Nikil Saval went from magazine editor to 1st Asian American at Penn. State Senate


Democratic candidate Nikil Saval last week became the first South Asian American to be elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate. In addition to making history, Saval stands out with his unconventional curriculum vitae.

Elected to represent the diverse District 1 of Philadelphia, Saval was co-editor of literary magazine n + 1. From 2012-19, he helped run the Brooklyn-based publication, focusing on coverage of issues such as social justice and unions. He has also written on architecture, urban planning and design as a contributor to the New York Times and The New Yorker.

He told NBC Asian America in an interview that he grew up in a liberal household and was interested in writing about culture, but not necessarily about politics. And he hadn’t thought of joining the field growing up or going to college.

“I think working at n + 1 and writing about culture and politics has helped me intellectually to understand how to think together about these topics,” said Saval.

Saval, 37, who went to Columbia University and got a doctorate. in Stanford English, has also written a book exploring the evolution of the American office, titled “Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace”, and published in 2014.

Saval, who will take office on December 1, also explained what his victory means for the Asian American representation.

“I feel the importance of this, especially when I walk into a room with a number of white people, which is mostly the Pennsylvania State Senate,” he said. “More so, it’s when I meet other Asian Americans who are pleasantly shocked that I won. There is a pan-Asian solidarity which is developing immediately.

His parents emigrated from Bangalore, India, New Mexico in 1970 before settling in Los Angeles, where Saval was born and raised.

“We had a strong connection with the American Indian community there, especially the Kannada speaking one,” he said.

His parents ran a pizzeria that mainly employed immigrants of all status. “My parents never saw a distinction between types of immigration status, so growing up there I really learned from them to be welcoming to everyone.”

Saval noted that there is a certain tokenization when it comes to focusing on ethnicity for applicants.

But shared that his identity plays a role in shaping the prospect.

“As an immigrant and as an Asian American, you bring knowledge about other countries and practices and a global perspective on local issues,” he said.

For him, his family’s experiences as small business owners have helped shape his opinion on immigrant and worker rights.

His first organizational experience came when he tried to unionize his own workplace while working in the book publishing industry in 2005.

His efforts at the time did not produce the desired results, but the experience continued to galvanize him. At Stanford, he also volunteered with a union for hotel workers. “It gave me the feeling that people of color can come together and have the power to be progressive.”

While he continued to write at n + 1 after moving to Philadelphia in 2011, Saval was actively involved in Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) presidential campaign in 2016 because he resonated with socialist values. Along with his former colleagues, he then co-founded Reclaim Philadelphia, a platform that supports progressive candidates and policies.

As he became more involved, he was elected Warden of Philadelphia’s Second Ward in 2018. This job ultimately inspired him to run for himself and he began his campaign for a seat. in the Senate.

He mainly focused on issues such as affordable health care, education and school redevelopment, a Green New Deal, and prison reform by supporting mass liberation rather than mass incarceration. Sanders, the Vermont Independent, approved Saval in May.

“I am immensely proud of the district that won my victory. It is one of the most diverse in Pennsylvania, ”he said. The First Senate District of Philadelphia has a population of 272,462, according to the Statistical Atlas, of which nearly 40% are non-white. “I am delighted to be the one representing them.”

The city is credited with helping Pennsylvania turn blue. Saval, who was running unopposed, said he spent the months leading up to the election in his own constituency and neighboring constituencies to ensure a high turnout.

“I think this is a testament to the power of working class people, immigrants and their children, who helped achieve this victory on the progressive side,” he said.

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