by We Are Sikhs — April 28, 2022
"We are soldiers. That is our heritage." - Victoria Virasingh
Victoria Virasingh was born and raised in Arlington, VA, and is the daughter of immigrants from Ecuador and Punjabi Sikhs. She earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts from Stanford University on a full scholarship. After completing her education, she worked for Senator Diane Feinstein and then pursued a career in technology at Palantir where she founded and led the Future of Work team. She returned to her home in Arlington to focus on community building, local politics, and working with nonprofits.
Victoria joined us to discuss her experience growing up in America, what led her to run for congress, and her hopes for restoring the American Dream.
You come from two incredible cultures. Your father is Sikh-Punjabi, and your mother is from Ecuador. What was it like growing up with these two backgrounds in America?
That’s America, right? My biracial upbringing and the influence of two cultures in one family are seen all over Virginia. I grew up surrounded by a variety of cultures and languages. I think that is one of the things that makes this region great.
I have had the opportunity to live abroad, and it made me appreciate how beautiful it is that my diversity and upbringing are celebrated in America. It is not always the case in other places. It is important to talk about our stories and our origins. Where we come from influences who we are. We need to celebrate our stories to build awareness and ultimately create acceptance for every community.
Can you share your parent's immigrant story?
The story begins with my grandparents. My Sikh grandparents on my dad’s side lived in the Punjab state before Partition. After the Partition, they found themselves amid a lot of conflict and violence. Like so many other Sikh-Punjabi families, they left to find a new home. Their new home was in Thailand, where my father and his siblings were born and raised. My father went through the experience of living in a country that was foreign to his parents, which was very similar to my own experience.
When he grew up, my father moved to Northern Virginia. My mom was from Ecuador and had been renting an apartment with a friend who was moving out. She placed an ad in the newspaper, and my dad checked out the place. That is how they met, and they fell in love. My mom had never even tried Indian food before she met my dad, but they fell in love, married, and started a family.
I once asked them how they fell in love when they didn’t know much about each other. It all happened quickly. And my parents said that some connections supersede language, culture, or faith.
Do you see a lot of commonality between your two backgrounds?
There is a lot in common between the Latin culture and Punjabi-Sikh culture, and so much unites them. Both cultures strongly value education. They also stress being deeply rooted in your faith, community, and family. These are values that I carry with me today. But, there are many differences as well.
English was not the first language for either of my parents. So, growing up, there were a lot of funny miscommunication experiences and different cultural frustrations they had to navigate. As I grew up, I explored the histories of both cultures and developed a deeper understanding of where my parents came from and how they each saw the world.
What was your experience growing up in America?
Growing up in Northern Virginia and being biracial was not something I fully understood until I was a little older. I started noticing how other people reacted to seeing me. I resemble a lot of cultures, and people often hesitate when they see me.
When I am with my parents, I closely resemble my father and his Punjabi heritage. My last name is also very obviously Punjabi. So, when I was younger, people would often assume my mother was my babysitter.
As I got older, I was constantly explaining myself and educating others on the two parts of my culture. That can feel a little exhausting, but I believe it has instilled the ability in me to teach others. There is tremendous accountability and responsibility because it is so important to raise awareness in our broader communities.
What motivated you to run for congress?
My parents came to America to pursue the American Dream and to give me a better life than they had. They both worked minimum wage jobs. Neither of them completed a college education. We struggled to get by, but we did.
I was the first in my family to go to college. I got a full-ride scholarship to go to Stanford. I earned my master's degree. I worked in the tech industry. I worked with Senator Feinstein.
I did all of this, and then I came back home and started getting involved in the community where I was raised. The more I got involved, the more I saw and heard how everyone has their own version of the American Dream.
But, that American dream is becoming harder and harder for us to reach. I realized that if I were born in this district today, my story would not be possible under the same circumstances I was raised with. You cannot survive on one minimum wage job like we did when my dad lost his job. My parents would never have been able to buy a home as they did in the 90s. There are so many things with our economy that do not work for the average family.
I decided to run for congress because I believe that my lived experience, professional experience, and commitment to my community are currently missing at the federal level.
How does your experience in the tech industry prepare you to restore the American Dream?
Whether or not you like tech, it is here to stay. It is the driving force of our economy. It is changing how and where we work. It is changing how we communicate.
We need new leadership who have expertise in tech and a deep understanding of the industry and a passion for making our economy thrive without leaving anyone behind. Action needs to be taken at a federal level, and we don’t currently have the leadership to make that happen.
How has your Sikh background motivated you to run for congress?
We are soldiers. That is our heritage. I genuinely feel that I am a soldier in this campaign. I am fighting every single day for a better America. I listen to the needs of every community, and I understand what it is like to come from a minority community. Understanding what it feels like to be unseen and unheard has given me the ability to see the unseen and hear the unheard.
I carry my family’s refugee story with me. I take those experiences with me every day because of the love that I have for my family and their sacrifices. They are the reason I can be here.
Do you have any advice for someone who is considering running for office?
There have been so many moments where I have been told that I am not the right face; I am not the right person for the job, school, or opportunity. I have been told to wait my turn or get more experience, and I continue to hear that.
For so many of us who come from minority communities, there seem to be two outcomes to hearing those messages. Either you let the world define you and tell you who you can be. Or you do what I do. You hear the negativity, but you don’t let yourself hear it. When someone says, I probably cannot do something; I hear that maybe I can. Even if there is only a 1% chance, that is a chance I am willing to take.
Don’t let others define you, where you can go, or how you can find success. You define that. When you have that drive inside of you where you wake up each day and know why you are doing what you are doing, no one can touch that. Developing that passion is almost like a shield from all of the hate and negativity that will come your way. That will keep you motivated and grounded, and no one will be able to take that away from you.