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Woman honors Asian culture through advocacy work

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, and the broad Asian community in Indiana is vibrant in culture and contributions. One woman’s dedication stems from her Asian heritage and the need to help break barriers to success.

When Rupal Thanawala and her family moved to Indianapolis in 1998, she says she had two suitcases and remembers just how different the city looked back then.

“It took me three days to realize that I’m different,” Thanawala said.

It was shocking to see some of the same barriers for women in her home country of India in the United States. Aside from the strength she saw in her mother, women role models were in short supply.

“I come from very humble beginnings, but at the same time, I come from a very conservative society where I did not see women working outside of the home,
Thanawala said.

With her family’s continued support, today she’s president of the Asian American Alliance, and is on the front lines of the work focused on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion across cultures.

“When I looked around the community, our American community, I saw that there were so many disparities,” Thanawala said. “And there was so much more to be done just to break the barriers to success.”

The challenges, she says, have never been a deterrent. Instead, her motivation keeps her doing the work in areas of immigrant advocacy and protests against hate of all types.

“Again, from my own journey as an immigrant, I knew how difficult it was to set your life. Hate is one of the biggest viruses we’ve seen in this country. Asian hate is first of all not new. but hate and racism is a much much older problem in this country,” Thanawala said.

And as a leader in tech, Thanawala also works to recruit women into STEM fields.

“When I came here I had the same struggles. I was in many rooms where I was the only woman,” said Thanawala. “I was the only person of color. There were times when people thought that I’m the one who was there to take notes only.”

Thanawala says Asian culture is one of the most robust, stretching across the globe from Turkey to Hawaii. Speaking more than 3,000 languages and dialects. She’s not slowing down in this work and encourages others to share in it.