‘I wanted to be mayor of Bamberg one day—that was as high as I could see.’
As a child, the only person I could relate to was the mayor of Bamberg, South Carolina. I told my little brother that I wanted to be the mayor of Bamberg one day, because that was as high as I could see.
We were the only Indian family in town. Nobody knew who we were or what we were. My father wore a turban, my mother wore a sari, and we were different. But my parents always said that the things that make you different make you special. When we would come home complaining that we had been teased, my mom would say, “Your job is not to show people how you’re different. It’s to show them how you’re similar.” I grew up trying to show people what we have in common.
Every person has war stories. Things happen in your life that change you and challenge you, and they’re uncomfortable, but when you get through them, you realize that they are the reason you are the way that you are.
When I was little, everybody’s child was in the Little Miss Bamberg pageant, so my mom put my sister and me in the pageant. But during the pageant, they disqualified us. My mom said, “Why are you disqualifying us?” They said, “Well, we have to have a black queen, and we have to have a white queen, and we don’t know where to put your daughters. If we put them on either side, that side would be angry.” They gave me a beach ball and sent me on my way. But my mom said, “Well, at least let her do her talent.” So I sang, “This land is your land, this land is my land,” to everyone before I got disqualified.
At the time, I didn’t know exactly how wrong it was, but I did want to know why I couldn’t be part of the group. Now I look back and I realize that labels really mattered. That’s why I try so hard not to talk about labels now. At the end of the day, we’re so much more similar than we are different.
Haley served as South Carolina’s governor from 2011 to 2017. She is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.