Thursday, May 19, 2022

Victoria Virasingh: Leadership Should Reflect the Composition and Lived Experience of People In Our Districts

Victoria Virasingh is running for US Congress in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District. Global Strat View caught up with Virasingh for a conversation on her decision to run for office and the key issues she is focused on.

Victoria Virasingh’s story starts with the story of her grandparents. They were Punjabi Sikh refugees who settled in Thailand after the partition of India in 1947, where her father and his siblings were born and raised. “My father came to America in hopes of a better life, and he met my mom here in Virginia, who is from Ecuador. They fell in love, got married, and started a life here,” says Virasingh.

Virasingh family
Victoria Virasingh with her parents

Virasingh’s parents worked minimum wage jobs. “Neither of my parents completed a college education and it was tough. Sometimes we were living on my mom’s minimum wage job plus tips, and we struggled with housing at times.” Slowly her parents were able to build a life here that had me going to a great school. They were able to put a down payment on a townhome in Arlington, and she learned about sacrifice, hard work and persistence through her parents.

“It is the story of so many of us you know,” comments Virasingh, “ when you come here and you start anew and you’re in your community and you create bonds and friendship and the community lifts you up.” There are sizable Asian and Hispanic communities in the northern Virginia area. A first generation American, Virasingh grew up multi-cultural, biracial, and was exposed to very vibrant and unique cultures. She got a scholarship to go to Stanford University, which completely changed the course of her professional career. After getting her master’s degree from Stanford, she started working in the tech industry.

“I started learning a lot about the ways in which our economy was changing, the ways in which our workforce needs were changing as well,” says Virasingh, “And when 2016 happened, the election of Donald Trump, I was I was devastated and I thought to myself, What could I do in this moment? How can I contribute to making a better future?” She worked for a data company called Palantir in the Midwest, and wanted to build public private partnerships using technology. She headed out to Detroit, Minneapolis, McHenry, Illinois, and Colorado. She spent time talking to people, local elected officials, mayors, and governors on their biggest state priority, and how technology could be used to better that. “In the meantime, I’m in very heavy Trump areas, so I’m able to see what Trump was able to tap into, which was this feeling that people had of not feeling seen and not feeling heard for decades and having an economy that wasn’t working for them. Not seeing their kids have a better life than they did, the definition of social mobility of the American dream.”

Virasingh had her own realization around that same time. Sitting in her apartment in the Bay Area, she looked around and saw the life she had created for herself. She didn’t have to worry about paying rent, or finding money to buy groceries. “And I realized, you know, it kind of hit me. Did I do it, am I an American dream? But I started to look around me and I didn’t see people who shared my story and this experience. The Midwest really helped me understand there was a whole part of the US that was not blossoming,” reflects Virasingh.

Virasingh took the decision to leave her job and come back to Arlington because she wanted to serve the community that had raised her. The more conversations that she had with families, teachers, and the people that she had grown up with, the more that she saw a widening gap. The rich were getting richer, the poor staying poor. Poor kids were falling behind in school. It was impossible to be able to buy into the housing market, and health care costs were unaffordable. “People go broke just because they get sick,” laments Virasingh. “And I don’t think that’s an America that we want to live in. I don’t think that’s an America that is shaped for us. And when I saw a Virginia that had changed so much from the Virginia that I was born into, I felt compelled to continue progressing Virginia forward and to be a representative in whom others can see their own selves. Because for so long, I did not see myself in my elected officials. And it’s more than just identity. It’s about the perspective that that identity affords you.”

Virasingh is focused on kitchen table issues that she hears about from voters every day: the economy, housing, and education. “We are living in an economy that is very different. How and where we work has completely changed,” says Virasingh, adding that we’re missing tech legislation at the federal level, because we don’t have people who truly understand the issues that are ready to make legislation on the topic.

On the topic of housing affordability, Virasingh stresses that the focus needs to be on creating more opportunities for home ownership. “How do we broaden the scope of opportunity here?” says Virasingh, “My parents on minimum wage were able to put a down payment on a townhome in Cherrydale in Arlington. For many families that I talked to, single income or dual income earners that make a six figure salary, they can’t buy into the market. There’s a huge problem with that. We can’t become a nation of renters, and it’s not just happening here. It’s happening across urban areas around the U.S.”

On education, Virasingh says that we have to redefine what success post K to 12 looks like. Sometimes it looks like a costly four year academic degree, but Sometimes it looks like a two year associate’s degree, or vocational college. “I think that investing in our workforce, investing in our future, that’s what’s going to help us with the gains moving forward,” comments Virasingh.

Virasingh got into this race because she believes it is time for leadership that not only reflects the composition of the district, but shares the lived experience of so many people in our districts. “I think that it’s time for leadership that is proactive in creating the solutions of the future,” says Virasingh. “I think there are politicians who create the wind and I’m ready to create the wind. I’m ready to represent the community that raised me. I’m ready to advocate on the issues that I feel like are largely being ignored right now.”

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