On Tuesday, Texans elected several firsts in the state, including the first openly gay black men to serve in the Texas House and the first representatives of Muslims and South Asian states.
Salman Bhojani, who will represent District 92 House, which includes parts of Arlington, Euless and Bedford, is one of the first.
Bhojani, originally from Pakistan, emigrated to Texas with his parents when he was a teenager. Through various positions, he eventually became the first Muslim American to hold an elected office in Ulesse. Now he’s heading to the Texas Capitol.
Bhojani spoke to the Texas Standard about the importance of his election as well as his background and what he hopes to achieve in his first term. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: You yourself drew attention to the historic nature of your election by also being the first person of color to represent the 92nd House District. Could you tell us a little more about this and why, in particular, it was so important to you?
Salman Bhojani: Of course. Representation matters a lot and I feel like I’ve had historic campaigns in the past and I want to bring attention to the fact that we have so much diversity in our great state and in our cities and that’s why we need this representation in the building state and elected officials as well.
There were cases, as I’m sure you know, of rude behavior towards Muslims in the Texas Capitol as recently as 2017. There were problems with the Muslim Capitol Day protesters. Does any of this bother you when you head to Austin?
I do not think so. I think that our state is very diverse and very hospitable, and there are many people who understand that there is no one religion that the state approves of, and there are so many religions that can unite and respect each other, and that’s what my rhetoric was with since I entered politics, how do we achieve civility in our discourse, regardless of our faith, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation?
How are you going to do it? Everyone talks about it, but a lot of people are kind of looking for answers to this question.
I think you start by exhibiting this behavior yourself, and that’s what I was trying to do: be very humble and listen to all points of view. In fact, I’ve been knocking on the doors of Republican houses and also hearing their point of view, and therefore I have a very bipartisan character. By demonstrating this behavior, people will see that, you know, yes, he wants to reach out through the aisle; he wants to get multiple points of view. And I have actually already set up an interfaith advisory board for my office that has members who live in HD-92 from different faiths and religious leaders who are here and understand my message of coming together, engaging in interfaith dialogue and respecting each other.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you a question, because it takes a certain type of person to run for political office. We’ve seen low voter turnout and there have been concerns over the years about declining civic participation, but here you’ve made the choice to get involved in politics. What caused it?
This is a great question. In 2016, we elected our former president, and I felt it was the wrong decision for America. America actually opened its arms to me when I came to this country as a 19 year old and worked at gas stations, mopping floors for $6 an hour, and I felt that the fabric of America is made up of this – accepting immigrants, accepting people of different origins and different faiths, and our former president really did not respect immigrants and people of the Muslim faith. And that’s what made me, you know, intervene, but it wasn’t just from that point of view. I think we really need to create a flow of young people from different walks of life to really make sure we have the best representation, and that’s what I feel like I’m going to start myself and create this enthusiasm in the minority communities.
What you described as a 19 year old who came to Texas looking for his first job – what were you doing at the time and how did those early months and years affect you here in Texas?
Of course. Yes, as an immigrant in the country, I felt I had to put food on the table. I had to, you know, earn money so we could have everything we wanted in this country and have my kids go to school. And so I felt like it was hard work over the years. I worked three jobs to make ends meet. I also moved up. I became a cashier, then a manager, and then I bought my first business – actually it was District 92 in Arlington in 2003 – and then I graduated from SMU Law School and after four years became a lawyer and worked in Haynes and Boone, where I met chairman Rafael Anchia who actually bugged me to make sure I… As lawyers we have to repay our community and that is how I also became involved in my city but it was a really blessed journey where I have lived the American Dream, and my goal in introducing the people of District 92 is to enable them to have and live the American Dream – their version of the American Dream.
I’ve spoken to freshmen representatives at Texas House in the past, and near the end of their term, some expressed frustration because, you know, you’re a freshman. You study the ways of the Legislative Assembly, and sometimes it seems that some of the people who have been working there for years, if not decades, are running everything and it’s hard to hear them. Is that bothering you and I’m wondering how you could mark your due date as successful? Do you have any thoughts on this?
Yes, I’ve thought about this a lot. I endured a lot of Islamophobia. People told me to go back to Pakistan and you know you are not American and that you bring sharia law and so I went through a lot and I endured it all because I really have a passion to serve the society and really serve the people HD-92. In the last session, I spoke to many representatives and was very strict with them, but I think I have an optimistic outlook on a lot of different things, and I really feel that I have a bipartisan approach, which is necessary for success in the state. Legislature – how to work across the aisle to make sure we work on kitchen table issues. There are issues that every Texas family talks about at dinner, and those are the issues I really want to focus on: a good economy, access to health care and education for all.