My story begins in an orphanage in India. It is not a “slumdog” story, but instead one of love and opportunity.
This is Calcutta. Over 21 times the size of Rochester, NY, millions crowd the streets of India’s third-largest city. It’s easy to get lost and to fall through the cracks. Especially if you are poor and from the lowest “untouchable” caste, like me.
I don’t know much about my birth mother, but I know she was alone. She came to my orphanage, the International Mission of Hope Society, pregnant and unable to keep her child. She was able to stay at the Christian mission and deliver me under medical supervision. I was born weeks later with only a first name. No substantial records were kept, assuring her anonymity.
Years later, I would return to that same orphanage as Jeremy Cooney, with my (adopted) mother, Anne. Single and at the age of 40, my mother took a chance and adopted a little brown boy from across the globe. She did so in the name of love. Nevertheless, it was risky at the time. I was first Indian male adoptee from India in upstate New York.
In my mother’s bravery, she gave me a new life — one of opportunity to achieve the American dream.
My mother never married. So it was just the two of us. She worked full-time as an English professor at Monroe Community College for over thirty years. With the help of the Rochester community, she raised me in a middle-class home in the SouthWedge neighborhood. I attended and graduated from city schools and through scholarships, was able to go on to college and then law school. My mother taught me to give back to the community that raised me. So, I have also had the opportunity to work and learn from some of the best public servants in New York, including the late U.S. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. For this, I will always be grateful.
Now, as I seek to serve as the first Indian-American in the NYS Senate, I am reminded of the words of Mother Teresa, in that “we are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful .”
My Christian faith coupled with my humble beginnings are the foundation of my beliefs on citizenship and our collective responsibility to serving our neighbors. Whether as a private citizen or a lawmaker, I will always strive to serve others with dignity, compassion, and an open-mind.
Who would have thought that a kid from the slums of Calcutta would ever be able to run for public office in the Empire State of the greatest country in the world? My mother did, because she believed in love and opportunity.
This is my story. This is America. Onward.