US city’s historic Tibetan-Indian mayor-elect recalls his refugee root

Aftab Pureval. (Photo courtesy: Hamilton County Democratic Party)

(, Nov04’21) – Reflecting on his “improbably American” story, Aftab Karma Singh Pureval, the first Tibetan American, the first Tibetan-Indian American and the first Asian-American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) to get elected as mayor in the history of the US city of Cincinnati, has voiced his deep consciousness of his Tibetan refugee root, according to India’s PTI news agency Nov 3.

Aftab Pureval, whose mother is from a Tibetan settlement in south India and whose father is a Punbjabi Indian, won the election on Nov 2 in the state of Ohio.

PTI quoted Pureval as saying in a previous interview (in 2018), “My story is improbably American. I’m the son of a refugee. My mom was born in Tibet and she was forced to flee her home country along with my grandparents.”

“My grandparents, my mother picked up and made their way through the Himalayas through Nepal and into India where she grew up as a refugee.”

Pureval’s mother studied in a Mysore school and went to Delhi for college education, where she met his Punjabi father.

“My (paternal) grandfather was in the Indian military (Brg. Ajit Singh),” he has said.

After marriage, his parents moved to the US and settled in Ohio where he was born in 1982. He has travelled to Tibet once as a child, but has been a frequent visitor to India, especially to Delhi to meet his grandparents, who passed away recently, the report said.


Pureval, 39, currently serves as clerk of courts for Cincinnati city’s Hamilton County. He won the election to that post in 2016 as a first-time candidate, upsetting a well-known incumbent.

And in 2018, he became the first Tibetan or Tibetan-American to run for Congress when he entered the race for Ohio’s 1st Congressional District. He was endorsed by former President Barack Obama but eventually lost the race to incumbent Congressman Steve Chabot.

In March this year, AAPI Victory Fund endorsed Aftab as “a necessary progressive voice that has been able to achieve success with Democrats and Republicans alike” in its slate of mayoral candidates.

Pureval defeated David Mann, a city councillor and fellow Democrat who previously served as mayor and in Congress, 66% to 34% with all precincts counted, said Nov 3, citing an NBC News report of unofficial results.


Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said Nov 3 that Pureval highlighted his interest in his Tibetan community in June this year by taking part in its Tibetan Youth Leadership Program alongside other Tibetan Americans who had thrived in government and public service. The virtual program provided training for outstanding Tibetan American college and graduate students from across the country, it said.

Also, in Nov 2020, Pureval appeared on ICT’s Tibet Talks live conversation series, where he encouraged young Tibetan Americans to get involved in public service, the group said.

“People will tell you, just like they told me, that you’re too young, or you’re too inexperienced, or you’re too brown, or your accent is too strong, or your name is too funny,” he was quoted as having said at that time.

“There will be people who tell you that you can’t do it. And you know what? That is crap. The truth is you are exactly who we need in public service right now.”

“Today, AAPI Victory Fund celebrates Aftab Pureval’s historic win as the first Indian-Tibetan American mayor of a major city, who has a bold vision to move Cincinnati forward,” the PTI report quoted AAPI Victory Fund founder and chairman Shekar Narasimhan as saying a day after his historic election victory.


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