Personnel Profile: Satinder S. Malhi

NAME: Satinder S. Malhi
JOB TITLE: Legislative aide for Sen. Jackie Speier

Capitol Weekly: Where did you
grow up?
Satinder S. Malhi: I was actually born in a suburb of London. Both my
parents are from India. We emigrated here when I was six months old and
settled in the Bay Area. So I’m a California kid for all intents and

CW: How did you start out working in the building?
SM: I started off in her office as a Senate Fellow in 2004. I was in her
office through the duration of the fellowship and at the conclusion she
graciously extended an offer for me to become a “real life” staff member.
Now I’m a legislative aide primarily focused on higher-education policy, but
I’ve also done consumer protection as well. And I’ve assisted with
communications. It’s certainly exciting. I’m just very blessed to work with
such a dynamic and gifted law maker.

CW: What attracted you to state
SM: I’d always been interested and involved in politics. Don’t let the beard
fool you–I’m only 26. I’ve had a very active interest in politics since I
was a teenager. My late father sparked my desire; he was a labor activist
and served as the chief negotiator for the Oakland Teacher’s Union. I got to
see him work tenaciously for the teachers in the school district. So I was
exposed to that at a very early age.

CW: Tell us about your involvement with the Sikh religion.
SM: As far as I have been able to tell, I’m the only Sikh in the Capitol.
Sen. Speier has been often quoted that she is proud to have helped break the
turban barrier. I feel as if I’m not only representing myself, but an entire
community. You look at most Sikhs today and a career path in public service
in the United States is not something that they aspire towards. I hope to be
able to change that. I want to show my generation in particular the
importance and pressing need for them to be active in government and

CW: What challenges or prejudices do you face as a practicing Sikh?
SM: Getting into the building was a bit daunting early on. But I’ve had a
chance to talk to security personnel in the building and address any
concerns that they have. When I first started in the office, some people
walked in and said they wanted to meet with one the senator’s staffers, but
wouldn’t meet with me.

CW: How did you respond?
SM: I was the consummate professional as I always am. I explained to them
who I was and that I was in fact an American no different than them. That’s
how you have to go about it. Hopefully, I’ve left a positive impact on them.

CW: How has being in the Capitol helped you shatter misconceptions about
SM: Part of my job here I’d like to say to wipe the, “Oh s*&# I’m going to
die look off their faces.” I would hope there are more people in the Capitol
now who know about Sikhs than when I first arrived here. And that to me is
enormously gratifying.

Ninety-nine percent of folks you see in the United States who wear turbans
are followers of the Sikh faith (and have nothing to do with terrorism
whatsoever). I’ve never viewed my faith as a burden, but as an asset and an
integral part of my identity.

September 11 impacted the entire country. But it proved to be especially
difficult on the Sikh community in the United States who were sought out and
targeted because of our appearance, including, I might add, a good family
friend of mine who was shot to death in Arizona four days after the attacks.
It was at that point, that we realized that we needed to be more proactive
in educating our fellow citizens.

Working in the Capitol has given me the opportunity to do just that. I am
more confident in my ability to confront others when they speak despairingly
about me because I wear a turban and beard. But that’s the beauty of being
in the United States–you have a right to practice any religion you want and
be proud of who you are.

Sikhism is fifth largest and one of the youngest religions in the world.
Sikhism is a distinct and separate faith from Islam and Hinduism. The vast
majority of the world’s 24 million Sikhs reside in the Indian state of
Punjab. Sikhism’s central belief is that there is one God and stresses the
value and importance of work, worship and service as well as a fundamental
respect for all peoples and faiths.

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