Bangladeshi American community and the bigger South Asian community in Michigan are thrilled with the historic results of Tuesday’s election.
Hansen Clarke, the Democratic candidate, defeated Republican John Hauler in the election in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District and became the first Bangladeshi American to be a member of US Congress.
Chairman of Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee (BAPAC), Ehsan Taqbeem is excited and thrilled. Mr. Taqbeem said, “I am feeling great. This is the first time a Bangladeshi American is going to Congress. It never happened before. We are all excited that one of us is going to Congress.”
Faisal Sayeed, a Bangladeshi American, is an engineer at General Motors in Michigan. He says it is a new beginning. Mr. Sayeed expressed what many others are feeling, “We had been waiting for this day for a long time. It is the beginning of a new day for us. It will set an example for our next generation.”
Clarke’s father, a Bangladeshi immigrant, Mozaffar Ali Hashim came to USA in the 1930s. He passed away when Hansen was eight. His mother, Thelma an African American from Detroit raised him as a single mom.
Senator Clarke served three terms in Michigan House of Representatives and two, four year terms in the State Senate.
Economy is a big issue in Michigan, where the automotive industry has been suffering for years. Unemployment hovers around 13 percent. Prior to the general election, in an interview with Voice of America’s Bangla Service, Senator Clarke said voters were looking for change. He said, “Voters wanted a change, they wanted someone who is a proven advocate for them because our region is facing an economic depression.”
There is a large Muslim population in Dearborn and other areas of Michigan. Hansen had converted to Roman Catholicism and is very understanding and sensitive to the issue of faiths.
Hansen said, “ Because my father was a Muslim and I was raised a Muslim, I am sensitive to those issues. My priority in that area is to educate the Department of Homeland Security not to profile people based on their name or their appearances or their religion especially but to look at intelligence that is based on sound facts to help protect our homeland.”
Senator Clarke plans to work directly with law enforcement agencies and other community organizations to educate people on not to profile and accept people of all races and faith since the country was founded on those principles. He says “as a member of Congress I am going to work to make those constitutional ideals a reality and I think I am the best person to do that because of my background.”
Hansen remembers his father with fondness and respect. Hansen said “My father was very influential in my life even though he died when I was eight. He spent every day of his life with me and I have a strong identity with him and with his culture, I mean that’s half of my genetic makeup it’s from Bangladesh… I am honored to represent our community in the US Congress and I realize that I will be able to raise the issue of the importance of relationships between the US and Bangladesh whether it is with respect to trade and also to promote a democracy worldwide and higher labor standards too.”
Senator Clarke met with officials of the interim government in Bangladesh when he visited his father’s homeland in late 2007. He said they were receptive to working with him and the US on expanding trade and commerce. He said that is something he plans to work on as a member of Congress.
His visit to Bangladesh and his father’s hometown -- Sridhara, Beani Bazar in Sylhet left an indelible impression on him. He said it was an extraordinary experience for him “because I was the only child, never had brothers or sisters … to see the huge family I had there –it was just uplifting for me. I mean it is just fascinating for me – the love that I received – it was very moving.”
Hansen Clarke was impressed with the young people he met in Bangladesh. He said, “I met many young college graduates there in Bangladesh who are ready to get involve in commerce and business…So the US can form a strong partnership…I think that’s going to provide a huge opportunity for our country and also for our global market place.”
Hansen Clarke was inspired to be a politician “to help save his neighborhood.” He sees politics as a way of returning the tax dollars to people in a most meaningful way that can help them and their neighborhood. Congressman-elect Hansen Clarke still sees that as his mission.