“Real democracy is beautiful and achievable. A girl born in a little village in India, now sits on a bench in my County, that is close to a million people, handling a general jurisdiction court which on any given day, handles Civil, Criminal, Juvenile, Probation, Condemnation and Mental Incompetency hearings. We can pave the path forward with strength, hope and faith.” -Judge Juli Mathew
Judge Juli Mathew is the first Asian American woman ever to be elected in Fort Bend County, Texas. Judge Mathew was born in Kerala, raised in Philadelphia, and has been a resident of Fort Bend County for almost two decades. She was elected to the Fort Bend County Court at Law 3 in 2018 after having served as Associate Municipal Judge in Arcola, Texas and a practicing attorney for approximately 15 years.
Given her political experience, the current political climate, and the upcoming elections, we sat with Judge Mathew to discuss South Asians in American politics, her thoughts on running for office as a South Asian woman, and her outlook on this country’s political future.
We’re seeing a greater influx of South Asians and members of the diaspora entering into American politics. What are your thoughts on why this increase is happening now? Is it a direct result of the Trump Administration or have we, as a diaspora, reached a point within our integration where we’re ready to enter the political sphere?
The current administration may be partly responsible but as South Asians, our roots have been firmly set in this country having established ourselves professionally and building a life here for decades, it’s only natural for the second and third generation to choose to take part in the decisions that affect their lives. Ultimately, I believe anyone who enters into politics in America does so to make life better whether they support or resist the current administration.
What are some of the challenges you see or have faced being of South Asian descent and running for office? Do you think these challenges are unique to Texas or are some applicable to the rest of the country?
Fortunately our county is diverse so people live, work, and are friends with South Asians so it was a little easier. But there weren’t very many elected officials, especially on the county level that were South Asian. There were also people who have held power for a long time that pushed back strongly, including personal attacks that remain ongoing. Challenges are not unique to Texas but will probably be seen in other parts of the country as more South Asians challenge the status quo and run for office.
What are some of the challenges you see or have faced from within the South Asian community itself, when running for office?
Unfortunately, bias and prejudices happen everywhere, even in our own communities. There were many instances where male candidates were given opportunities to speak when I was ignored. And other times where my religious affiliation meant I wasn’t invited to certain South Asian events. Sometimes, due to my name or how I look, there were a lot of people who complimented me for wearing “our outfit” or were shocked when I said I was born in India.
Chauvinism and/or antiquated view of a woman’s place was a factor with some of the voters. One young voter who told me that he will not vote for anyone born in India because they are corrupt – this boggled my mind since both his parents were born in India. Another woman close to my age commented that if I was running for office and would be elected, it wouldn’t be good for my children since I wouldn’t be home to care for them.
Due to the intrinsic diversity within the South Asian community itself, of everything from religion, nationality, culture and language; developing a coordinated effort of reaching the voters and bringing them together was a challenge. However, we knew that without bringing our community to the voting booth, we would not be able to see a victory and so we spent a lot of time doing outreach to every place we could find. So I just pushed through and to reach as many people as I could. My Christian upbringing taught me not to judge and to love everyone, so I proceed with my goals and delivered my message of inclusivity and importance of voting.
Do you see South Asians in Texas shaping the future of politics in Texas?
I definitely see South Asians shaping some of the future of politics in Texas, especially at the larger urban communities. We currently have a large population and are growing at a fast pace. Many in our community have been privileged to be well educated, financially successful and have close knit familial relations. I believe that once we learn how to navigate and assert ourselves in the political arena, as we have in other fields, our chances of success are high.
Do you see South Asians having a strong impact on the future of politics in this country?
I feel that the only way for us forward with politics is to remind the people that it must begin with them. Citizens have a singular guaranteed right to vote in this country. In order for us to be counted, we must register and we must get out and vote. Voting not only what we for but also what we are against. Vote in the local, state, AND national elections. The increase of South Asian officials illustrate that we can achieve those goals. I sincerely hope that we can break those glass ceilings further by actually winning seats in Congress and the Senate who can take up important causes and make effective changes.
Do you see a member of the South Asian diaspora becoming president of this country? What do you think that will take?
I can most certainly see any person of South Asian descent being President of the United States. We had several candidates who are of Indian descent and I don’t think it’s too far into the future. I hope that a lot of the news in the Indian Diaspora will become the norm and not the extraordinary.
Any thoughts on the contentious nature of politics in this country and how this can be resolved?
My personal thought on the contentious nature of current politics is that misinformation is dangerous. The callousness by which one branch of the government can treat other governing bodies by berating anyone who would dare speak their own mind on issues is disheartening. These events will surely be sorted out in our future history books. I still have hope. I know firsthand what can be achieved when communities that have been at odds come together for a greater common cause that benefits all.
Any further thoughts you’d like to share?
Real democracy is beautiful and achievable. As a citizen of this great nation, we have certain inalienable rights; that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is up to us to keep and hold those who would degrade it accountable. I never imagined myself running for office. I certainly never had someone before me who resembled me in this position. A girl born in a little village in India, who now sits on a bench in my County, that is close to a million people handling a general jurisdiction court which on any given day, handles Civil, Criminal, Juvenile, Probation, Condemnation and Mental Incompetency hearings. We can pave the path forward with strength, hope and faith.