Nikki Haley Becomes First Indian American Nominated to US Cabinet

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by Kim Meihua Roy
Governor Nikki Haley (second to left) and her husband (second to right) pose for a selfie during a trip to India in 2014. Image: Official Instagram account of Governor Nikki Haley.

Last month, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina accepted President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations. Haley is the second Indian American governor in the United States and the first female minority appointment in Trump’s cabinet. Later in November, Trump selected Elaine Chao as his nominee for Secretary of Transportation. Chao became the first Asian American woman in US history to serve as a Cabinet member during her eight-year tenure as labor secretary in the George W. Bush administration. If confirmed by the Senate, Governor Haley will become the first Indian American appointed to a Cabinet-level position. She and other women of Indian descent have made breakthroughs in US politics this year.

Born Nimrata “Nikki” Randhawa, Haley was raised in a small South Carolina town by Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India. A range of Indians have displayed solidarity with the Palmetto State’s governor, from citizens in the Randhawas’ hometown who celebrated Haley’s first gubernatorial victory in 2011, to Prime Minister Modi who met with her personally in New York in 2014.  Shortly after beginning her second term, Governor Haley led a ten-day mission to promote trade and tourism in India, and locals welcomed her visit as a “homecoming.” Trump said of his nominee, “Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”

The first female Indian American members of the Senate and House in the history of Congress will also take office in January 2017. Kamala Harris, whose mother immigrated to America in 1960 from Chennai, India, will represent California as a US Senator. Indian-born Pramila Jayapal, who has lived in the United States since 1982, will represent Washington’s 7thdistrict in the House of Representatives.

Kim Meihua Roy is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at Brigham Young University.