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Meet the Nima Kulkarni, the first Indian American elected to Kentucky Legislature

Kulkarni represents District 40, which includes the University of Louisville, Churchill Downs and portions of south Louisville.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As the first Indian American to hold a seat in the Kentucky State Legislature, Rep. Nima Kulkarni said she entered into politics to light a fire for change.

At the age of six, Kulkarni and her family moved directly to Louisville from India so that her brother could get the special education he needed at The de Paul School.

After graduating from Atherton High School and the University of Louisville, Kulkarni left to attend law school in D.C. — but her time in Kentucky wasn't over yet.

Kulkarni moved back to Louisville in 2010, founding Indus Law Firm. Focusing on immigration and employment law, Kulkarni helped anyone from professors to researchers secure positions of employment.

"I started my own immigration law practice," Kulkarni said. "I focused primarily on employment-based immigration, so my focus is to help a lot of businesses throughout the country who want to bring workers here.”

In 2013, Kulkarni founded the New Americans Initiative, a foundation dedicated to educating, engaging and building awareness of immigration-related issues.

"I started it with a primary focus on making sure that those who can get naturalized to get their citizenship were able to do so," Kulkarni said.

Then, politics came calling. Kulkarni focused her campaign on topics that have been important to her since she was a child: labor, education, healthcare and immigration.

Kulkarni was sworn into the Kentucky General Assembly in 2019, representing District 40, which includes the University of Louisville, Churchill Downs and portions of south Louisville.

"I think the district was ready for change," Kulkarni said. "That's the reason why I was elected."

Not only is Kulkarni the first Indian American elected to the legislature, but she believes she is the first immigrant elected as a state representative.

In the midst of her tenure, another Indian American made a first: Kamala Harris became the first female, first African American and first Asian American vice president.

"Everyone I talked too was incredibly excited — the first woman, first woman of color and of course the daughter of immigrants," Kulkarni said. "Again, it was a historic moment and I think it's inspiring because it's normal now. You have somebody that looks like you that maybe has shared experiences, so it's been a very exciting time for me personally and our whole entire community."

At the same time, the U.S. has seen a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Like so many community leaders, Kulkarni said the anti-Asian hate has been difficult to witness. She said nothing should ever come to violence.

"Making sure you don't perpetuate stereotypes, things that are defensive, hurtful to the community," Kulkarni said. "It’s really just a lack of understanding."

President Joe Biden signed legislation Thursday intended to curtail anti-Asian hate crimes, making grants available to help law enforcement agencies improve their investigation, identification and reporting of incidents driven by bias, which often go underreported.

►Contact The Moments that Matter’s Sherlene Shanklin at sshanklin@whas11.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

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