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'I thought, well why not me?' South Asian woman is first in Milwaukee to be elected into office

 Jilly Gokalgandhi
Posted at 5:23 PM, May 24, 2021

MILWAUKEE — Immigrating to America at the age of three, Jilly Gokalgandhi knew she felt underrepresented at school and throughout her childhood experience.

"So at home, I would have a really traditional Indian life. We would eat Indian food, [practice] Indian customs. And then you know when you go out into the world, you go to school, it felt like that was the very American part of my experience," says Gokalgandhi.

It's a common balancing act for many South Asians growing up in America.

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According to recent data by MPS, 5,530 students identify as Asian, about 7% of MPS students. It's a demographic Gokalgandhi hopes to fight for.

"You know, I don't see women who look like me in this community running for office, and we do have a growing AAPI community in the city of Milwaukee," she said.

So she ran for school board and won the election against Alex Brower by more than 900 votes. Gokalgandhi represents District 5, which includes schools such as Martin Luther King Jr., Fratney, Holmes School, Lincoln Center of the Arts, Meir High School, and others.

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"As I looked at this historic election, as you know, the squad and now Vice President Kamala Harris, I thought well why not me?" she said.

Gokalgandhi is currently working on an initiative to help all MPS women of color, LGBTQIA + as well as gender non-conforming students build confidence throughout their academic careers.

"If we're not working every day on things that impact people immediately, and if people who look like me aren't in those roles, then we're missing a piece of the conversation," said Gokalgandhi.

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