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E59 The Rewilding Journey with Raju Rajan

Tagline

Immigrant people and native plants: An Indian Technologist and Community Builder shows us how to use an outsider’s perspective to value what lies within America.

Bio for Raju Rajan

Raju Rajan is a Global Account Chief Technologist with Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Founder and President of ReWild Long Island. A technologist with a strong communitarian ethic, Raju has a Ph.D. in Communication Networks from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a background in networking research and is the author of over 30 peer-reviewed publications, 14 patents and numerous industry presentations.

His strong entrepreneurial ethic has led him to found two IT start-ups, as well as a number of community groups aimed at organizing people for systemic change. He is currently active with Long Island Together, a progressive collective that organizes around education, immigration and social change, and is a founder and President of ReWild Long Island, which brings native plants to public spaces and private yards.

Raju grew up in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in South India, speaking Tamil with a brother and sister, and was greatly influenced by his mother’s intelligence. He now resides in Port Washington, NY, with his wife Sonia Arora who is an educator/community organizer and whom he met while organizing community programs for South Asians, son Kabeera Singh, a sophomore in College, and cat, Lucky, who does nothing!

Episode highlight

Raju Rajan is passionate about introducing people to the land, to native plants and to the concept of rewilding. His idea is that if everyone starts with one small plant action, our relationship to the planet will heal. Combined with this planet passion mission is a deep understanding of the significance and role of technology, an area in which he has developed much expertise.

Links

Quotes

  • “Feminism really dismantles nationalism”.
  • “The modern workplace cannot function, you cannot recruit that transgender person who is an amazing coder out of MIT to your organization unless you are willing to… make it clear that transphobia will not be tolerated.”
  • “There are 2 kinds of influences – things that are good that we imbibe and continue and make us who we are and also things that we rebel against because we see the palpable injustice or inequity.”
  • “No culture progresses without rebels.”
  • “English is a key that opens the doors to not just jobs but it also opens the door to a whole culture, it opens the door to a whole set of privileges compared to people who don’t have access to it.”
  • “While many of us inherit privilege, I think it’s important to acknowledge it and then also say, okay, what did that privilege come at the cost of, and how do you inherit responsibility of millennia of patriarchy and oppression especially against the Dalits, especially against women and how do you go forward from there not just wallow in guilt but really how do you go forward from there and what does it mean to be either penitent or have repentance or work through reparation or restitution… where do we go as a society and as individuals from this learning?”
  • “Maybe there is a distinction in terms of cognitive ability but just in terms of soul and spirituality, there is no distinction between human beings and the rest of creation.”
  • “Every blade of grass out there in your yard, every plant is alive, it is a being, it exists in connection with other beings. Do not treat them like furniture.”
  • “A butterfly doesn’t care whether you are a republican yard or a democratic yard or a socialist yard or a Bernie Sanders yard.”
  • “Trust breeds more confidence and it breeds more success”.

Takeaways

Childhood Incidents

At age 7, Raju was killing ants on the kitchen floor with his 4-year-old brother when his grandfather pleaded with them not to. That “sense of empathy” and respect for life was an important part of the culture in his vegetarian household.

Surrounded by Hinduism and nationalism, Raju claims it was natural for him to be recruited by the Hindu Nationalist Organization, RSS in high school. While they blurred distinctions of caste amongst people, they fortified those of religion, going against what most religions would teach.

Influenced by Gandhian principles of non-violence and feminist female friends, he left RSS. Moving to Madison was “a time of extraordinary intellectual movement” for him, exposing him to a wide variety of opinions and social movements.

Influential groups

Raju was the first male son in his anglicized, urban middle-class Brahmin family living in a patriarchal society. He feels privileged to have been born in India at the confluence of many religious and spiritual traditions which inform his political and environmental work today.

He is a part of many non-profit and community groups. His greatest influence comes from his work as a technologist, using tools to make community work more efficient and using the culture and insights of his profession to make his social work more productive.

Temperament and Personality Influences

Raju claims he gets angry very quickly and it has taken many years and his wife’s patience to help him mellow down. He also needs to resonate with the reason behind any action before doing it. Working with customers has made him accepting, unruffled and professional.

Cultural Epiphanies

Moving to the USA from India was a cultural shock for Raju – seeing light-skinned people doing menial labour was a stark change from the skin colour-based society he came from. It was also unusual for women in the early 90s in India to do well in STEM courses, like the one he was in.

Advice to an Employer

Raju’s advice to the people he works with is, “Know what you are committing to but deliver on whatever you commit.” He admits that he gets judgemental of people who are not organized in their work and that he needs to have more compassion in this regard.

More Great Insights!

Raju urges listeners to find any connection they can to nature and begin “reimagining and relooking and rethinking” it. Gardening is a great way to relieve yourself of the anxiety of climate change and to do something positive in that direction. You can learn more about his work on his website.

Extro

Raju Rajan, a technologist with a community bent of mind, believes, “A weed is an opinion. It is simply a plant in the wrong place and time. A native plant is a definition.” To get an image of Raju’s work and feel the passion for yourself, see the high school students in action at his summer program!

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