Motto: “Proceed and be bold” and “If politics is the art of the possible, then our job as activists is push the limits so that what we want for our world becomes possible.”
Pramila Jayapal was born in India and grew up in India and Indonesia. She arrived to the US in 1982 at age 17 for college and struggled to “fit in” despite being fluent in English.
“It wasn’t until later in life that I embraced my immigrant and my Indian identities,” said Jayapal. “Those identities — whether recognized or not — have always shaped me and how I interacted with the rest of the world.”
She expressed that because she immigrated alone while her parents still resided in India, “I understand the pain that separation causes and I also understand the privilege that I had in becoming a US citizen, eventually, in 2000.”
Pramila has served her local and global community since 1991 working in rural economics, international health, social justice, and domestic violence work. She has volunteered with Chaya, a nonprofit organization serving South Asian victims of domestic violence, worked on the early iterations of the Making Connections project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation in White Center, and in 2001, started Hate Free Zone, now known as OneAmerica, an immigrant advocacy organization. Today she is considered one of the nation’s leading advocates for immigration reform and empowerment.
“I know I’ll always be doing something that is in service to the community,” she said.
“It is what makes my heart sing and makes me go to bed at night feeling I’ve lived my life well.”
Her parents always encouraged her to care about others, she said. “My grandmother used to always make donations to organizations that helped needy kids … Even though we were not rich growing up, I always felt very lucky that we had so much compared to so much poverty around us in India and Indonesia both. I was also inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and nonviolent resistance to achieve social change.”
We asked Pramila what charitable moment stood out to her.
“I still remember, as vividly as if it were today, the 2002 Justice for ALL hearing that we did at Town Hall in Seattle. For the first time in Seattle’s history, I think, we filled Town Hall with 1,000 extremely diverse community members — Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, Latinos, APIs — who were able to tell their own stories and be heard at a time when so much was at stake. It was a beautiful expression of democracy — in fact, one NPR reporter reporting on it said, ‘This is what democracy looks like!’ I love seeing people show up and speak out, telling their stories, and coming together to call attention to what is wrong and working to make it right.”
Pramila Jayapal will receive the Executive Director of the Year Award on May 16. For more information about the Community Voice Awards, see our ad on page 16.