Elizabeth Warren may have suspended her presidential campaign, but her son-law, Sushil Tyagi, says the Massachusetts senator put forward some of the most progressive policy ideas, delivered knockout debate performances, and inspired millions to fight for big, bold structural change.
“Sen. Warren fought the good fight to end corruption and inequality — and led the policy landscape,” he told India Abroad, March 5, a few minutes after Warren announced that she’s ending her presidential campaign. “Irrespective of whatever happens, Elizabeth Warren will continue to have a big impact on U.S. public and foreign policy well into the future years,” Tyagi said.
The Los Angeles-based Tyagi, who is married to Warren’s daughter Amelia, has supported Warren through her campaign. Tyagi, president of Berkeley Marine Robotics, an ocean exploration and marine conservation company, was a catalyst in mobilizing the support of the Indian American community for the Warren campaign. “It's crucial that our community realizes that we can collectively decide the future of this country if we mobilize, talk to each other, and vote,” he told India Abroad.
The father of three - Octavia, Lavinia, and Atticus - Tyagi doesn't agree that Warren’s suspension of the presidential campaign should translate to America not being ready for a woman president. “I would rather say that this (Warren’s campaign) shows a higher future potential for the future of women candidates in the U.S.,” Tyagi said. “My daughters are inspired by her historic run - as a first time candidate supported by grassroots contributions and earning second most delegates by a woman in U.S. presidential primary history.”
In the past year, Warren’s policies, her work as a senator and her stand on various issues like healthcare, education and immigration have been highlighted, thanks to the town halls and debates. However, what is unknown, is Warren’s India connect - be it her interactions with the South Asian American communities in the U.S., her visits to the country, or her love for Indian food, especially daal and boondi raita, and Bollywood films. And who better than her film producer and entrepreneur son-in-law to shed some light on that.
In an interview with India Abroad, Tyagi discussed his work, his family’s commitment to Warren’s campaign and Warren’s influence on him and his family, especially his children.
“I feel that the South Asian community is really special and big part of our family,” Tyagi said, and added that Warren has a “personal and close understanding of various cultures there.” Warren “really appreciates” the support from this community as if it is from her own family, he said.
Tyagi grew up in a small village in north Uttar Pradesh, with a mother who had never been to school. He says he grew up around sugarcane and wheat farms first and then in rural police stations where his father started as a constable.
“Sometimes, we would live in a police chowki next door to sikh gurdwara where I could go listen to bhajans -- and sometimes our staff quarter would be next door to a Sufi shrine where I would go learn to read/write Urdu, Tyagi told this correspondent.
“Moving to small town police stations every few months,” Tyagi said he went through several Hindi medium schools “and without much of any guidance from the family who had never been to college,” he made it to IIT Delhi. “That was my first immigrant experience,” he said. “Even though it was still India, I did not know how to speak English, wore the wrong clothes, and did not know anyone, and did not have any money.”
But that helped him when he came to UC Berkeley as a student for graduate school in engineering, as he was “used to the uncertainties and willing to jump into new challenges as adventures.”
Like most immigrants who come to the U.S. on a student visa, Tyagi went through several degrees in specialized fields of marine physics and engineering, worked for years in data analytics software, and got permanent residency under advanced degree profession program. Then he worked in technology and finance for several more years and naturalized as a proud U.S. citizen.
Tyagi met Amelia Warren while they were both MBA students at Wharton school at UPenn. Both her parents were law professors then. “I have said before that my children have one grandmother from a village who couldn’t even read and the other grandmother is a Harvard law professor and senator, who ran for president of the U.S.,” he said. “I have felt that in our family, the common bond is from education,” as both Warren and her husband - Bruce H. Mann - “came from modest upbringing and found their path through higher education. I knew what they went through and I think some of that they saw in my life story too.”
Tyagi said his company is currently focusing to build underwater robotic systems for ocean exploration and marine conservation. “We are developing innovative low-cost autonomous swarm systems that will be able to navigate and communicate wirelessly in order to generate machine-learning data for maritime research and industry,” he said.
During his work as lead director of media/entertainment corporate strategy group of PriceWaterhouse (PwC) in Los Angeles, Tyagi advised top executives of Hollywood studios on their strategic plans and budgets for various divisions. “With that experience in film finance and distribution, I was fortunate to be able to help talented filmmakers produce some India-based films and documentaries that showcased positive stories and images from literature and history of India.”
He noted that “recently, a partisan book and websites have started to knowingly and willfully make false claims -- to hurt me and my family. These writers and publishers are making up completely ludicrous and far-fetched lies about some non-existent foreign ties – even though it is clear that all my life and work has been only in India and USA. I have never made any film or done any business in that other country and never even been there. Besides management consulting, my professional work has been mainly in engineering and data analytics anyway.”
Following are excerpts from an interview:
Q: How had Sen. Elizabeth Warner’s campaign reached out to the South Asian community?
Senator Warren has three grandchildren – all of India dual-heritage. She has traveled to India for family occasions and met all my relatives. in Uttar Pradesh. I have shown her many of the famous Bollywood films and we often talk about the interconnected history of various countries in South Asia. She likes Indian food so much that I learnt to cook some -- daal with boondi raita – though I don’t tell her how easy it is to make. I feel that South Asian community is really special and big part of our family and she has personal close understanding of various cultures there. She really appreciates the support from this community as if it is from her own family. She grew up in a small town in Oklahoma – and as young mother and working as a school teacher, she had seen the struggles of working families in U.S. up close – and therefore she will continue fighting for all of us in America.
Q: What has been the Indian American support for the Warren campaign?
The Indian American community is becoming more informed about public policies – and our younger generation is now getting actively involved. It is important to get the voice of the community heard and be included in the political discourse by organizing and volunteering for the campaign, to get everyone engaged, and turn out to vote when it matters. Senator Warren’s campaign had a large number of staff and volunteers from South-Asia and the Indian American community. She was endorsed by AAPI leaders and has significant support in Asia community in general.
Q: What is your assessment of the Indian American voting behavior?
It is important that our South Asian and India community take an active role in organizing and mobilizing. We sometimes get the idea that politics and getting involved isn't anything that has to do with us, but it is vital that we are both included and lead the outreach. It's crucial that our community realizes that we can collectively decide the future of this country if we mobilize, talk to each other, and vote.
Q: How is Sen. Warren at home? How is she with your kids as a grandmother? What relationship does she have with her grandkids?
She is an amazing grandmother and used to spend her summer months with the grandkids when she was still teaching at Harvard law school. Even now, when she visits, she is often cooking and doing the kids laundry and also taking important phone calls, all at the same time.
Q: Were your kids in any way involved in the campaign? What would they want to share about their grandmother?
As the school comes first, the grandkids are not able to visit multiple states which she travels every single day on the campaign trail. But when they can, Atticus or Lavinia go with her to some of the town halls and introduce her on to the stage. Atticus helps with the selfie line too but it can be way past bedtime because the Senator Warren stays there for hours afterwards to meet every single person who comes to hear her.