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Reema Rasool is Taking Up the Immigrant Cause

1 year ago / by Abhijit Masih

Reema Rasool, a first-generation American, is running for Congress from New York’s 3rd Congressional District.

The daughter of Indian immigrants from Kashmir who moved to the US in 1974, Rasool is a lifelong NY-3 resident, a serial entrepreneur and a successful business woman who advocates for small business owners. She is the first Muslim American woman on the ballot for the Nassau County Democrats on Long Island, where Rasool ran for the Oyster Bay Town Board in 2021.

Rasool is running for Congress to lower taxes, support small business owners by redefining the tax code, fight for education equity for children, keep communities safe, and ensure healthcare for all. The Democratic Primary for New York’s 3rd Congressional District is slated for Tuesday, August 23, 2022 where Rasool is running against five other candidates.

Rasool spoke to SEEMA about her life and plans ahead for district NY-3.

Tell us the story behind your very secular name – Reema Rasool?

When I was born in November 1978, my whole family – everybody – came to New York. My dad is the youngest of six kids and one of my buas was married to a gentleman from Saudi [Arabia], and she became Reema. I think my parents just wanted something easy and easy to spell.

Your granddad was a doctor, your father and mother are doctors, your brother is a doctor. What happened to you?

Exactly what happened?? I went to college and I started premed, believe it or not. When I went to NYU, I was premed because I didn’t know that it can be something else. My buas are doctors, my uncles and almost everybody in my family is a doctor. So I felt like that’s what you have to do and I started science. I’ll be completely honest with you: it was not my forte. I was not very good. And the competition was very good. And I just knew very early on that I was not going to be able to get into medical school with the competition. So I changed to the arts. While I was at NYU, I did my bachelor’s in fine arts and my master’s in fine arts in writing. And I was able to excel and do well. And they gave me a scholarship.

Tell us a little more about time after you graduated from NYU and before your foray into politics?

Career-wise, I went through a lot of changes. I first worked at Conde Nast and I worked for “Cosmopolitan” magazine. I was working in editorial and then I started getting into PR and I worked with Edelman. I got more into fashion marketing, I understood more about the marketing aspect of brands and I started consulting for IMG. I traveled to India a lot for the fashion weeks. I still have so many amazing friends from the fashion industry in Bombay. I loved it, I had a wonderful run, but unfortunately, when you’re in that kind of space, there’s no money. And then there came a point in my life. I was married, I had two kids, and I was going through a divorce and I needed to make money. About 12 years ago I started something called SAY WE (South Asian Young Women Entrepreneurs) a not-for-profit trade association. We started in New York but it kind of blew up and became national. We did a lot of networking events for South Asian American women who were interested in business and entrepreneurship. We would just do these free events for South Asian women, like students, housewives, anyone interested in starting a business?

Then I shifted my focus, I started a company where I did marketing for US infrastructure projects, but abroad. We would market these amazing US infrastructure investments that are pretty safe and approved by USCIS to be able to get a green card if you invest money in this fund. We opened offices in India and in UAE and took a partnership with someone in Pakistan. We’d been very successful, and then COVID hit, as you can imagine, that was probably a lot. I was kind of grounded, home-bound, looking after my kids, looking at where I lived, thinking about what else can I do? I started getting involved in my local Democratic Party. In 2021, they asked me to run, I was the first Muslim American ever put on the ballot by the Democrats on Long Island County when I ran for Oyster Bay town board.

What inspired you to run for Congress?

I’m a first-generation American. What can you do for civil work here in this country? It was never something that was presented, at least to me, as an option. The more I learned about it, and the more I saw gaps in representation for our community. Our parents came to this country, and built communities, built temples and mosques, really made a place for us in this country. I always consider the people that came in or the South Asians that came here in the ‘60s and the ’70s, the greatest generation. They brought us into the mainstream. They built a stage for us to stand on. They really want their leaders in business, their leaders in science, they’ve been everything else. That’s basically how I got into it. I definitely think that we need more people, more leaders from our communities to show our next generations that this is something that they can be doing as well.

As a voice for the middle class, small-business owners and the South Asian community, what are your plans and ideas for them?

I talked about my parents a lot. They came here in the ‘70s as physicians. They worked so hard. I think my biggest inspiration growing up was my parents – just working and doing everything right and never complaining. Unfortunately, … we’ve forgotten about these people. My parents are going to be 70 this year and it’s very difficult for them to think about retiring. They’re still working. That’s what I want to represent. People who are immigrants who came here and work so hard.

I feel like our taxes are just out of control, especially for small business owners. We don’t think of doctors and lawyers as small business owners, but they are. They have brick and mortar offices, they have practices and they hire people. It’s a major thing that I talk about the tax code for small businesses. I don’t think that any business that has 100 employees is a small business. I think 10 or fewer employees should be considered a small business, it should be a completely separate category and we need to find these people.

We give huge tax subsidies to billion dollar corporations, which don’t need them. And the people who are everyday American immigrants in this country, a lot of our community who own businesses and employing Americans, what we do to them is insane. We punish them with layers and layers of taxes on the same money. I want to fight that for our community. That is the major platform that I’m running on. Most Asians in this country are small business owners. We need champions for the middle class. We really need to help these people, especially coming out of COVID, where we saw just devastation for small business owners, the same way we bail out Wall Street every couple of decades. I think it’s time that we really bailout Main Street. I also talked about Medicare for all a lot. I think health care is a human right. In this country, we’ve been told that any kind of money we’re spending to invest in ourselves is a waste of money. [We must] invest in our children’s education as we need equal education. No one should go into debt for wanting to be educated. South Asian Americans have become so mainstream in this country now that American issues are our issues. It’s just that we don’t see ourselves represented.

You talked about your connections with the fashion world in India. What about your connections with Kashmir?

My parents are both born and raised in Kashmir. I visited Kashmir many times. When I started my company I opened one office in Jammu, I opened an office in Srinagar. Truly, I’m an American. I’m born and raised here in New York. My parents have lived here in America way longer than they ever lived in Kashmir. My parents came here when they were 22 years old. And now they’re gonna be 70. I consider myself a Kashmiri American. I’m not running in India, I’m running in America, I’m running to represent people like me, for this country.

Both India and Pakistan are celebrating the 75th year of existence and Independence. What does it mean for you as an Indian American?

I just feel very proud. I feel very proud to be part of the overall South Asian community. I feel like, we have come such a long way in this country, from when I was little. People thought India was like snake charmers and Indiana Jones. We see ourselves in the highest places of all industry. To be a South Asian American, I feel like we’ve got here and we’ve made a mark, I’m proud to be an Asian American. I feel we need representation and not just, we’re here with you taking a picture, but have to say we have a vote, we have a seat at the table.

For the stories of more incredible women like Reema Rasool, check out our Pioneers on!