Living a true American dreamHarry Bhandari talks about his journey to becoming a member of the Maryland House of Delegates.
Harry Bhandari came to America in 2005 to present a paper at George Mason University and stayed to pursue his studies. Eighteen years on, Bhandari, who was a school principal in Kathmandu, now represents Maryland District 8 as a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly.
Bhandari’s journey has not been easy. He remembered his roller coaster ride of a career in the United States.
“I volunteered in the community, knocked on the doors of thousands of Americans in my area and got elected in the second attempt,” Bhandari said in an interview, adding that he worked at a gas station to support his studies.
The Nepali immigrant also worked as a volunteer in his community, which gave him the opportunity to learn about and immerse himself in the community better. He said he was motivated by the lives and works of politicians like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to pursue a political career.
“Although I came to the US a bit late (at the age of 27), I was familiar with the culture, society and the democratic system here through things I had read,” Bhandari said.
Bhandari said the Maryland district he represents has a vibrancy of communities with good health and a good rate of economic growth.
When asked how Nepal and the US compare with one another, Bhandari states, “Comparing the US and Nepal is like comparing an apple with an orange. Both countries have different distinctions. Nepal is historically and culturally rich, whereas the US is rich in its democratic history and economic stability.”
Maryland, which has an area of 32,134 square kilometres, is bigger than some countries, and its GDP is $410 billion—significantly more than Nepal’s at $40 billion. “Here, when we bring legislation, we can sufficiently fund our activities, but developing countries, including Nepal, cannot because of their weak economy,” he said.
Bhandari’s chief of staff, John McCartney, said, “He has multiple attributes that make him not just a wonderful delegate to work for but also to get to know as a person. If I had to narrow it down to one specific trait, it would be his capacity for caring.” McCartney adds that Bhandari is a community leader who does not shy away from difficult issues.
Bhandari started volunteering with former President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. In 2012, he was the president of a community association and frequently discussed how to renovate parks, develop the infrastructure and bring investment to the community with the elected officials. He was involved in Young Democrats of America and was the vice chair of his county of about 900,000 people.
Bhandari met national leaders while participating in the Democratic National Convention 2016 held to elect the presidential candidate in Pennsylvania. He campaigned and defeated the director of the Republican Party in his area in 2018. One of the main reasons Bhandari wanted to work in the political sphere was to raise voices about and represent the minority groups in the country. As an immigrant worker, Bhandari believed that if Asian Americans, African Americans and other minority groups are overlooked, the US will not move forward as a nation.
Right after that, the General Assembly passed 14 bills for which he was a leading sponsor. He now serves in the Health and Government Operation Committee of the Legislature, one of the biggest committees in the General Assembly. “We have tackled a number of issues to bolster the health of people, cybersecurity, and increase transparency at state and local levels. We have passed many bills on health-related issues like the Medicare Supplemental Policy Plan. I’m proposing (to the) governor to build Asian American Community Center.”
Bhandari has built an extensive political network and is now a close friend of politicians like Sen and Chris Van Halen.
The politician claimed that about 21 million Asian Americans live in the US now, and this population will increase to 41 million by 2060. He wants to represent these voices and bring their perspective to the mainstream during his tenure.
Talking about why he chose to enter the political scene in the US instead of Nepal, Bhandari said it doesn’t matter where he works because he is mostly focused on helping the people around him however he can. “Also, I feel just as comfortable working here as I would in Nepal. So, I believe I’m doing something I am compassionate about, regardless of where I am.”
One thing Bhandari wants Nepali leaders to work on is elevating the poverty in the country. He is also a big supporter of how educating the masses will eventually decrease poverty and help better the quality of life of the citizens. “When a child gets the best education, it pays back to the society. Without good education, you cannot fight anything like climate crisis, economic issues and cybersecurity,” he said. Bhandari has built three schools in Maryland within the first four years of his office.
The Maryland House of Delegates member visited Nepal during the 2015 earthquake to help people and supported Nepalis during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To the young generation—especially those who want to enter the political sphere, Bhandari advises, “Stay informed about the current events, social issues and policies of your community and the world. Get involved in local activities and volunteer. Write to the representatives of your communities about your concerns. Learn skills, embrace diversity, and respect different cultures and backgrounds. Be open-minded, celebrate the differences, and work toward building a more inclusive society. Be always responsible for your actions. Think about the impact of your decision; always stay positive; strive for excellence. Then, you can achieve whatever you want to.”
(Harry Bhandari, 45, is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from District 8 in Baltimore County since 2019, representing the Democrat Party. Currently, he is serving in his second term in the House of Delegates. He is a member of the Health and Government Operations Committee. He was born in Thapathana, Phalebas, in the Parbat District of Nepal.)