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August 30, 2017

Arti Walker-Peddakotla: Veteran +

Meet Arti Walker-Peddakotla. She’s a U.S. Army veteran, a mother of three, and the daughter of Indian immigrants, a first generation American.

After basic training in Texas, she was stationed at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), which conducts autopsies of anyone that was killed or died in service. Her time at AFIP and Dover Air Force Base changed her perspective on war, and made her believe in the need for more veterans in public office who understand the human cost of service.

Her time in the military also showed her what America can be: a place where people of all backgrounds, faiths, and races come together, despite their differences, in support of a common mission and are judged only by their service.

Those experiences made the racism and xenophobia that she experienced after leaving the military all the more difficult. When she was eight months pregnant and out walking with her husband and her youngest child, a man sitting on his porch called out to them, “What terrorist country are you from? Y’all look like terrorists.”

“The question I had in my head was, ‘How can you think that I’m a terrorist? I put uniforms on.’ And it really hurt,” Arti recalls. “So the first reaction was anger and hurt. And the second reaction was, ok, well how do we change this? How do you take the anger and the hurt that you feel when you realize that even though you served this country, people still will call you a terrorist? How do you take that and change that so that it doesn’t happen to somebody else? So that that doesn’t happen to my son?”

Arti has been working actively to change that through Veterans for American Ideals, using her veteran status to push issues in her community by partnering with local grassroots organizations to educate the community and advocate for immigrants and refugees.

“American ideals are just human ideals,” Arti says. “Really looking at everyone as a human and saying that even though I don’t share the same experience as you, and the same background as you, you still have the ability to make it in this country, and to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve.”

Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First, empowers veterans to challenge the United States to live up to the ideals that inspired them to serve in the first place. We are focused on protecting refugees, preserving the Special Immigrant Visa program for interpreters and translators who served U.S. forces, and countering anti-Muslim bigotry.