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Transcript: Mayor Adams Delivers Remarks at Flag-Raising Ceremony for India

August 15, 2023

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Commissioner Manuel Castro, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs: Eric Adams is here. Give it up for Mayor Eric Adams. Give it up for Indians in New York. Give it up for immigrants in New York. I'm back up here, because I wanted to say a few words about Assemblywoman Rajkumar, who has been a tremendous, tremendous ally of ours and a tremendous champion on behalf of all immigrants and all New Yorkers in New York City.

I also wanted to say that we wish everyone understood how important these flag raisings are to the immigrant communities in New York. We won't blame them for not understanding, but these flag raisings symbolize that our immigrant communities are not at the margins in this administration. But that we are at the very center of everything that we do. And so I want to thank Mayor Eric Adams for prioritizing these kinds of events that take place at the very center of the capital of the world in New York City. Thank you, Mayor Adams, for making these possible.

I truly want to thank Assemblywoman, Rajkumar, for always standing with us, next to us, in support of the city's effort to welcoming and supporting asylum seekers. See, New York City is a city of immigrants, but we are not a city of unlimited resources, which is why we need allies and supporters like Assemblywoman Rajkumar to call on the federal government and state government to do their part. And so thank you so much, Assemblywoman Rajkumar, for being the leader that we need, not just for immigrants, but for all New Yorkers. And so with that, I want to introduce you. Our Assembly member, Jennifer Rajkumar, Indian American and community leader, our Assemblywoman Rajkumar. Thank you so much.

New York State Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar: Namaste and Jai Hind. Are the Punjabis here today? Let's hear it for the Punjabis. Let's make some noise for the Gujaratis. Let's express some love for the Malayalis. Now I want you to make some noise for the Bengalis, Tamilians, and Uttar Pradesh combined, south and north. And if you love New Delhi, let me hear it. And if you love New York City… I'm New York State Assemblywoman Jennifer Rajkumar. We made history when I became the first Indian American ever elected to an office in New York City. I am also the first Indian American woman elected to a New York state office. And I am the first Hindu ever elected in New York state. It is unbelievable that I am standing here right now as your elected representative here in the greatest city in the world. My mom was born in a mud hut in India. My parents immigrated to the United States like so many of our families with just $300 and a suitcase. And now here I am standing before you as your elected representative in the greatest city in the world next to the greatest mayor in the world, Eric Adams.

And now our Indian community finally has a seat at the table of power in government. This is an incredible moment in time that we are sharing. Our Indian American community has never been as powerful as it is now in the United States of America as we rise in all fields, including government leadership. My mom was always so proud of immigrating here from India, the world's largest democracy. And so when I was growing up, she would always proudly say, "This is a democratic household." Whenever we had a fight in the house, we would solve it through the democratic family court system. One person would be a lawyer for one side. One person would be a lawyer for the other side. One person would be a judge. And we'd gather in the kitchen, and we'd argue it all out. That's how I grew up, and that's what I considered normal.

And years later, I became a lawyer. And my mom still wonders why. I went to UPenn. I went to Stanford Law, and I became a lawyer to take part in the great American democracy. And my mom always used to tell me how Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, once carried her in his arms when she was just a child. My family instilled in me the story of Gandhi who freed India from British rule without firing a single bullet. Gandhi famously gave up all of his worldly possessions except for five, his dhoti, his walking stick, his book. He gave up everything to dedicate himself to public service.

And Gandhi is my inspiration as I have with joy given up everything to dedicate my life to public service to be your public servant, inspired by Gandhi. It was Mahatma Gandhi who inspired Martin Luther King Jr, one of our nation's greatest civil rights heroes. Martin Luther King famously said, "India's Gandhi is the guiding light of my movement for nonviolent social change." As Indian Americans, we have a powerful place in the civil rights tradition of this country. And it's time for us to own our place in American history. And ladies and gentlemen, it is my Indian values that brought me to this place. My dad would always tell me, "If you want to succeed, you have to be like Arjuna in the Mahabharata."

They were five Pandava of brothers, and they were all told to shoot a bird. But only Arjuna could shoot the bird. And when they asked him how, he said, "I saw only the eye of the bird." To this day, my dad tells me, "Focus on the eye." As Indian Americans, we bring excellence to America. An Indian kid wins the spelling bee every single year, because we are excellent. Excellence is who we are. Excellence is what we do. Just look at the Indian Americans that mayor Eric Adams has selected to lead his administration, and you will see the picture of excellence. Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi was a household name in Indian circles long before her appointment as she led TLC and did so much. And in the past I'd called her up on the phone a few times just like a sister. And the mayor's Health commissioner, Ashwin Vasan, the very picture of an Indian overachiever, continuing the great tradition of Indian Americans leading as stars of the health field. Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala of Department of Environmental Protection with his BA, MBA and PhD from Columbia University. Dilip Chauhan, deputy commissioner, who got to where he is by sheer hard work and hustle, which I personally witnessed.

And [inaudible], Indo-Guyanese of Indian origin who gives her a whole heart to all five boroughs. We are excellent, and together we are bringing excellence to government and to the leadership of this great city. So look at us. We are excellent. And now look at the greatest mayor of all time, Eric Adams. He is someone who believes in the talent and potential of the Indian American community. He hired a record number of Indians in high-ranking positions to lead his administration in numbers never seen before in history. I'm also proud to say I was the first elected official in Queens to endorse Eric Adams for mayor. And why? Because he's the best. He understands our Indian community. I see him at Indian events in all five boroughs.

And I see him in the Hindu temples, in the Sikh gurdwaras, connecting with the people. He's an old friend to our community, not a new friend, who truly understands our culture. He is the excellence that we seek as Indians. And his story of rising from poverty to become mayor is a story of hard work and hustle that all Indian American families share as we too have struggled and worked to get to where we are. So when we look at Mayor Adams, we see ourselves. In fact, they actually call him the Indian Mayor. So I have made it my life's work to give to people all across our state the courage, the competence, and opportunity to rise up. It takes relentless dedication and passion. And Mayor Eric Adams and I share a belief in unlocking the power of New York's most forgotten and bringing people from all corners of our city to the table of power, because we believe in the power of people's voices, that they count. That is why he's the GOAT, the greatest of all time. So together, Mayor Eric Adams and I made history by making Diwali once and for all a school holiday in the city of New York.

People said it would be impossible to do, and every community fought for this for decades. But when everyone said it was impossible, the mayor came from the place of the possible. When everyone said, "No," Mayor Adams was the only leader who stood up and said, "Yes, you will have your Diwali School holiday." So you all came to the state Capitol. Many of you here were there with me, and you all chanted, "Diwali Holiday, Diwali holiday." And now we have Diwali holiday.

We are a community that has always believed in the possible. And that's why we came to the United States. And the mayor shares our belief in the power of the possible, and he made sure Diwali will be forever enshrined in the city of New York. So Jawaharlal Nehru, a great Indian and the first prime minister of India, kept the words of a great American poet laureate, Robert Frost, by his bedside. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep. What this shows us is that the work of a leader is never done. There is so much to get done. As we stand here on the 77th anniversary of India, let us reflect how far we have come, how much more we have to go, and how lucky we are to do it beside Mayor Eric Adams. Thank you so much. [Speaks in Hindi], and God bless America.


One more thing. One more thing. One more thing. And finally, this is very important. I get to introduce the highest ranking Indian serving in the mayor's administration, and she is known to all of us. Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi.

Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, Operations: Thank you, and good morning. And I'll be brief. Because I know I am the only thing holding back the mayor and you. Hi. I'm Meera Joshi. I'm Deputy Mayor for Operations. I have the honor of having family coming from Maharashtra, the city of Pune, and the tiny village of [inaudible]. I have a really deep honor that I get to hold this position. I'm the first Indian American to be deputy mayor in New York City, thanks to Mayor Adams. But if you look behind me, clearly Mayor Adams has opened the floodgates. There are many more to come, and I will certainly not be the last. And I just want to note that today we celebrate the Indian independence. That is actually the day that the British left India. But not necessarily the day that Indians were free. Because Indian is not just a place, it's a way of being.

And so we were always free, free in spirit, sense, sound, music, the mind and the spirit of Indians could not be enslaved. And today we bring that beyond the borders of the country to New York City and worldwide. Understanding that the generosity, diversity, and unity that is the Indian way can be part of what makes the world a better place. And so we honor independence, but we importantly, we honor the way, the way of India. And I just also want to note on a personal note, every day of my life growing up was Indian Independence Day, as my Indian father struggled to maintain the upper hand with my British mother. And he lost every day. But in all seriousness, their heritage was already intertwined. Both sets of grandparents and great-grandparents were in India on opposite sides of the struggle for the British army and for the Indian army and working in resistance. And today, so many decades later, it gives me chills to stand here and see how we have come together through democracy and across countries. So thank you all for being part of what is bigger than any one of us. And it will only grow with generosity and diversity and compassion. That is the Indian way. Thank you so much, and it is my pleasure to introduce our one and only Indian mayor, Mayor Eric Adams.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you. Thank you so much. The powerful words from my good friend and colleague, Assemblywoman, Jennifer Rajkumar. And just this moment of raising the Indian flag... And at every flag raising, I say to those who are on the line waiting to touch the bull, "Make sure when you leave the city, you spend a lot of money and leave George Washington here in our city to put in our economy." It is so important. But think about it for a moment. I say over and over again at the flag raising that being the mayor of the greatest city on the globe is both symbolic and substantive. We must have the symbolism. This was a city that was closed to so many groups. So many groups were denied the right to celebrate their culture, their understanding. I think about the Japanese community. They had a parade that they can only parade inside the park.

We said, "No, you have a right to parade on our street." I think about those communities for so many years. Mayors will not show up at their events and stand next to them and be at flag raising as this. Some people dismiss the presence of the chief executive being here as just a symbolic gesture. But it's more than that. It is symbolism and substance. The substance lies in who is part of my team. We're not having just the deputy mayor, the first Indian deputy mayor, just as some symbol. She's in charge of one of the largest portfolios in city government, the Department of Sanitation. She determines the initiative to keep our streets clean. She's in charge of all of our beautiful parks and make the decisions on what is going to happen with our parks. She's in charge of the infrastructure, the roads, the buildings.

So it's more than just what college degrees she has but what degree of commitment and dedication and fortitude that you're going to bring to government. Or think about Dr. Vasan, the commissioner of Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. How did you navigate this city out of Covid? Because we had an Indian American that was in charge of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that uses expertise to make these tough decisions. Should we close schools? Should we open businesses? Should we do mass? Should we have vaccines? Tough decisions that he navigated us through and did it in an admirable fashion and allowed him to continue to be the ambassador of help in our city and lead the way in the country as we look at new challenges that are facing us. Or how can we forget the work of what my commissioner, Commissioner Aggarwala, is doing, what he's doing to look at our environment?

You don't need the smoke that came from Canada for us to realize that our environment is in trouble. We need real leadership, real visionaries, people who are willing to take our city to the next level, so we can prepare ourselves to be the city of the future. You look throughout this administration from the areas of Community Assistance Unit to the areas of running major agencies, you see Indian Americas. This is the New Delhi of America, largest Indian population on the globe. And the knowledge goes so far. And let me conclude with this... When I was in India, I saw the footprints that were placed inside the walkway of our leader, Gandhi's last few steps before he was assassinated. And it was a symbol that the bullet may have taken away our leader physically, but spiritually, we must continue those footprints. We cannot be mere worshipers of his philosophy. We must be practitioners.

Because if Gandhi was alive today, he would be with the migrant seekers. He would state that we have an obligation to provide a level of humanitarian action. If Gandhi was here with us today, he would be walking in the streets dealing with the over-proliferation of gun violence. If Gandhi was here today, he would be dealing with homelessness. If Gandhi was here today, he would be with our seniors, so we don't have such a high level of suicidal thoughts and suicidal actions. If Gandhi was here, he would be with those who are using illegal drugs. We cannot only worship Gandhi. We must practice Gandhi. We need to be Gandhi-like, and we need to continue the steps that he started. If we don't continue the steps, then the bullet took away the dream and the vision of Gandhi. Dr. King continued those steps.

We must continue those steps. So I'm Gandhi-like. I think like Gandhi. I act like Gandhi. I want to be like Gandhi. And no matter what we do today, raising the flag today is only a symbol of what this great community has often... not only to New York. Go read the Vedic. Go read your early writings. Go read your early thoughts on science. It’s all the rich tradition of the Indian community, I wanted to be the modern-day Ramayana and say that we can lead against the forces of evil and take us to the next direction on who we are. So I am happy to be here, to raise your flag, to show my symbolism but my substance to this amazing community. Healthcare workers, frontline leaders, business leaders. You believe in family. You believe in faith. You believe in public safety. You believe in New York. And New York believes in you. Happy Independence Day, India.

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