A US diversity officer who claimed to be of Latino, South Asian and Arab descent is in fact “white as the driven snow” and has been lying about her name and heritage for years, according to her mother.
Muslim activist Raquel Evita Saraswati, 29, is the chief equity, inclusion and culture officer of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organisation that fights globally for peace and social justice.
But her mother, Carol Perone, says she has “chosen to live a lie”.
“I call her Rachel,” she told The Intercept, adding that she was born Rachel Elizabeth Seidel.
“I don’t know why she’s doing what she’s doing. I’m as white as the driven snow and so is she.
“I’m German and British, and her father was Calabrese Italian. She’s chosen to live a lie, and I find that very, very sad.”
Photographs of Ms Saraswati as a child show her with a much lighter skin complexion. Another family member, who asked not to be identified, confirmed to the Intercept that Ms Saraswati is white.
Oskar Pierre Castro, a human resources professional who helped AFSC hire Ms Saraswati, said the activist presented herself as a “queer, Muslim, multiethnic woman”.
“In my mind it was, ‘great, a person of colour, a queer person of colour, who happens to be a Muslim and a woman’,” he said.
“It seemed that there was an element of lived experience and understanding because of the lived experience, not just the academic and extra training that come with being in a position where you are an equity and inclusion practitioner.
“I definitely feel conned. I feel deceived,” he told The Intercept.
Questions over motivations
Now, questions have also been raised about her motivations.
According to Ms Perone, her daughter converted to Islam in school and later started presenting herself as being of a different ethnic identity.
Ms Saraswati went on to build a public profile, described as a “moderate” Muslim critical of Islamic extremism.
She appeared on CNN, Fox News and Right-wing channel Newsmax. In 2013, she also appeared in a film produced by the Clarion Project, an organisation the Southern Poverty Law Centre said specialised in “rabidly anti-Muslim films”.
According to the New York Post, Ms Saraswati wrote on Facebook: “I assure people that as soon as I am capable, I will provide answers to the recent discussion and attack on me.
“I understand all the reactions you’re having. I am currently taking the time to get to where I can answer in a way that is most helpful and thorough.”
“People are concerned,” a member of AFSC’s leadership told The Intercept, requesting anonymity.
“There’s a fear that she could be an agent, because she started her career Right-wing. She was a token Muslim voice in that milieu.”
‘Raquel stands by her identity’
In a statement, the Philadelphia-based organisation said: “We are in receipt of the documentation alleging that our Chief Equity, Inclusion, and Culture Officer, Raquel Saraswati, has been misrepresenting her identity.
“AFSC has given Raquel the opportunity to address the allegations against her, and Raquel stands by her identity.
“Raquel also assures us that she remains loyal to AFSC’s mission, which we firmly believe.
“AFSC does not require any employee to ‘prove’ their heritage as a condition of their employment, or in order to be valued as a member of our team.”
The case is reminiscent of Rachel Dolezal, the white US academic and civil rights activist who made headlines around the world for misrepresenting herself as black.
She later admitted on US TV that she was “biologically born white to white parents”.
Speaking to hosts of The Real, Miss Dolezal said she had seen herself as black from a very early age and still self-identified as black.
“Sometimes how we feel is more powerful than how we’re born,” she said.
“Blackness can be defined as philosophical, cultural, biological, you know, it’s a lot of different things to a lot of different people.”
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