The American Dream: An Interview With US Representative Shri Thanedar

Now that the 188th congressional session has begun in the US Congress, I would like to reflect back on an opportunity I had in September to interview current US Representative Shri Thanedar (D-MI) of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. At the time, Rep. Thanedar was a member of the Michigan House of Representatives and was running for the U.S. House seat encompassing portions of Detroit and some of its suburbs. He was also a candidate in the 2018 gubernatorial Democratic primary election. During our interview, we discussed a variety of topics ranging from his immigrant perspective of the American Dream to the importance of education in leading a successful life to his unique position on corporate taxes as a business owner himself. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Interviewer: Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself, your childhood and how you currently serve our community?

Representative Thanedar: I immigrated to the United States when I was 24 years old. I had a masters degree in chemistry and I came to get my PhD degree in chemistry. I grew up in Southern India with six sisters and a brother and we grew up in dire poverty. We slept on the floor, we ate on the floor, and sometimes, we didn’t know where our next meal was going to come from. There was no running water in the house, so this was a tough time taking care of my family’s health care. I worked as a janitor when I was in college to support my family so I understand how working families struggle to make ends meet, take care of their family, put food on the table, and take care of health care. That’s where I come from, having lived the struggle.

Interviewer: As you said, you were born into poverty back in India and you had to work from a young age as a janitor to support your large family. How have these experiences of the past helped you connect with your constituents and actually understand their concerns about health care and education?

Representative Thanedar: The 13th district is one of the poorest congressional districts in the nation. People are struggling with everyday life needs: auto insurance is very expensive in the Detroit area, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed health care inequities, and the city of Detroit suffered the most during COVID because we do not have nationalized healthcare. One of the things I’m very passionate about is Medicare For All. We are one of the only developed nations that does not provide healthcare to all of our citizens. Even today, 20 to 30 million Americans do not have healthcare. Often, people are concerned that a major healthcare crisis may put them into bankruptcy and it is important that a nation as rich as ours covers the healthcare needs of every American so that no one has to be concerned about this basic, fundamental human right. I’m going to be fighting for that in the halls of Congress to ensure that every American has healthcare coverage.

Interviewer: Speaking more about yourself and your stories, every immigrant has their own story of living through the American Dream. Could you please share a little bit about how you came here with limited resources, just 20 dollars in your pocket, and turned that into a stream of endless opportunities?

Representative Thanedar: You know, America is the land of opportunity. Many immigrants came to this country looking for opportunities and, in the process, they worked hard and they achieved their American Dream. An American Dream in my mind is our children succeeding and doing better than their parents did, having more opportunities for our children to grow and achieve their dreams whatever they may be. In my case, I wanted to be a small business owner, a successful business person, having grown up in poverty. That was one of my goals, to be financially independent, and I was able to do that. This is a great country and it provides those opportunities so I got my PhD, worked as a chemist, and then started a small business to develop and invent new medicine that grew into about 500 employees.

I’m really excited and glad that I was able to achieve my American Dream, but when I travel across the country (especially when I travel in areas like Detroit), many young people in urban areas do not see hope and they don’t feel that they can achieve their dreams. Parts of the reason are decades of racial discrimination, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and not being taught entrepreneurship in high schools. People need to learn trade skills, business skills, and entrepreneurial skills in high school so that they can make the right decisions to develop and achieve their dreams.

As I travel across the nation, I see that these opportunities are not as accessible and available to people and one of the main reasons why I’m passionate about public service and the reason I gave up my business to enter public service is to help the people at the bottom acquire trade skills, get good paying jobs, and learn about entrepreneurship. I proposed bills in the Michigan State House that will create reparations and a racial equity fund that will give out seed loans and business startup loans. We need to create that atmosphere and bring that level of prosperity not just in the hands of the few at the top, but people at the bottom of this economic scale. We need to close this gap between the ultra rich and the people at the bottom of this economic cycle.

Interviewer: You have always said that education was your ladder out of poverty and into success. You also say that the ladder is missing for many children and young adults in the status quo. How have you helped bring this ladder to the constituents in your State House District and, if elected to the United States House in November, how do you plan to allow education to be easily accessible for everyone across the country?

Representative Thanedar: In the State House, as a Representative from Detroit I served on Appropriations (or budget) Committees like the School Aide Committee. I was instrumental in working with the governor to pass two of the biggest state budgets, 75 plus billion dollar budgets, without raising a single dollar of additional taxes. We also had two of the biggest education budgets and I’m so glad to say that I was part of the team that brought in 1.2 billion dollars of funds to Detroit Public Schools. When I started my campaign, I saw our schools in the Detroit area needed resources, it needed better buildings, there was water on the gym floor, and the facilities needed to be improved in the schools. I’m happy to say we have 500 million dollars of funding now available to Detroit Public Schools to build new buildings, more school resources, and better pay and incentives for teachers. We were able to do a lot with the educational budget and, for the first time in the two years that I served on the Education Budget Committee, we were able to bring per-pupil equity across Michigan; this will go a long way in bringing quality education to every child in Michigan no matter what zip code he or she lives in.

Interviewer: As someone who’s experienced poverty back in India, it must have been so disappointing for you to see that so many of the kids here in modern day Detroit and across the country have to go through the same things that you went through decades ago. To see that progress hasn’t been made in specific sectors in education, that must have really sparked your interest in taking down this problem.

Representative Thanedar: That’s right, and that’s why I decided to share the profits of my business with my employees every year and, one time, I realized that there has to be more to my life than just owning a business and making it more successful for the benefit of my family and my employees, so I said “I want to devote rest of my life in public service.” And, with that thought, I gave up my profitable business; when I sold it, I equally shared 1.5 million dollars to all of my 50 employees. I have a great work ethic and, not many State Reps can say this but I never missed a single vote, I never missed a single House session, and I never missed a single committee meeting. I’m always there fighting for my constituents.

Interviewer: Speaking to one of your previous campaigns, you ran for governor back in 2018 and had three main positions for your campaign: hold businesses accountable for paying taxes and increasing the minimum wage, providing education for all, and ensuring that everyone can afford health care. You yourself started and owned multiple successful businesses in the world of research and one would imagine that a business owner would want less taxes unless they were a truly genuine citizen like you so how have your corporate experiences helped you understand the problems with how big companies deal with taxes and specifically evading them so basically have you recognized any loopholes that should be closed to ensure that everyone pays their fair share to the government?

Representative Thanedar: Corporations must pay their fair share but that doesn’t happen. The recent Inflation Reduction Act that just got passed and signed into law puts a 15% minimum tax on all corporations and that’s a great start. But, that needs to be graduated so when I go to Congress, I will propose that corporations pay taxes in proportion to the amount of profits that they make. 15% should be bare minimum but that scale needs to go up to 30 or 35% so that we can then use that money to lift up the working families. As a country that is as affluent as we are, we should not have 20 to 30% of our population living at or below poverty. I fought to raise the minimum wage to 15 dollars but, in the current economy, 15 dollars is not a living wage. We need to take this up to 20 to 23 dollars for it to become a living wage, where a person who is working 40 hours a week on minimum wage is able to live with dignity and be able to pay for the necessities of life. That’s the minimum we could do for our residents.

Interviewer: What sparked your interest back in 2018 to switch careers from the field of scientific research to becoming an elected?

Representative Thanedar: As a scientist and as a business owner, I did well for my family. But, at one point, this great country of ours gave me opportunities to succeed, be an entrepreneur, be a business owner, and do good for my family. Now that my family is doing good, I felt there has to be more to life than just doing good for myself. I felt that it was time for me to to give back and, with that thought, I said that the best way for me to serve the people and give back to the community is to be in public service and use governmental resources to make people’s lives better. With that goal in mind, improving the quality of life for every American, I entered into politics. I won the city of Detroit in the [2018] gubernatorial primary but I did not win that election.

But, I did not get discouraged and I did not stop. I said that I’m going to stay in public service and I took a smaller office as a State Representative. I worked hard in that office and the constituents who elected me then enthusiastically elected me to the United States Congress in the primaries that just finished. I’m grateful to the people of Detroit who elected me in the Democratic primary and I look forward to this opportunity to serve 750,000 people of my district in the U.S. Congress, achieving racial equity, achieving economic equity, achieving social justice, fighting for health care, fighting for workers’ rights, and fighting for women’s rights. Having come from an immigrant background, having been a small business owner, and having lived in poverty, I have an understanding of the working people’s struggles and I will be fighting for them every day in the U.S. Congress.


Hello! My name is Krishna Mano and I am a sophomore at City High School. This is my fourth year writing for The City Voice and second year as an editor. Apart from the newspaper, I am part of the Speech and Debate team, President of the 10th Grade Student Council, and Treasurer of the NHS. Outside of school, I enjoy playing the violin, reading, skiing, and paddleboarding. If you have any questions about my articles, please contact me at

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