“The last time there were so many South Asians in one room, it was to kick out the British. We can do this again,” joked actor Aasif Mandvi, kicking off the ‘South Asian Block Party’, a fundraiser for the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris presidential campaign, held virtually via Zoom Oct. 14 evening.
More than 1,300 people attended the event, which featured Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York; tennis champion turned philanthropist Ashok Amritraj; and actors Mindy Kaling, Poorna Jagannathan, Kumail Nanjiani, Maulik Pancholy, Lilly Singh, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Rizwan Manji, Ravi Patel, Tia Sarcar, among others. The event also featured Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code; venture capitalist Anjula Acharia, Priyanka Chopra’s manager; famed food writer Madhur Jaffrey and her daughter Sakina Jaffrey.
Musical guests included Siddhartha Khosla, who played an acoustic piece on guitar; rapper Madame Gandhi, who kicked off the party; singer-songwriter Rolex Rasathy; and DJ Rekha, who ended the evening with a dance party.
Mandvi, who emceed the event, chastised President Donald Trump for his ineptitude in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, his proposed dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, and his indifference to climate change. “According to Trump, my wife has a pre-existing condition: she’s married to a Muslim,” joked Mandvi, referring to Trump’s alleged xenophobia.
He noted that almost half a million South Asian American voters live in battleground states, and could be the margin of victory, especially in down-ballot races, in which an unprecedented number of Indian Americans are running for elected office.
Nanjiani, who rose to prominence with “The Big Sick,” a movie he wrote and directed about his wife Emily’s bout with a life-threatening disease, tearfully expressed his support for a good health care plan. “If we didn’t have health insurance, we would have owed over $1 million,” said the actor, noting that Emily was in the hospital for a month battling a potentially lethal form of arthritis.
“The idea that someone could be financially bankrupted and in a hole for the rest of their lives, just because they got sick, is disgusting,” he said.
Nanjiani said he also worried about his mother. “She felt so accepted when she first came here. Now she is scared to leave the house. She asks: ‘Where do we go now? We already left Pakistan, but they don’t want us here.’”
Bharara, formerly known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” also lambasted Trump. “He has erased the Justice Department bit by bit.”
The president fired Bharara in March 2017 when the former U.S. attorney refused to resign. “I had to explain to my mom and dad that being fired by Trump was not a disgrace but a badge of honor,” he said.
“We’ve had enough of this arbitrary rule by Trump where immigrants are unwelcome. You have to vote, and if you don’t, I will have you arrested,” joked Bharara.
Pancholy spoke about dismantling systemic racism and attempting to end implicit bias. “I married a man. It is not lost on me that happened because of (President Barack) Obama and Biden, and that Trump could take it away,” he said.
“Growing up, I felt starved for representation. I was a chubby, boy crazy nerd,” said Kaling, whose hit series “Never Have I Ever,” revolves around a chubby adolescent girl with a huge crush.
Kaling and Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris released a video earlier this year of the pair making dosas together. “Kamala shares my belief system,” said Kaling.
“South Asian Americans are not in the margins anymore,” she said.