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Is Nikki Haley rejecting her South Asian identity?

By Riya Baphna

American politician and Indian American Nikki Haley could make history as the first women and first Asian American to become president of the United States.

However, as Haley has become the only candidate remaining to stand in the way of Donald Trump winning the GOP nomination, more people question whether Haley rejects her South Asian identity.

Nikki Haley, born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa, is of Indian descent. She was born to Sikh, Punjabi parents in her home state of South Carolina.

Although her first name is Nimarata, Haley states she has gone by the name “Nikki” since birth. Her legal middle name, “Nikki” is in fact a common Punjabi name meaning “little one.” The name “Haley” came from when she married businessman Michael Haley in 1996. However, some claim she is “whitewashing” her name. “She refuses to call out the prejudice that animates Trump insulting her for using her birth name, because acknowledging and taking pride in her birth name would ethnicize her too much,” says South Asian voter Sahil Singhvi.  

Many also feel that she uses her identity only when convenient to her. “She has strong anti-immigration stances, but when she started her campaign she wanted to appeal to immigrants,” says Samvit Ganesh, a South Asian from New York. “Her politics themselves uphold and reinforce White supremacy.” We reached out to a South Asian political group for further comments but did not hear back.

Nikki and Michaels marriage was celebrated with both Sikh and Methodist ceremonies. Haley states to have regularly attended Sikh services over the years, as well as the United Methodist Church with her Husband. In 1997, Haley converted to Christianity, mentioning that the religion “spoke” to her. During her visit to India in 2014, she and her husband visited the Harmandir Sahib, or the Golden Temple – a famous Gurudwara in Amritsar, Punjab. 

Although Haley has addressed her Indian heritage before, she also allegedly listed herself as “White” on her voter registration card in 2001 according to Politico and The Post and Courier

Her difference in political agenda from that of the majority of the South Asian community separates her from this identity. Haley has been known for her conservative takes and is a registered Republican. However, 72% of all Asian Americans in the US were said to have voted Democrat in the 2020 election. More than half of Indian American voters are said to live in blue states. 

Vivek Ramaswamy, a recently dropped out GOP candidate who is also Indian American saw much of the same result as Haley. Both had been unsuccessful in capturing the Indian vote. Instead of showing allyship to one another, Ramaswamy and Haley took many jabs at each other during the Republican Primary debates. After dropping out of the race, Ramaswamy endorsed Donald Trump.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on Facebook, X, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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