[US to India ’15] Tobias Read: “Opportunities start with people-to-people diplomacy”

The delegation meeting with MP Anurag Thakur, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party youth wing.

The delegation meeting with MP Anurag Thakur, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party youth wing. The author is pictured 3rd from the left. 

Even at the end of a record setting month for rain in the Pacific Northwest, I’m aware of how lucky I am to live in a place I love. At the same time, travel can offer important lessons to bring back home and put to work.  Earlier this month I was honored to take part in an ACYPL delegation to India. My fellow delegates and I were impressed by the size, diversity, and potential of the world’s largest democracy.

As we traveled to different cities, we were bombarded by a wealth of cultures, traditions, and challenges.  All of us are influenced by the circumstances in which we emerge, so it’s easy to be stuck in our own perspectives.  In the US, something that’s a couple hundred years of age is, “old,” but in India, centuries are easily replaced by millennia.

India is big.  With a population of more than a billion people, the Indian government has some unique challenges.  With cities among the largest in the world, and rural villages without electricity, India has to confront the challenges of poverty and literacy in the same country where  the world is also beating a path to its door. This intersection of challenges is evident even on the busy roads of India where seeing a cow wandering pleasantly through traffic that includes motorcycles carrying whole families, (and merchandise), next to three wheeled CNG taxis, huge old buses, and luxury SUVs.  It’s all there in India.

We visited Parliament, and witnessed the passion on display in the form of a protest by the opposition party.  As the lower House of Parliament worked its way through question hour, the opposition stood in the well of the House chanting to demonstrate their displeasure with the Government.  As we discussed the protest with members of Parliament later, it became clear that these opportunities play an important role in Indian society.

The old joke says that a person who speaks two languages is bilingual, and that a person who speaks one is called American. In India there are 22 official languages, and time and again we saw examples of the ways Indians view their diversity as strength. There’s little doubt that India will be a major player in the 21st century world we all share. One measure of that potential: 65 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population is under the age of 35.

It’s worth remembering that as we work to build the world we want, we need to engage with the rest of the world.  Our success is tied to the ability of people around the world to live up to their full potential.  If we want to overcome the challenges we face, here and around the world, we need all the talent we can muster.  Let’s not field less than a full team!  Building those relationships and uncovering those opportunities starts with people- to-people diplomacy and for that I am grateful to ACYPL.

Tobias Read is the Speaker Pro Tempore of the Oregon House of Representatives.

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