Minita Sanghvi, a Democratic candidate for Saratoga Springs finance commissioner, was canvassing neighborhood streets Tuesday night when a resident called the police on her, indicating a suspicious car was outside his home.
Sanghvi, an Indian immigrant who teaches business at Skidmore College, said she doesn’t think the man would have called the police if she was a white woman preparing to go door-to-door on the street.
“Somehow I was a danger to his society and his street, and I know he did that because I am brown,” Sanghvi said in a video she posted to Facebook shortly after the incident happened, growing emotional as she described how it made her feel. “It hurts me, it makes me sad, and it makes me angry. This is my street, this is my town, my son grows up here.”
Sanghvi, who immigrated to the United States from India in 2001 because it wasn’t safe to be openly gay in India at the time, in a Wednesday interview said she is familiar with the complexities of how people perceive people of color and how they can ascribe negative intentions to people of color. Borrowing a phrase, she called it the “American dream tax we pay as immigrants, as people of color.”
Sanghvi noted that while canvassing on Friar Tuck Road in the western part of the city she was wearing a Ralph Lauren office shirt, jeans and sneakers, trying to look professional, and carrying a “Girls just want to have fundamental rights” bag, but that the person who called the police still found her suspicious.
“Apparently, all the person saw was the color of my skin,” Sanghvi said. She continued to knock on all the doors on the street. “I’m not going to let someone stop me from canvassing, I’m not going to let them stop me from running.”
Saratoga Springs police Lt. Bob Jillson on Wednesday said two police cars responded to a report of a suspicious car on the street.
“The caller said we have some concerns about the person, a female parked the car and is going up and down the street,” Jillson said of the incoming call for service.
Police determined that Sanghvi was on the street for political solicitation and closed out the call in less than 10 minutes.
Sanghvi said that she has knocked on around 700 doors so far this election and found many people receptive to her message of focusing on climate change and diversifying the city’s tourism base. She said she wants to think the best of her neighbors, but she was disturbed that her presence would raise suspicions and fears that led someone to call the police. She said she makes sure to canvass alongside a white person for exactly that reason.
“Because I had a middle-aged white woman walking with me it turned out to be a non-incident,” Sanghvi said. “This is a democracy, not just a democracy for white people. We should be able to canvass and petition without fear for our lives and safety.”
Sanghvi, whose research focuses on women in politics, said she is running for finance commissioner because she feels like America has enabled her to live as who she truly is and she wants to give back to her community. She said new perspectives and backgrounds would benefit city government.
“America is based on the idea that different perspectives make us a better, stronger place,” she said. “It creates a more nuanced, richer dialogue and it creates better policy.”
She also said people should be willing to engage other people in their community and not immediately jump to suspicious conclusions.
“Our community is not racist,” she said. “I would hope that this person who calls the police would have just talked to me and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Can I help you?’”
Natalya Lakhtakia, whose father is from India and mother is from Argentina and identifies as a brown woman, currently serves as the only person of color on either the Saratoga Springs school board or City Council.
She said for people of color it’s impossible to separate from their appearances and that when she or Sanghvi go into a neighborhood to canvas they will invariably be seen as brown women.
“A person of color never exists outside of their skin when they are in public, so Minita can never not be a brown woman existing in public,” Lakhtakia said. “So to call the police on her because she is in your neighborhood, we can’t separate that from the fact that she is a brown person.”
Lakhtakia recalled an instance during her campaign for the school board when someone on the radio said that Lakhtakia “didn’t have [her] finger on the pulse of this community.”
She said the comment could have been a reference to her race or a reference to the fact that she didn’t grow up in the city, or one masquerading as the other, but she noted that a pair of white candidates she shared an election slate with weren’t called out in the same manner. An implication of otherness directed at her inevitably carries a different weight and connotation than one directed at white candidates, she said.
“I didn’t run with a different platform than John or Heather, but they weren’t accused of not having their pulse on the community even though neither of them [was] born here,” Lakhtakia recalled. “That wasn’t said about two white people running despite the fact they are not [originally] from this community.”
She said her experiences as a person of color helps give her a deeper understanding of the experiences that many students and other people in the community may also face.
“In terms of being a woman of color serving my community I think that because I have a specific pattern of experiences that when someone else shares their pattern of experiences with me, I can put myself in their shoes or listen to them in a way that’s different than someone that has never had that pattern of experiences,” Lakhtakia said.