Asha Rangappa is a senior lecturer at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. She previously served as a Special Agent in the New York Division of the FBI, where she assessed threats to national security, conducted classified investigations on suspected foreign agents, and performed undercover work. Before joining a Zócalo/KCRW “Critical Thinking With Warren Olney” panel discussion titled “What Does Treason Look Like?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, she talked tapas, teaching, and what you can learn about the United States by visiting Bogotá.
What is the first sound you hear in the morning?
What’s your favorite place to eat in New Haven?
I love a tapas place called Ibiza Tapas in Hamden, Connecticut.
What’s the closest you’ve ever come to treason?
In the FBI, I recruited someone who committed treason against their country.
If you were given a choice, what would be your last meal?
It would have to be an Indian meal made by my mom. She would be so sad, though.
What do you miss most about working at the FBI?
I miss bypassing airport security.
What’s the biggest similarity between working in federal law enforcement and academic administration?
Getting reimbursed is a big pain in both.
What teacher made the most lasting impact on you?
In high school, it was my English teacher, Ms. Romano, the repertoire of things that she had us read, it helped. I went to a public high school in Virginia, and when I went to college, she had given me at least some tools to belong there initially. The other teacher, John Dilulio, my college thesis advisor, modeled very well the ability to see both sides of an issue. And not to be polarized in your view of things. I think that helped me in my legal work and in how I approach my own students now.
Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime?
What did your time studying in Colombia teach you about the United States?
It’s something I’ve been reflecting on now. I think people here take democracy and the rule of law for granted, and they’re complacent about it. When you live in a country like Colombia that’s had to fight for democracy, and to endure so much to hang onto it, they really value it. What you see now in the U.S—the complacency of what’s going on—comes from never having been challenged in the way that they have in Colombia.
To you, what does it mean to be American?
It’s a complicated question. For me, it was always an aspiration, growing up in southern Virginia, and being the only Indian where I was. So I’ve experienced it as an outsider, but it’s also some common core that everyone can get to eventually. There’s an aspirational, striving quality to it.