inspiration to pursue a political career was drawn from the lives and achievements of politicians like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. During my participation in the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to meet national leaders. In the 2016 presidential election, I founded the organization ‘Nepali for Hillary’ and actively mobilized volunteers in more than a dozen states in the US.

In 2018, I ran a successful campaign, defeating the director of the Republican Party in my area. I was re-elected to the Maryland State Legislature from the 8th district in the Nov 2022 elections, securing the highest number of votes.

A primary motivation for my involvement in politics was to advocate for and represent the interests of vulnerable people. Once an outsider in America, I worked 12 to 16-hour shifts at a gas station to make ends meet. Now, I find myself on the inside, serving as a State Delegate in Maryland. My proudest achievement is authoring 19 bills, including the Dashain Bill, which was enacted into law. I also co-sponsored many more bills, all aimed at uplifting the people of Maryland. While law-making can be complex, the essence of democracy lies in its accountability. I ventured into US politics to harness this power for the benefit of my community. As the delegate and chairman for the Maryland Legislative Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Caucus, Inc, I advocate for vulnerable communities.

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Harry Bhandari (right) with Maryland Governor Wes Moore (middle) and Lt Governor Aruna Miller.

As an immigrant, I firmly believe that overlooking the concerns of Asian Americans, African Americans, and other minority communities would hinder the progress of the United States as a nation. Currently, the US is home to approximately 21m Asian Americans, a number projected to grow to 41m by 2060. During my tenure, I aspire to amplify these voices and ensure their perspectives are integrated into mainstream discourse.

My research into the political and linguistic integration of immigrants in the US has deeply influenced my approach to public service. As both an immigrant and an elected representative, my perspective has in turn shaped my research endeavors. As a lifelong student and educator, a key conclusion I’ve drawn from my research is the paramount importance of education as the foundation of a strong society and a thriving democracy. Consequently, my top priority remains advocating for and enhancing our educational institutions, a cause that transcends political affiliations, national origins, or socioeconomic statuses.

My focus has consistently been on aiding those in my vicinity to the best of my abilities. I feel equally at ease working in either location, driven by my unwavering commitment to a cause I am passionate about, regardless of geography.

My aspirations for Nepali leaders include concerted efforts to alleviate poverty in the country. I staunchly support the notion that educating the masses will ultimately reduce poverty and enhance the quality of life for citizens. A well-educated child contributes significantly to society. Without a strong educational foundation, addressing challenges such as the climate crisis, economic issues, and cybersecurity becomes considerably more challenging.

To the younger generation, especially those aspiring to enter the political arena, I offer the following advice: Stay well-informed about current events, social issues, and community and global policies. Engage in local activities and volunteer work. Communicate your concerns to your community’s representatives. Cultivate skills, embrace diversity, and show respect for different cultures and backgrounds. Maintain an open-minded outlook, celebrate differences, and actively work toward creating a more inclusive society. Always take responsibility for your actions, consider the consequences of your decisions, maintain a positive outlook, and strive for excellence. By doing so, you can achieve your aspirations.

Beyond my legislative duties, I am a tenured faculty member. I take a leave of absence without pay during the legislative session, and when the general assembly is not in session, I work as a full-time educator. I love sharing my passion with the next generation. Additionally, I cherish my role as a loving husband and devoted father to two children. Furthermore, I have a keen interest in reading or listening to at least one book weekly, which fuels my dedication to continuous learning and personal growth.

About him

Kanti Kumari Bhandari (Mother)

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I am immensely happy that my son won the election with the help of the American people. He has been helping both the Americans and the Nepali diaspora here. He always listens to the needs of people and helps them, which I like the most. I wish him all the best to continue his good deeds and contribute more to the development projects in Nepal.

Loren Henderson (Professor)

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I would like to share a quote from Barack Obama that sums up what I believed for Harry and would like Harry to carry with him: ‘And where we are met with cynicism and doubt and fear and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of the American people in three simple words—yes, we can.’

Chris Van Hollen (Colleague)

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If anyone likes to talk about the American dream, it’s Harry Bhandari. I feel so proud that he came here to America, worked hard and now is giving back to society. He is an educator and he advocates for education for everybody. People like Harry are the ones who we like to be around with.

from The Himalayan times Sept. 14, 2023