Rajan Nathaniel never lived in Fiji, but he heard stories from his parents and grandparents about racial tensions, political upheaval and other struggles they once faced in their homeland.
He saw the pain in their eyes. And he never forgot what that looked like.
Rajan, 19, was the lone community college student chosen by Asian Americans Advancing Justice for a recent advocacy trip to Washington, D.C. The other students hailed from universities like Yale, Georgetown and Penn.
The goal of the trip: To learn how to advocate for justice for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), the fastest growing minority group in the country.
But the experience was also a way for Rajan to honor his family, by fighting for the equity that past generations didn't always enjoy.
“My mom taught me to always remember your roots and remember where you came from,” said Rajan, a second-year Delta student. “When I heard those stories I realized that advocacy is a really important thing.”
Photo courtesy Rajan Nathaniel.
For four days last month, Rajan’s group met with policymakers and experts across the nation’s capital on important AAPI issues such as health disparities, immigration, and voting rights, among others.
One highlight came after a meeting with Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s staff. Rajan received an email within two hours of the meeting confirming that one of his policy recommendations would be moving forward.
The feeling was wonderful. Rajan was no stranger to advocacy work, having served in student government as early as the fourth grade.
“But I never thought I would be in a position where I would be advocating for my own minority group,” said Rajan, who credits his Christian faith and church environment with fostering in him a strong sense of empathy for others. “I was elated and grateful for the opportunity.”
Rajan plans to transfer next year, possibly to UCLA, and earn a law degree.
He initially was reluctant to attend a community college, but that soon changed after he met personally with Delta’s political science faculty – conversations that likely wouldn’t have been possible at a big university.
It didn’t hurt that Rajan’s parents both attended Delta, and that his mother, Sharmila Nathaniel, is a counselor here.
“Immediately, I felt like I was home,” Rajan said. “I think that’s what really makes Delta College special.”