Fresh Meadows resident Ashook Ramsaran was unanimously elected president of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin in a vote held at the group’s convention in New Jersey on Nov. 19.
Ramsaran, who was born in Guyana and moved to the United States in 1968, succeeds Lord Diljit Rana of the United Kingdom. He will serve a two-year term.
“I look forward to working closely and collaboratively with everyone to expand GOPIO’s outreach and address more critical issues of interest and concern to the global Indian community,” Ramsaran said.
He spent the first 20 years of his life in Guyana, and though he has an accent, he said he only speaks English. Guyana is in South America, bordered by Venezuela to the west and Suriname to the east, and English is its official language.
“I don’t speak any of the Indian languages at all,” Ramsaran said. “In school, it was all English, and at work and at home.” GOPIO, which was formed in 1989, works extensively on issues affecting persons of Indian origin globally. There are chapters in 26 countries where Indians live, and Ramsaran said the organization “represents the interests and concerns of these people — approximately 25 million — without any religious or political affiliation.
“My vision is to look at the whole Indian diaspora and see if we can connect more of those people together under a single platform with shared aspirations, benefits, mutual concerns and interests,” he said.
In Queens, Ramsaran said one of the biggest issues facing people of Indian origin is health and well-being. He said that Indians have a high rate of diabetes and high blood pressure, so education is important.
“We have a GOPIO health council that holds seminars, symposiums and educational conferences that filter down to the local level where chapters can hold meetings and educate their members on wellness, nutrition and living a healthy life,” he said.
Locally, GOPIO also networks with young people to discuss issues facing them. The group also helps seniors.
“How do we give seniors some form of connectivity with their peers?” Ramsaran asked. “At any age, when you come into a new country or place, it is very traumatic.
“The kids cope better than the parents,” he continued. “Coping in many aspects like social, cultural andeconomical takes its toll for the first 10, 12 years.”
Ramsaran said the growing Indian population in Queens, most of which comes from Guyana, is spread throughout the borough, from Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, Rosedale and Woodhaven to Queens Village, Bayside, Jamaica and Jackson Heights.
He said the majority are well-educated and are working as teachers, engineers, administrators and in civil service. But regardless of their success, Ramsaran said, there are still stereotypes his community has to deal with.
“When you see an Indian guy with a little shop on the street corner or in the subway, you say ‘This is a low-level job,’ but actually he may be a college graduate who decided to do that because of the economic benefit,” he said. “They make a lot of money or else these guys wouldn’t do it.”
After moving to Flushing in 1968, Ramsaran attended Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, where he earned degrees in electrical engineering. He worked for an international communications company before starting his own electronics firm.
Ramsaran is married with two sons and is on the advisory board of St. John’s University’s Center on Caribbean and Latin American Studies. He is also on the board of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association.