I take great pride in being an American citizen. For more than 20 years I have been a citizen of this country and had the ability to experience what it means to be an American citizen with freedom of religion and speech, be protected by the laws and regulations of the United States and most importantly be held accountable as a citizen to uphold my civic duties.

Lately, our community has been the subject of hate crimes. Hate crimes due to the color of our skin, our clothing choices, our accents and our culture. Our community consist of more than 3.5 million people living in the United States and contributing as citizens. We are doctors, CPAs, hoteliers, engineers, business executives, store owners and operators, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and children of hard working individuals that came here for the same reason I did. To live the American Dream, pursue greatness in health and wealth and raise my family in a place where they are safe and protected.

We often hear we do not know what people are going through unless we walk in their shoes. Reading about these incidents of hate crimes did not prepare me for the feelings I had when I myself was targeted for being an Indian American. In Orlando, Florida, recently, I was told to “get out, Muslim.” The fear, hurt and disrespect I felt was unimaginable. These feelings along with the other Indian American victims of this discrimination is where my passion for change began.

Gandhi says “you must be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe in order to be the change you must understand and to understand we must educate. It is imperative that we put a stop to these unwarranted crimes by educating our fellow Americans and most importantly our community leaders throughout the United States what it means to be an Indian American. We must stand together right now to stop the spread of the targeting, bullying and harassment of our people. Today, I call on you, my brothers and sisters of our Indian community to actively be this change. We need your participation to help us educate our community of our culture and beliefs. We need your support and participation to come up with a plan to take to our lawmakers so we get the protection we deserve. Together we can prevent this hate and discrimination from entering our schools and neighborhoods.

More than anything we need the support of our community leaders to help us show the country that we are your engineers, business owners, neighbors, friends, we are your fellow Americans. Our culture is filled with love and respect for all, so join me as I try to teach the world about our Indian culture.

In order to achieve this change we must gather with our community leaders and lawmakers to pursue equality and respect for our people. Together we must make it clear to the world that the abuse, be it physical or emotional, of an Indian American is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our society or by our judicial system. We have elected these officials to serve and protect our communities – all communities. It’s time for us to ask them: What are you going to do to protect Indian Americans, and demand an answer.

Jan Gautam

Orlando, Florida

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