Pratik Dash

Pratik Dash

I was born in Texas, but moved to Tennessee when I was eight. While I may have been born in the South, my roots trace back to India, where my parents immigrated from. I take pride in saying that I’ve been in the South my entire life, and I like to think I’ve put the “South” in South Asia. I have a deep appreciation for Southern culture, including my love for shrimp and grits, but I also cherish my Indian heritage.

My parents immigrated to the United States in the 1980s, both as engineers. My dad was a mechanical engineer, and my mom an electrical engineer. They traveled all across the country, working on various power plant projects. However, when I came into the picture, it became quite challenging for them to continue moving across the country as their work demanded. They made the difficult decision to leave their engineering jobs and invest in a small business in Tennessee, which became our new home. I’ve spent the rest of my life in Tennessee, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

My journey into advocacy and activism began during my eighth-grade year when the tragic events of 9/11 unfolded. I vividly remember sitting in my middle school classroom, watching the news coverage. To show support for the victims, my school initiated a fundraiser, and I contributed $20 from my parents. However, when I tried to give the money to the person collecting donations, she refused, stating, “We don’t take money from terrorists.” That moment marked my first encounter with overt racism. My grandfather in India, a writer, suggested I write an op-ed about my experience. As a 13-year-old, I penned my thoughts and submitted them to the local newspaper. To my surprise, it was published, and the support from my community was overwhelming. It was my first taste of the power of advocacy and the impact it could have on bringing about change. Still, I pursued an engineering degree and ended up living in India for six years. 

My life’s journey took an unexpected turn when I was  invited to a Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) event. There, I met dedicated individuals, learned about systemic oppression, and recognized the disparities faced by Black and Brown communities within a system rooted in white supremacy. In 2015, I joined TIRRC, and I’ve never looked back. Today, I serve as the political director at the organization, working tirelessly to register voters, encourage participation in elections, and build a culture of voting in the South so that our communities’ voices are heard all across the state. I’m immensely proud to be a part of this mission. For most of my life, I felt like an Indian in America and an American in India. However, through my work with TIRRC, I’ve discovered my true self and purpose. 

I thrive when contributing to the creation of a multiethnic, multigenerational, and equitable democracy that welcomes everyone. Thriving, to me, means existing in a space where such a democracy exists.

My two words, “love” and “joy,” define my life’s essence. “Pratik” signifies a “symbol of love.” I embrace these words, spreading love and joy in everything I do and instilling their importance in the next generation. 

Community brings me immense joy. I cherish bringing people of different backgrounds together and witnessing unexpected connections. I find joy in empowering youth members to apply what they’ve learned and become agents of change. I am committed to this work because I want to prevent others from experiencing the racism and oppression I faced post-9/11. My goal is to build an inclusive, equitable democracy that embraces people of all backgrounds, faiths, and skin colors.The immigrant and refugee community are vital to the heart and soul of our country, especially in the South. 

I aim to remind everyone that our communities played a significant role in shaping the South, and they continue to do so. While complete freedom to thrive remains a distant goal, I believe we are making progress. We are agents of change, striving to create opportunities for everyone to thrive. However, we can’t do it alone; we need every voice, every action, and every effort to create a more inclusive and equitable world.

In the end, I want to be able to tell my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren that I played a part in building a democracy where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Together, we can make this vision a reality.