Vice President Kamala Harris Turns the Spotlight Over to Her AAPI Staffers

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Kamala Harris has had a lot of firsts. She’s the first female, Black, and South Asian vice president of the United States. Recently she was the first sitting V.P. to ever march in a Pride parade. And according to her staffers, she has created the first incredibly diverse team of AAPI people that many of them have ever worked on.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. In the past year and a half, Vice President Harris has openly stood by the AAPI community after former President Trump blamed the COVID crisis on “the Wuhan virus” and anti-Asian crimes rose across the United States. As a senator, she introduced a resolution condemning anti-Asian sentiments in a bill that would “expeditiously investigate and document all credible reports of hate crimes, incidents, and threats against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the United States.” And after the tragic spa shootings of primarily Asian American women in Atlanta in March, she and President Joe Biden immediately went to Georgia to condemn the violence and offer their support locally and nationally. “Racism is in America, and it has always been,” Harris said in a speech. “Xenophobia is real in America and always has been—sexism too.”

One way she is helping combat xenophobia is by uplifting her team of AAPI staffers, ranging from her press secretary to her domestic policy advisor. “These talented members of the AAPI community bring diverse and varied perspectives and they reflect the very best of our country,” she tells Glamour. “They hold a shared commitment to tackling the crises facing America, and they work every day to help us become a stronger, more united nation.”

Below, get to know five incredible Asian American members of the V.P.’s team, who all have a unique journey to the White House and an optimistic view of the future with Harris leading them.

Sabrina Singh, Deputy Press Secretary

Sabrina Singh didn’t imagine going into politics as a kid. She had her sights set on going to med school to be a gastroenterologist or a veterinarian. But after studying international relations in college, she pivoted and has never looked back—except when reflecting on how her family’s past connects to her present.

“My grandfather was living in partition during India and was part of the freedom fighters in India. He worked with Gandhi closely to organize a peaceful protest on a bridge that turned violent,” she shares. “The British had a warrant out for his arrest, so he came to New York. He was profiled in The New Yorker as one of the first Indian Americans they ever featured, and he started lobbying Congress for Indians to get citizenship in the U.S. and to get the Luce-Celler Act signed into law in 1946. The first job I had in D.C. was as a staff assistant on The Hill, and I worked in the Rayburn House office building. As I walked through the Cannon and Longworth buildings, it struck me that these were the same hallways that my grandfather would walk to lobby Congress for citizenship.”

Singh, whose family immigrated from Delhi to Los Angeles, says she had been thinking about “the diversity of this country, what it would mean to work for a woman in office, and what it means to be South Asian—especially after the 2016 election” long before she actually worked for Vice President Harris. She admits that after the 2016 loss—where she worked as regional communication director on Hillary Clinton’s campaign—she contemplated leaving politics. “I thought about a complete career change and moving abroad, but after my quarter-life crisis, I realized that staying in the fight would be worth it, and I’m so happy I did,” she says. Now as the V.P.’s deputy press secretary, she is able to help Harris reach even more people, working with reporters from local states and national publications on stories, as well as traveling with her and handling interviews.

But it’s some one-on-one conversations with the V.P. that have stuck with her the most. “One of the first times I sat down with her, she said something off-hand that really stuck with me, along the lines of: ‘When I go into these rooms, I think about all the people who are not represented in these rooms, and so I feel like I have to be a voice for them.’… I hope that when the American people see themselves reflected in the staff, they at least feel like they have a representative at the table for them.”

Nasrina Bargzie, Associate Counsel to the Vice President

Nasrina Bargzie was born in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the south when the Russian war was at its worst, living in an active war zone until she was about two years old with “lots of bombardment and bombings,” she says. “I know the V.P. has spoken before about how folks who decide to leave where they’re from, they’re usually doing it because they kind of have to, and that was definitely the case for my family. My father and uncle were prisoners of war who disappeared, and to this day we actually don’t know where they are. We made the heartbreaking decision to leave the only home that our ancestors have known for eons. I was a refugee in Pakistan for three years before we were accepted into America’s Refugee Resettlement program in 1985, which is when we moved to the East Bay in California.”

Because of her family’s history, politics was something she grew up with, and it was the reason she went into that direction in her career. “The case for me and other Afghan Americans is that when you’re a refugee, politics’ not working has come at such a high cost,” she explains. “For my family it was at the cost of my father, it was at the cost of our home, it was at the cost of our sense of security. So the opportunity to get to work on solving big problems is something that I’ve always been interested in.”

Prior to joining the V.P.’s team, Bargzie worked for the ACLU and was also the director of the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, the latter of which was the first time where “pretty much everyone somewhat looked like me.” Working with a predominantly AAPI staff “made me realize that when people put their heads together to make resolutions for particular issue areas, that their backgrounds end up mattering and being helpful in coming up with the right solutions.”

Surrounding herself by supportive people is something that has helped Bargzie ground herself through her career—and her life in general. Mostly thanks to her incredible family. “I’m one of six sisters. I come from a woman tribe, and they have always been the most supportive, amazing people that you can possibly imagine,” she says. “I grew up with an ethos from my mom that if you have a blessing, it’s because you're supposed to do something with it—you’re supposed to help others, you’re supposed to grow something bigger and stronger. And you should always believe in yourself, but also believe in others.”

Rohini Kosoglu, Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President and Deputy Assistant to the President

Rohini Kosoglu started her political journey in the mailroom of the United States Senate after college. In spite of “being told not to talk about politics, which can be divisive at times, and to take a more conservative path in American culture” by her parents, she always dreamed of working in the White House. She worked her way up through mentorships from senators for more than a decade and was contemplating leaving to the private sector when she got the opportunity to work with then senator Harris as her chief of staff. “I jumped at the opportunity, and I felt a huge sense of honor, responsibility, and privilege,” she recalls. (Kosoglu was the first South Asian American woman to serve as chief of staff in the U.S. Senate.)

Now her role is “taking complicated issues and breaking them down for our team in the room where we’re making decisions, and analyzing what we think the best position will be”—both for the president and the vice president when it comes to domestic policy. And a lot of her work allows her to lead with both her heart and her head. “When I look at different policies, my lived experience has impacted so much of my work. If you take, for example, all the efforts this administration is doing to help working families—whether that’s the Child Tax Credit or access to childcare for women in the workforce—these issues are influenced by what I saw around me growing up.” Now her immigrant parents are helping her juggle three young kids and a demanding work schedule, complete with a warm bowl of her favorite comfort food, curry and rice, some days when she gets home.

Kosoglu is thankful for her support systems, both at home with her family and among her AAPI colleagues at work. “It feels great to be able to walk into work and speak to your colleagues who have a shared understanding of things that are happening, especially with the hate crimes over the past years,” she says. “Having that shared experience is pretty special.”

Josh Hsu, Counsel to the Vice President

If you spoke to Josh Hsu as a child, when he was growing up in Northern New Jersey, you may have gotten one of his two sides. One was aspirations of being a professional basketball player—“until I realized that I was not going to grow taller than 5'8"”—and the other was “wanting to make the world a more equal and just place” due to growing up as a minority. Both were equally important, but he chose the path that led to the White House.

Hsu, who is the counsel to the vice president, was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and raised by two immigrant Taiwanese parents who ran a jewelry wholesale business in New York City. He took a job with the then Senator in 2017 because “the values that she holds and that she fights for were kind of inspiring to me,” he says, adding, “It was a really tumultuous time, but she was doing a lot of good work in the Senate, pushing back against some of the worst things that were happening in our democracy. Then I joined her when she started running in the primary, then the transition, and now in the V.P.’s office.”

Today he “provides policy and legal and compliance advice to the vice president and works on issues across the board including voting rights and civil rights, criminal justice reform and judicial nominations.” Though he admits, “My stereotypical Asian immigrant parents thought that it would have been great if I became a doctor or stayed at my law firm and just made a lot of money,” he is glad that he made his career decisions “maybe more on my heart than my head.”

One of the times he knew he’d made the right decision in his career path was earlier this year, when the president and vice president flew down to Atlanta after the tragic spa shootings in which six Asian American women were killed. He recalls, “Having them really speak to the issue and stand with the community there was really impactful and will be kind of one of the moments that will stay with me forever.”

Opal Vadhan, Personal Aide to the Vice President

Getting an internship at the White House is a coveted position that many agonize over for months. But Opal Vadhan, personal aide to the vice president, stumbled into it back in 2014—and it changed her life. “I never thought I would work in politics. I applied for the White House internship at 11:59 p.m. and it was due at midnight, and I definitely did not think I was going to get it,” she says. “I hadn’t voted, I didn’t come from a political family, but my supervisor at MSNBC—where I was interning as a broadcast journalist—told me I would be great at it. It made me realize that I didn’t just want to tell the stories to help people; I wanted to be a part of the change and truly make a difference.”

Vadhan went on to work as an executive assistant and trip director for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who she says shaped her career and remains a mentor to her. Now as personal aide to the vice president, she travels with Harris and the rest of her team to all engagements to ensure the V.P. has everything she needs on trips. And Vadhan recognizes the importance of surrounding herself with powerful women. “It’s just been such an honor to be able to support and see these incredible glass ceiling breakers throughout my career,” she says. “I’m grateful that I’ve been able to work every day for women who constantly fight to make the world a better place.”

The reason that politics was so far from her mind growing up was that she and her family “didn’t know it was possible,” because no one on TV looked like them. “My mom said that when she got off the plane at JFK pregnant with me, she knew she had to stay in this country to give me better opportunities. And now, 27 years later, their daughter works at the White House working for the first female, Black, and South Asian vice president who’s also a daughter of immigrants,” Vadhan says. “I think it just goes to show that the American dream is totally alive and well in this country, and working for this vice president, I want to show to girls and boys of any race, any gender, any socioeconomic class, that they can grow up and do anything.”

Originally Appeared on Glamour