Mahira Siddiqui

Now & Then: What It Means To Be A Feminist featuring Daljit Dhami

Daljit Dhami is an Associate Counsel at Amalgamated Transit Union in the Washington D.C. Metro Area where she focuses on traditional labor law, internal union administration, and pension and 401k matters. Her past experience involved civil rights issues, labor and employment law, and personal injury cases.

Dhami previously served as a Migrant Staff Attorney at the Fresno office of California Rural Legal Assistance representing agricultural workers in various types of litigation, including wrongful termination/discrimination cases, representative actions involving wage and hour issues and sexual harassment claims. Dhami served as Co-President of the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California Foundation as well as the board for the American Civil Liberties Union - Central Valley chapter. In 2012, Dhami was recognized with a “Community Impact Award” by SABA-NC.

What are some South Asian cultural difficulties you faced with your family as you began your legal career?

My family has been and continues to be extremely supportive in my legal career. As I became busier in my career, I attended less family events. This was hard for some of my family members to handle but it has not been a major issue.

However, I do face the common cultural pressure to marry and start a family. More conservative family friends have criticized supporting the higher education of women because they believe educated women are “more difficult to marry off.” I believe traditional norms surrounding education, marriage and family life are in flux.

How did you first get involved in the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California Foundation?

I first joined the Foundation Board in 2008 because it enabled me to “give back.” I was awarded the Foundation Public Interest Fellowship in 2006. Through my fellowship, I worked with the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) under the supervision of an amazing attorney instrumental in post 9-11 work in our community, Sin Yen Ling. While at the ALC, I conducted legal research and writing in deportation cases and also launched free legal clinics in local Sikh temples.

Thus far, how is your relocation to the Capitol different from law practice in California?

I have been practicing in the Capitol for almost one month and it is significantly different than practicing in California. First, there is a constant pulse attuned to the political happenings on the hill. For example, the media outlets and random conversation will often touch upon a certain bill making its way through the Senate or the House of Representatives. Second, it is difficult to adjust to the humidity and I realize that in California, we have the best quality of fresh fruits and vegetables. Here, much of the produce is shipped from California which can impact the ultimate quality of the produce. Finally, as a labor/employment lawyer in California, most of my cases were in state court for various strategic reasons. However, in my role as union in-house counsel, we litigate primarily in federal court and I am looking forward to learning more about how to navigate the federal court system.

What is your hope for the “now” generation of South Asian attorneys?

First, my hope is that South Asian youth will continue to break free from typical familial pressures favoring careers in medicine and engineering and pursue careers in law. To that end, summer programs like the Bay Area Solidarity Summer are instrumental in providing South Asian youth with the basics on community organizing while facilitating career development. Last year, I was a panelist for BASS on alternative career paths along with an artist, an environmentalist, an anti-war activist, and a professor of literature. Educating youth in this way is very important to me.

Second, my hope is that the “now” generation of South Asian attorneys join and participate in organizations like the North American South Asian Bar Association (NASABA). NASABA is a unique forum for professional growth and the fastest growing organization of South Asian lawyers in the world. I recently attended NASABA’s 9th Annual Convention in Philadelphia and not only gained several MCLE credits but also connected with colleagues and made new friends. I left feeling confident about the growth of South Asian attorneys in the civil rights sector. But, I did notice that we still need to promote more South Asian women in the judiciary. My hope is that within the next five years, we will see more appointments of South Asian women in the federal district courts and circuit courts of appeal.

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