When Nikki Haley won election last week as governor of South Carolina, a small town halfway across the world in India’s Punjab exploded in celebration.
The Randhawa family in the town of Verka distributed sweets to neighbors, set off firecrackers and broke into traditional Punjabi dances to demonstrate its pride that a relative had been elected the first Indian-American female governor in U.S. history.
“We were eating lunch when we saw the breaking news headline on TV that Nikki had won the elections. We just abandoned lunch and ran to tell family and neighbors,” said Kanwaljit Singh Randhawa, Haley’s cousin.
“My wife began dancing the bhangra and our neighbors joined in. My son ran out and bought firecrackers,” he said.
Haley was born Nimrata Randhawa to Sikh parents who had immigrated to the United States from India in the early 1960s. The 38-year-old mother of two is widely known by her Americanized first name, Nikki, and her married name, Haley.
The tea party-backed Republican candidate, who is a Christian, won 51 percent of the vote against Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who received 47 percent.
The win resonated in Verka, a town known for its milk products and enormous dairy farms. The Randhawas–Haley’s paternal uncle, his three sons and their families–were flooded with visitors and congratulatory phone calls.
“Our girl has made us proud,” Randhawa said by telephone from Verka, 280 miles (450 kilometers) north of New Delhi.
The news about Haley’s victory was the top story on Indian TV stations, and camera crews swooped down on Randhawa’s modest middle class Verka home.
“It’s a great honor not just for our family, but it’s an honor for Punjab and for the country,” Randhawa said.
Punjab’s top elected official, Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, said Haley had earned laurels for her home state, although she was born in the United States and has made only one visit to India at age 4.
Indians are immensely proud of emigrants who make it big abroad, hailing them as celebrities and holding up their success as a role model for millions of aspiring youth.
It was the same when Bobby Jindal, whose family also migrated from Punjab, was elected Louisiana governor three years ago. Overnight, Jindal became a household name in India.
Randhawa said the family and village chiefs from around Verka were busy planning a victory party for Haley, though the guest of honor was not expected to attend.
Randhawa, a retired high school teacher, said some family members plan to visit Haley in the United States when she takes her oath of office in January.
“My uncle, Nikki’s father, has said he will send us the invitation for the ceremony and we hope we can make it. It would be such a proud moment for all of us,” he said.