Indian-American engineer-entrepreneur Shrina Kurani challenges a 30-year Republican veteran in a US Congressional race in a district that is predominantly white.
A young Gujarati woman could just be elected the United States Representative from District 41 in California.
Shrina Kurani's first language is Gujarati and she likes to call herself an engineer and an entrepreneur, but not a politician.
Just weeks away from the preliminaries, this daughter of a Gujarati immigrant is taking on a 30-year Republican veteran Congressman in a district that is predominantly white.
Born and raised in Riverside, California, Shrina's parents migrated to the US in the 1980s from Mumbai.
Her father, armed with a master's degree in chemistry, had to settle for something less than he deserved and worked as a pool boy, seven days a week.
The Gujarati business acumen and hard work helped him buy off the pool supply store where he worked. The business has now grown to 14 stores across the county.
Shrina's first brush with a political campaign was when she was 12 years old when her father ran for the city council.
The young daughter did her part and learned firsthand about community service and took it upon herself to inform them about their misplaced notions of her own culture.
"That was my first time getting politically involved," Shirina recalls in a conversation with Rediff.com US Contributor Abhijit Masih from her home in Riverside.
"Knocking on doors, making phone calls, and talking to members of our community and saying, 'Hey, you should vote for my dad'."
Using the same line now for herself, the mechanical engineer is running against Republican Ken Calvert who has been in the House since 1993.
Kurani realizes the challenge and acknowledges that there is a major percentage of people in her district that are misinformed and a lot of them have a lot of fear.
"There is a lot of things that we need to change; to actually fight that fear with truth and with a vision for the future. The current incumbent has sort of left behind the community," she says. "He is not supporting small businesses, he's voting against the environment, voting against health care, voting against all of these things that are very important to the voters in our community. So we need to make sure that he needs to go. Time's up, and it's time to flip the 41st district."
Before entering the fray for the House of Representatives, post a master's degree in sustainability from Sweden, Shrina worked tirelessly to help companies transition to renewable energy.
She has also worked on a design project for NASA for the South Pole of the moon, to create a heat rejection system to be able to collect data and have a lunar station on the moon.
"I was very captivated," she explains, "with how we can use science and technology to inform policy that has a positive impact on the world."
Kurani also focuses on climate change mitigation in her campaign and has done a lot of work with the European Union, on carbon sequestration of biomass across Europe.
She was also part of the climate change negotiations since the Paris Agreement was signed and was at COP26 in Glasgow last autumn as an official participant.
The ardent environmentalist is also an active entrepreneur and has been working over the past few years to start clean technology companies.
"I started investing in health care and sustainability and education before I started actually helping build a financial technology company to help under-represented entrepreneurs get access to capital, realizing that the capital formation and capital industries across the US are just kind of broken," she says.
She has also turned her focus towards empowering and finding funding for women-led companies, people of color founders, and people who come from backgrounds that don't traditionally have access to capital.
So what made her decide to run for Congress?
The answer to that stems from the struggles Shrina and her brother Ravi saw their parents endure.
"One of the things was growing up in my parent's small business, realizing that they were working seven days a week to give us a better life. And that isn't cutting it for families these days. It's still not enough.
"We need to be able to invest in our economy, be able to have good quality jobs, to make sure that we're fighting climate change and making sure that people have access to a healthy and safe community," she says.
Shirina speaks passionately about the ills dogging District 41 and emphatically lays claim to the office.
But can she pull off a sensational upset and unseat Congressman Calvert who has been in the House for close to 30 years with a large percentage of the demographic sort of skewed in his favor?
"Well, someone has to, right," she retorts without missing a beat.
"Someone's going to be able to bring a fresh perspective and an immigrant perspective, someone who has gone through what we've gone through, but also comes from our value background."
The not yet 30 candidate for Congress has the support of her entire family in her big decision.
They have been pitching in with whatever they can; posting, texting, conducting baking sessions, writing letters. Her mother has been working the phone lines to garner support.
Her team includes husband Marius, a PhD candidate at Stanford and a landscape photographer, who she met in college in Sweden.
The brown eyes light up as she remembers, "Marius and I met doing our masters in Sweden. So we did the same program and worked on some of the same research projects. And then, after we graduated, we started dating and got married a few years later."
Southern California, which is where Shrina Kurani's district is located, has never had a lady Representative, let alone a woman of color.
Her lack of political experience is being compensated by the latest tech deployed in her campaign.
Perhaps for the first time, NFTs (Non-Fungible Token) are being used in a political campaign as merchandise.
Shirina explains how it helps her reach a new base: "It's reaching a new population, a digitally native population. It is important for a first-time candidate to really mobilize your community. When we talk about who's not voting, it's younger people and people of color. So if we can find ways to reach people in new ways, then I think it makes a huge difference."
Sometimes finding funding for others is easier than getting people to donate for your campaign.
Something Shirina has experienced firsthand.
Talking about the challenges of fundraising, she says, "The biggest barriers that you face is fundraising. If you are an older candidate with an established network of people, then everyone's writing them checks and rallying in their support. And here I am, having to talk to aunties and uncles you know dozens of times and saying, 'Hey, look, this is why this is important'."
"This is why I need your support. This is why I need you to do this now and show that our community is strong.
"I have to convince our community to make them understand why this is so important, and why we need them to show up and show the strength of our community."
These challenges fail to daunt Shirina who knows very well how to do more with less.
A lesson she learned from her parent's immigrant experience is to keep fighting and to keep working hard.
"It takes hustle, it takes being resourceful," she says, "and saying how can we get this done."
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com