Texans Elect New Pakistani American Legislators

Lasya Sangana, Staffer

With the 2022 Texas Legislature voting cycle concluding, Texans have made history by electing two Pakistani Muslim men to serve as state representatives, according to NBC. Salman Bhojani, an attorney and business owner, and Dr. Suleman Lalani, a medicine practitioner, both were recently sworn in as Democratic representatives for District 92 and District 76. As they were officially sworn in this January at Texas’s 88th Legislative session, supporters packed into overflow rooms in the Capitol to witness the occasion.

However, becoming one of the first Pakistani Americans to be elected is not to come without its own challenges, according to the representatives. Rep. Bhojani, representative for District 91, said that getting to this stage, especially as a South Asian immigrant, wasn’t an easy path. For him, coming to a completely new country at 19 years old and juggling three minimum-wage jobs was just a part of the struggle he had to work through.

As a kid, I was always told that the United States of America is the place where dreams are made,” Rep. Bhojani said. “Through it, I raised two kids, worked from 9-5, and took night classes for four years. I started my own businesses and helped my community members through my law firm. My journey into politics was not one I took lightly.”

Rep. Bhojani said that a major factor that pushed him into politics was the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. The election forced him to have hard conversations with his kids about the country’s politics. Eventually, in 2017 during the Muslim ban, which was a travel ban that banned people from major Muslim countries from coming to the United States, Rep. Bhojani drove to the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport to utilize his law skills to help people reconnect with their families.

“My mentor taught me that, as lawyers, one of the most important things we can offer is giving back to our communities,” Rep. Bhojani said. “By 2018, I knew I could do this by stepping into local politics.”

Eventually, after a tough campaign, Rep. Bhojani got elected to the Euless City Council as the first minority council member. According to Rep. Bhojani, in 2020 he was unanimously elected Mayor Pro Tempore of Euless, which meant he temporarily served as a mayor. Two years later, after knocking on 45,000 doors, making 10,000 calls, and bringing out 1,000 first-time voters, Rep. Bhojani was finally elected to the Texas Legislature. Rep. Lalani, representative for District 76, had a similar awakening that led to him getting involved in politics.

I have always had a passion for public service and a desire to help others through my work,” Rep. Lalani said. “I became a doctor because I wanted to make a positive impact on the lives of the people in my community. I have seen firsthand the injustices that can occur, and I feel passionate about ensuring that everyone has equal access to opportunities.”

Rep. Lalani emphasized the importance that he gives his job as a legislator, and how highly he regards the ability he has to create and support policies in people’s lives. As a result, Rep. Lalani participates in every way he possibly can, filing around 40 pieces of legislation and working to build lasting relationships that will make sure his bills become laws.

“I hope to leave a legacy of perseverance for change,” Rep. Lalani said. “I would want to be remembered as someone who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of my constituents and promote policies that benefit all Texans.”

I would want to be remembered as someone who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of my constituents and promote policies that benefit all Texans.

— Dr.Suleman Lalani, Texas State Representative

Especially as a Pakistani American, Rep. Lalani feels like this is a monumental step for his community and takes great pride and honor to be among the first in his community to hold this position. He said it is a historic moment, not just for him, but for all Pakistani Americans who have worked hard to overcome barriers and make their voices heard in the political arena.

“As a Pakistani American, I have a greater appreciation for the importance of cultural diversity,” Rep. Lalani said. “At the same time, being Pakistani American has presented certain challenges, such as dealing with prejudice from those who may not understand or appreciate the contributions of Pakistani Americans to our society.”

Understanding these challenges, Rep. Lalani said he views them as an opportunity to educate others and promote greater understanding and acceptance of different cultures. With Texas growing so widely, Rep. Lalani said this could just be the beginning of minority representation at the Texas Legislature.

“With Texas being one of the most diverse states it is time that our legislators reflect our population,” Rep. Lalani said. “I think the new generation of legislators will make a more inclusive legislative process that takes into account the needs and concerns of underrepresented communities.”

LASA Freshman Ananya Raghav said she had experienced witnessing the election unfold and learning about it through her Pakistani American neighbor who is very interested in politics and Pakistani culture. Raghav said that to her, the whole situation seemed pretty amazing because it was a form of South Asian representation in her government. When her Pakistani family friends found out that this was going on, they were similarly impressed.

“I think when we all think of politics, old white men come into our mind,” Raghav said. “So seeing faces that represent us was something we all thought was cool. I think this whole thing is a really good catalyst for the gate for more people to get inspired and more comfortable getting into politics.”

Raghav said she is very hopeful that the inclusivity will encourage more people from different backgrounds to get involved in politics. Ultimately, Raghav also hopes that this might even lead to a Pakistani or South Asian woman to be elected to the legislature.

Likewise, Rep. Bhojani also hopes to reflect this in the legacy he wants to leave behind. Similar to Rep. Lalani, Rep. Bhojani said this is just the beginning and wants to pave the way for more Pakistani and South Asian elected officials for future generations. 

“My election marks a new era of representation in Texas,” Rep. Bhojani said. “Still, it is a victory that does not belong to me, but to our immigrant communities whose children will hear their stories echoed by their elected officials. It is a victory for all Texans who will benefit from a new perspective at the  decision-making table.”