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Indian to head Asian American commission in White House

By Aziz Haniffa
February 22, 2010 13:00 IST
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Kiran Ahuja, the founding executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, has been appointed by President Barack Obama as executive director of the White House Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

Obama had resurrected the commission on October 14.

Although the White House has still not issued a formal statement on Ahuja's appointment, Administration officials told that Obama had picked Ahuja to head the office, and that she would report directly to Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter.

who immigrated to the US at age of two from England with her parents, and was raised in Savannah, Georgia

The appointment of 37-year-old Ahuja, according to many community activists, could directly impact the lives of Indian Americans and the greater Asian American community, and could have much more significant effect than any other Indian American's appointment made by Obama so far.

The office was created by President Bill Clinton and he too had appointed an Indian American woman, Shamina Singh, as its first executive director.

Sources said Ahuja's office not only had the personal imprimatur of President Obama, but would be more expansive and better funded than other Indian American offices, and she would be working with and across numerous government agencies to address issues concerning the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

When Obama signed the executive order restoring this office, noted Democratic activist Subodh Chandra argued that "the White House Initiative on Asian AmericansÂ… is also critical to identifying, targeting, and solving the various educational, economic, health and justice issues unique in our community".

He said, "It was an honor to see him (Obama) sign it and back up the commitments he made to our community in his campaign."

Ahuja's appointment was hailed by community activists and Asian American organisations, who cited her track-record as a grass-roots worker and an advocate committed to social and economic justice, and political empowerment for Asian Pacific Americans, particularly to women and girls' health, violence, trafficking, equal educational access, and civil and immigrant rights.

Congressman Mike Honda, California Democrat, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, also praised Obama for "his commitment to a strong White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Americans as evidenced by the selection of Ms Ahuja as executive director".

"Our Caucus has worked closely with her when she served exceptionally as the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum," and said, "I am confident that she will do an outstanding job in her new post," he said.

The NAPAWF said it was "ecstatic" and takes "great pride" over Ahuja's appointment and applauded the Obama Administration "for appointing a fierce sister to lead this

important effort."

Parag Mehta, former deputy director of intergovernmental affairs and public liaison in the Obama-Biden transition team and currently runs his own political consulting team, told, "When we heard that she was going to be the new director it was like a sign of relief from everybody that 'Ok, they are not going to pick some political donor from the campaign but that they've picked somebody who actually has a history and a track-record of working with the community'."

"We don't need to teach her anything. She knows what's out there."

Ahuja, an alumnus of the historic black university Spellman College and the University of Georgia Law School, was chosen as one of five Honors Program trial attorneys for the justice department's civil rights division. She is married to Javier Guzman, an assistant US Attorney.
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Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC