Ameya Pawar, Democratic candidate for governor, Chicago alderman, Hindu, child of immigrants from India, rejects the “worship” of wealth.
Grew up in Rogers Park and unincorporated Des Plaines. Professional background in emergency management and social work. “I’ve spent a big chunk of my adult life looking at the connections between disaster and poverty.”
Running for governor because, among other reasons, “It’s harder for working families to get ahead, and it’s time to restore progressive values.”
Where he was raised, “It was a very diverse community. I grew up with Greeks . . . Serbians, with Indians, Pakistanis . . . I grew up playing sports . . . I had a very American upbringing that was also balanced by growing up in an Indian home. We ate Indian food every meal of the day. I grew up speaking Marathi” — one of India’s languages.
A few times a year, the family went to a temple in Lemont.
“The amazing thing about Hinduism — especially the way my parents taught us — is that it’s a way of life, it wasn’t just about going to temple or praying, necessarily, that it was about how you conduct yourself . . . and a belief in social justice . . . Service is always something that was paramount.”
There was an emphasis on “living a very simple life.”
An ancient faith, Hinduism has at least a billion adherents. It “comes in many diverse forms,” according to author and University of Florida religion professor Vasudha Narayanan. But it’s generally accepted there’s a supreme God who’s manifested in multiple “divinities” with “specific duties and powers,” experts say.
Souls are able to find their “own way, whether by devotion, austerity, meditation, yoga or selfless service,” according to Hinduism Today, with Narayanan also adding “divine grace” to the mix.
There’s reincarnation and a belief in karma, defined as “the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.”
Pawar’s wife is Jewish, and their young daughter is being raised in Judaism. Her middle name is Koufax — after L.A. Dodgers great Sandy Koufax, who is Jewish and sat out the first game of the 1965 World Series because of Yom Kippur.
As a kid, Pawar’s family “would celebrate holidays like Diwali, which is the festival of lights, which in some ways is similar to Hanukkah.”
After he “failed out” of community college, Pawar, now 37, went to school in Missouri. “It was after 9/11, I was very interested in the connection between what was happening in the world and religion, and I wanted to play a role in that . . . so I majored in religion and philosophy,” thinking it’d be “a good way to get into national security.”
Then, “Hurricane Katrina hit, and that changed the trajectory . . . I saw poverty and a callousness that I’ve never seen before . . . I saw politicians get on TV and blame poor people for poverty.” That shifted his focus more to social justice and ultimately politics.
In the United States, “We believe some people deserve more than others, that everyone should lift themselves up by their bootstraps, and that means we end up with public policy that prioritizes people who we believe deserve more than others. And that’s wrong.
“My dad was born in India under British rule,” and he believed we should strive to “make the world more equal and just.”
The British tried to “divide and rule. Think about what’s happening in this country today. It’s not that different.”
“We’re all prejudiced in one way or the other,” but “we’re rational adults” who know to dismiss certain things that come to mind.
“What I find troubling about what’s happening today is that the president is making it OK for people to act on their most base instincts.”
As a person of color, Pawar says he’s been eyeballed suspiciously when boarding a plane, and his folks, years ago, “were told ‘no’ ” when trying to buy a home in the suburbs “even after offering full price.
“I don’t let those experiences of discrimination define me.
“I think what’s happened in our society is we’ve started worshiping wealth,” and there’s a “hyper-focus on the individual . . . I just reject that.”
The best college class he took was in literature, where he read Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” the epic poem on Adam and Eve and temptation in the Garden of Eden.
A premise is “redemption . . . I think that’s incredible because the whole idea is you can make mistakes . . . but there’s always the opportunity for redemption.”
Face to Faith appears Sundays in the Chicago Sun-Times, with an accompanying audio podcast, with additional content, at chicago.suntimes.com.
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