A short film about abortion written by a San Jose resident and an Indian American is an exciting prospect. Choices, a film directed by Amir Jaffer, produced by Ajit Mukundan, and written and co-acted by Puneet, is taking on the socially relevant debate surrounding abortion. The short film is about two individuals who are steadfast in their views but are forced to reckon with changed circumstances requiring them to revisit their entrenched positions on being pro-life and pro-choice, respectively.
Though Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that ruled in favor of a woman’s choice to seek an abortion, felt like a positive resolution, the 50-year discourse on pro-life and pro-choice continues to be contentious. This year, 165 bills banning abortion were introduced in state legislatures. Every election cycle, hopeful candidates seek a platform built on the divisive issue in an attempt to pander to their demographic.
According to Jackie Dallas, the female lead of Choices, “Stances on abortion have become heavily politicized, with opponents citing religion or science without a true understanding of either. However, in actuality, an individual’s decision may not be based on fear of eternal damnation or a conscience against murder at all, but something as selfish as shame or deceit. This is a story that could be told by anyone, but I appreciated how it gave a voice to Asian-American representation, and by doing so, exposes a cultural taboo that is rarely discussed in such communities.”
I could not agree more! I was ready for the Indian American and, possibly, Hindu prerogative on the subject matter. A topic that is rarely discussed in Indian households would benefit from a film written from the lens of an Indian American in the Bay Area.
“As a Muslim, I believe in projecting the benevolence of the almighty towards all,” Altaf Khan (Puneet) preaches in the first scene of Choices during a book signing on his pro-life book.
Puneet, who does not identify as a Muslim, plays into the trope of Islamic tradition (western religion) and the discourse surrounding abortion. When Puneet was questioned about his decision-making process, he responded, “Altaf Khan could have been a conservative Christian person too…[He] can be modern and orthodox. [He] could have been anyone.”
The unique viewpoint which Puneet has to offer was overlooked for generic appeal. Religion is pivotal to the plot but cultural implications of abortion within the Islamic community are left unanswered. Much like his character, Altaf Khan, Puneet chose to pinpoint religion when it was expedient to do so.
What I knew began with good intent, seemed derailed by the many themes it ventured to address – religion, politics, career, marriage, infidelity, AND abortion. It took a bite out of the very extensive, nuanced dialogue and presented it to the viewer in 20 minutes.
And, perhaps, that bite was much too big. The film wasn’t able to do justice to any of the motifs and touched on each one in a superficial way.
Some elements of Choices that I did appreciate were: the interracial couple, the diverse cast in every scene, the directive to approach a heavy topic, and the willingness to underscore the hypocrisy of the male approach to the female body.
Ultimately, I wish this short film had offered more than what already existed in the media space but I do think it was worth the watch. More narratives on abortion are welcome and, potentially, the film can prove to be thought-provoking for South Asians once they see themselves represented on the screen.
Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
Over the years, America has seen a nationally growing community of minority populations. The 2016 elections caused a huge wave of anger and frustration within these communities and led to protests and action against injustices caused by lack of voter turnout and disparity in elections. People protested and voiced out their anger and fear of not having a space to grow on an equal footing as those that were privileged. These events led up to the 2020 election, a time where Kamala Harris, the first Asian-Black woman elected Vice President in the history of this nation.
South Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S with a 45% growth in the last decade. These numbers show the growing influence of Asian Americans in the electoral processes of the States. Meera Kymal reported for India Currents that though Indian Americans represent just over 1% of the US population, they have donated more than $3 milliontowards the 2020 presidential campaigns. Minority voices have demanded equality and representation in their communities. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on April 30th, John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), stated that the 2020 election saw an increase of 40% in voter turnout when compared to the 2016 elections.
The For the People Act and the John L.Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will only give more equality and accessibility to minority communities to break language barriers and make their vote count. Both these bills seek to make the electoral process secure and prevent foreign interventions or money from influencing the electoral process and vote. They also provide better access to voting by mail and overall enhance the voting process and security.
“Language barriers are one of the biggest impediments to the Asian American vote, with 1/3rd of Asian Americans being what is called limited English proficiency” John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).
Mr. Yang further states that previous elections have witnessed a lack of translators or sign indicators for those that are not proficient in English, limiting their access to ballots. While this was taken care of in the 1965 voting rights act, a lot more can be done for those that aren’t proficient in English. “In every election poll, monitors have observed missing Asian language signage and interpreters, which limits our access to the ballot. Ensuring effective language assistance is paramount to closing that consistent barrier in national and local elections,” he stated.
The For The People Act and John L.Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will improve and expense the voting opportunities for Asian communities making it more accessible to them. The previous election also saw an increase in turnout due to voting by mail. Such steps can be enhanced and practiced more efficiently if the two bills were to pass in Congress.
What better month to discuss this topic than AAPI heritage month! It is important to remember that the influence of Asian American communities strongly impacted the 2020 elections, and the passing of these two bills in Congress will only enhance the opportunity for better representation and understanding of the Asian American community in the States.
Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person.
When Kalai Bagai first arrived in San Francisco on September 6th, 1915 with her husband Vaishno and three sons, local newspapers flocked to cover the story of the first Indian-American woman to enter the Bay Area. Fleeing British imperialism in her homeland, Bagai was exposed to the very casual racism and persecution she thought she had escaped. When her family purchased their first home, she remembered her neighbors attempting to stop them from moving in.
“All of our luggage and everything was loaded on the trucks,’ she said. “‘I told Mr. Bagai I don’t want to live in this neighborhood. I don’t want to live in this house, because they might hurt my children, and I don’t want it. We paid for the house and they locked the doors? No!'”
Although one in the hundreds of immigrants searching for new lives in the United States, Kala Bagai was singled out for her Indian heritage by the masses — ridiculed for her nose ring and skin color. Bagai, like so many other activists of color, was stenciled into America’s history for her “otherness”, and for her struggle to take ownership of her cultural identity.
The story of Kala Bagai is defined by risk — the risk to emigrate to the nascent United States with precarious citizenship laws, the risk to leave India without knowing a word of English, the risk to challenge this sense of “otherness” that permeated the public consciousness.
Though one of the first South Asians to find a home in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kala Bagai was aware that she would not be the last. As new Indian American families emigrated to her area, they were welcomed with a smile and a warm meal prepared by Bagai. She was endearingly named “Mother India” by Indian locals. By blurring the boundaries between California Americanisms and Desi customs, Bagai redefined this sense of “otherness” — she created a community out of the ambiguous and alienating identity that was given to her.
Then the United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind case defined Indians as citizens of color, ineligible for U.S. citizenship. Still, in shock over his sudden denaturalization, Vaishno Bagai took his own life. The Bagais were left without citizenship, livelihood, or home. And it was at their lowest that Kala Bagai began to fight back. Despite the loss of her husband, she advocated fiercely for Indian American rights and found ways to support anti-colonialism movements in India. Kala Bagai put all three of her sons through college, taking great pride in supporting their higher education. Before passing away at 90 years in 1983, Bagai had hosted a number of Indian festivals, community halls, and theatres — events continued in her honor to this day.
Kala Bagai was ostracized for her “otherness”. Today, the Berkeley community is ready to celebrate her for it. With a thriving South Asian American community, Berkeley has spent the past couple of months trying to find a name for a 2-block stretch of Shattuck Avenue East. In the heart of Berkeley downtown, this street has the potential to recognize and uplift America’s rich South Asian American cultural community. Because in an unexpected, yet beautiful turn of events, the Bay Area community is ready to name this street Kala Bagai Way. Anirvan Chatterjee, a San Francisco Bay Area activist who helped organize community support for the name, discusses the implications of this historic naming process in an exclusive interview with India Currents.
“Berkeley is a roughly 20% Asian American city, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the street names”, Chatterjee said. “I think Kala Bagai was a good fit because she was Asian American, a woman, an immigrant, a member of a minority faith, a survivor of local and federal racism. But she was more than her identity, or what was done to her family. She persisted through heartbreak, emerging as a critical California immigrant community-builder well into her forties. She demonstrated a model of quiet activism that sometimes doesn’t get recognized, but is so critical in our movements and communities.
In terms of her connection to Berkeley, her story shed light on the city’s difficult history around race and housing. It’s easier to honor someone who is a long-term resident, but more challenging—and interesting—to name a street after somebody who wanted to be a neighbor, but was kept out by community racism.”
Turning a downtown Berkeley street into Kala Bagai Way was certainly an uphill battle. Chatterjee and other local activists worked with descendants of Kala Bagai to tell her story to the media and represent her legacy. They even created a Wikipedia page dedicated to her, so that Berkeley locals could educate themselves on her role in Indian American activism. Chatterjee attended the final meeting of the Berkeley naming advisory committee and noted a discrepancy in Berkeley’s representation and the area itself. Only 2 of the 9 members of the committee were people of color. And while this committee wanted to honor the city’s rich history, they realized that naming the street after Kala Bagai was defined, much like Bagai herself, by risk.
“She wasn’t the safest possible choice, because her most relevant connection to Berkeley was the way she and her family were kept out,” Chatterjee said. “Naming a street after her also means naming an uncomfortable past, and also serves as a reminder to defend all of today’s Kala Bagais, by resisting displacement and welcoming newcomers.”
While Kala Bagai Way is a victory for the Asian American community, it’s hard to celebrate this achievement without recognizing the current backdrop of hate crimes against Asian Americans. Just three weeks ago, a man opened fire at three different massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, killing six Asian American women. This is not an isolated atrocity, but rather one in the many crimes which suggest that America’s terrifying history of prejudice and xenophobia is far from over. Chatterjee thinks that in the wake of these hate crimes, naming this street after a South Asian American activist only grows more necessary.
“Anti-Asian racism is often rooted in the stereotype of Asian Americans as eternal foreigners, generation after generation,” Chatterjee said. “Naming a street isn’t just about community pride, but also about shifting that culture. Naming a downtown street after an Asian American activist who tried to move to Berkeley over a century ago is making a claim to belonging, and is a tiny part of much larger anti-racist movements.”
While no one knows what the future holds in store for America’s immigrant communities, we hope that symbolic progress leads to constructive change. Indian Americans have played a major role in shaping today’s America, but they often don’t see themselves represented by the local or national leadership. Chatterjee believes that Kala Bagai Way is a foot in the door, and serves as a homage to the footsteps of Asian American activists before him.
“Our histories are important, both because they’re ours, and also because they connect to larger stories,” Chatterjee says. “We’re walking a path paved by the activism of other communities, like Black activists taking on the honoring of the Confederacy, or Native American activists taking on racist sports teams. The point isn’t just to change the names, but to address what the names represent.”
This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we honor Kala Bagai for all her contributions to our Indian American communities in California.
Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the 2020 summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication.
Many Asian Americans say – we can wear a mask to protect against Covid but how can you protect yourself against racism?
The physical assaults are the stories that show up on the news. But the mental impacts of racism have been deadly for Asian Americans. They have experienced the highest mental health distress from both the pandemic and rise of hate crimes during pandemic while they are the least likely to seek help for the same.
“There are a lot of trauma reactions, similar to PTSD symptoms. However what makes racial trauma very unique is where PTSD is post traumatic stress disorder, a lot of racial trauma is not post. There is no ending to it right now. It is past, present and ongoing. So, it makes it very unique and tricky trauma symptoms to treat sometimes.” says Linda Yoon, a therapist and the founder of Yellow Chair Collective.
For many older generation South East Asians including Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian refugee immigrant population, the recent violent crimes have triggered their PTSD symptoms that remind them of war, genocide, displacement they experienced in their home countries.
Yoon says that there are a lot of physical symptoms in this trauma, including sleeplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, confusion, loneliness, and a lot of anxiety and depression. And a lot of anger towards the injustice that they are experiencing.
A lack of understanding of the available mental health services as well as the cultural stigma associated with it, makes it even harder to reach this community.
The concept of mental health comes from psychology, which comes from the western culture and study, says Yoon and because psychology separates mind from the physical body, it feels alien to the eastern society. “In traditional eastern medicine and wellness, they talk about yin and yang – balance which also includes balance of your body and mind. And there is no separation between body and mind.”
So a lot of times Asian Americans will complain about their mental health symptoms in their physical somatic sense. “We talk about pain in our body, we talk about anger that lives inside our body, we talk about the shoulder pain that was caused by family stress, we talk about stomach issues that have been impacted by stress and anxiety.”
To address mental health issues and reduce the stigma, more integrative holistic approaches to mental health will make more sense to Asian populations in a culturally sensitive and linguistically competent manner.
But the good news is that they do not want to “shoulder the fear burden anymore” reports Anh Do at the LA Times. At the start, they “bent to cultural tradition” and kept quiet. They were taught to keep their troubles to themselves. And they wanted to avoid attention to their families. But then as assaults increased, they started reporting and creating safety plans for their loved ones.
“They gave their children mace.” “He makes sure his phone battery is always charged ready to be used in case something happens” and he needs to record it. “Never go alone, even for the smallest errand.” “Hyper vigilance, and avoidance of places”. These are some of the strategies ordinary Asian Americans are employing to stay safe, here in America, according to Do.
The potential for bullying, stereotyping and violence is so high that Asian American parents are afraid to send their kids back to school and generally go back in public.
Who are Asian Americans Exactly?
In 1968, UC Berkeley student activists Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka coined the term “Asian American” to unite the different communities of Asian descent and strategically create more political power in numbers.
Then, in the 1980s and ’90s this classification was broadened even further via the addition of Pacific Islander and creating the term Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI. While AAPI was meant to be inclusive, in reality it has often had the opposite effect.
According to Pew Research, this demographic marker includes about 19 million people, up 81 percent since 2000. 59 percent of all Asian Americans are immigrants, including 1.4 million of whom are undocumented. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in America, currently 5.6 percent of the county’s population but projected to be as much as 14 percent by 2065.
The income gaps among different Asian American ethnic groups are the widest of any racial group, and they are still growing. While Indian Americans have the highest median income of $100,000, for example, Burmese Americans have the lowest, at $36,000.By bundling over 50 ethnic groups that speak over a 100 languages under one broad AAPI banner, the aggregated data does a disservice to the individual communities.
In all these three cases, the immigrants came to the US as laborers but were framed as the source of economic problems, and in some cases public health ones, too.
The yellow peril is a racist metaphor for Asian Americans who are seen as outside threats that are invading the west with their diseases as explained by Professor Russell Jeung, Chair & Professor, Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University, at a USC Center for Health Journalism webinar titled “What Anti-Asian Hate Means for Mental Health, Safety and Justice.”
The “model minority” trope that suggests that all Asian Americans are well off, hardworking and successful and pit them against other minorities “masks the inequalities that Asian Americans face. The yellow peril is much more operative” suggests Professor Jeung, one of the founders of STOPAAPIHATE.org.
“Sometimes when we are on the inside, we are model minorities, we are white adjacent, we are crazy rich Asians. But in times of war, such as Japanese incarceration, or what happened to South Asian muslims and Arab Americans with islamophobia – in times of economic downturn and in times of pandemic, Asian Americans are framed as perpetual foreigners, or outsiders who don’t belong” says Professor Jeung.
Time and again, when diseases come from Asia, says Professor Jeung, “Asian Americans are perceived as the source of the diseases, policies seek to exclude them, and Asian Americans are met with interpersonal violence.”
AAPI Hate Crime on the Rise
#stopAAPIhate website tracker was created to collect individual reports, to document the issue, to figure out what’s happening, to track trends, and to provide policy interventions. The hate and anger directed against Asians was appalling, up to 100 incidents a day and that surge has continued.
Asian Americans report everything from being barred from ride shares, to being coughed and spat on, their businesses being shunned, their elderly being shoved and kicked, their children being bullied in person and online, racial epithets and slurs and the ever common curse – “go back to China”.
Almost unanimously, respondents named racism as their biggest stressor and greatest fear during the pandemic. Asian Americans are more concerned about other American’s hate than they are of a pandemic that has killed over half a million Americans. That’s how widespread and traumatizing the racism is.
Here in the Bay Area, there were higher incidents of hate crime against Asians in the beginning of the pandemic. This is likely because Northern California, more dependent on public transportation, the likelihood of different communities and different cultures interacting with one another is greater versus Southern California, which is very steeped in the car culture.
Help is At Hand
In Oakland, a volunteer service has been activated where a volunteer comes within 10-15 minutes of a call to accompany you to the bus stop, help you to a grocery store or back to your home.
Professor Jeung is angry and sad and distressed about the state of America although he is heartened that the Asian American community is standing up and “seeing our community really mobilize and working in unity with other allies.”
But he questions what healing looks like? And “as we experience racism, we might become racists – how do I stop this within my own self and how do I stop this for my students? What prescriptions do we have for our society so that we can stop that cycle of violence and racism?”
These are questions that do not have easy answers for us in the South Asian community either. Many of us faced stigmatization and violence in the aftermath of 9-11 but how do we become better allies and show support to our discriminated Asian brethren now?
A simple check up on your Asian American friends and neighbors, says Yoon, will go a long way. Her patients report feeling invisible and alone. Other strategies include intervening if you can when you see an incident, report what is happening and donate when you can.
Words matter, says Professor Jeung as the world watched Trump’s hate speech about the “China Virus” going viral, and normalizing hate towards the Asian American community. “We need official statements to normalize love and respect. It is sort of obvious but it is really needed.”
So, whatever organization you belong to or work at, pressure them to put out official statements about supporting the AAPI community because it helps them be seen and heard and acknowledge their pain and suffering.
President Biden’s new actions to respond to the increase in acts of anti-Asian violence have been celebrated in the community as a movement in the right direction. But in order to address the root case will require “ more education, more expanded civil rights protections and more restorative justice models”, says Professor Jeung.
Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.
Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents
From April till September 1976, I worked at Newcastle General Hospital in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England.
I was a Senior House Officer, the lowest on the totem pole, after having been the Chief Resident of Neurology at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine/North Carolina Baptist Hospital (now known as Wake Forest University School of Medicine), in Winston Salem, N.C.
I had taken up this 6-month stint in England, unsure of my status as a resident in the US which was dependent on the approval of my visa. Thus, I applied for a job at Newcastle General Hospital, having been connected to the head of the Neurology Department, Professor John Walton, by one of my professors in India. His colleague, Dr. Jack Foster, who was in charge of the Neurology ward, wrote back offering a position of Senior House Officer for 6 months to “the young Indian woman of whom you speak of so highly.”
There I was, flying over the Atlantic to the land that so many I admired had come from – William Shakespeare, Bertrand Russell, Thomas Hardy to name a few. In those days, the baggage allowance for international travel was one suitcase weighing no more than 44 pounds. So I filled my suitcase with clothes and basic toiletries. I planned to purchase more when I got to Newcastle. I had come a day earlier and was housed in a pleasant, many-bedroomed building which was shared by several non-white residents who had come from the far-flung corners of the former empire. There was a large common living-dining area and kitchen. The hospital was across the street on Westgate Road. It was a set of old stone buildings connected by a seemingly endless corridor. After having unpacked, I asked a housekeeper where I could purchase necessities. She suggested a tobacconist’s shop a short walk away.
I got to the store, made my purchases, and went to the cashier’s area to pay for them. I remember the cashier very well, dressed in a plain light brown frock. She totaled up my purchases and, as she accepted the money I gave her, said clearly and loud enough for me to hear, “Damn black bastards! They’re everywhere!”
I was taken aback. I don’t think I said anything and walked back to the cottage. I had heard from friends and relatives, including my siblings, of the overtly racist comments and behavior that they had experienced in England but I had not expected such a ‘warm welcome’ on my first day in it! Something told me that this was not an isolated incident and I should be prepared for more of them. I sat down at my desk and numbered the days I was to be in England from 180 to 1 and scratched off each day as it passed.
I wrote to my friend, an Irish woman who lived in the US and had trained as a nurse in Dublin and London in the 50s. She wrote back: “Well ‘black bastard’ now you know how the ‘dirty Irish’ feel!”. I ate at the Junior Doctors Dining Hall and for the 6 months that I was there, not once did a white British doctor sit at our table. The only white people who sat with us were medical students from the US who were doing an elective in Newcastle. It had been the norm for all non-medical staff at the hospital to call us “colored doctors”.
Whenever I took a public bus, a double-decker similar to one I was used to in Bombay, I noticed incoming passengers look to the right and left and go to the upper deck if no other seat except the one next to me was available. I took to walking 3 to 4 miles rather than take the bus.
I found it easier to eat at an expensive restaurant than at a fast-food one, as the rudeness or ‘microaggressions’ were more likely in the latter.
I began to notice that anytime change was handed to me, the store clerk held the coins carefully so that he or she did not touch the palm of my hand. I wondered if I was becoming paranoid. However, when I returned to the US and the store clerk put coins touching my palm, I knew that the aim of the store clerks in the two countries were different! One wanted to avoid touching me, while the other wanted to ensure the coins were securely placed.
Once a colleague said to me, ”You speak English very well.” Reflexively I replied, “That is my misfortune!” – Which, in my 6-month stint in England, it certainly seemed to be!
Bindu Desai is a retired neurologist who in non-Covid times spends 4 months a year in Mumbai.
Anti‐Asian hate crimes surged by a staggering 149% in 16 of America’s largest cities, even though overall hate crime dropped by 7% in 2020, according to a fact sheet released by the California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
With the stabbing of a 36 year Asian man in Chinatown In February, New York leapt to the top of the leaderboard for the most number (28) of racially motivated crimes against people of Asian descent in a major city, followed by Los Angeles (15) and Boston (14), in hate incidents reported to the police.
Data shows that the first spate of hate crimes occurred in March and April ‘amidst a rise in COVID-19 cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic’.
The brutal spike in attacks on Asian and Pacific Island Americans (particularly seniors) amid an epidemic of anti-Asian violence ,“is a source of grave concern for our community,” said John C Yang, of AAJC. “While battling COVID19, unfortunately Asian Americans have also had to fight a second virus of racism.”
At an ethnic media briefing on February 19, civil rights advocates called for a unified response to counter racial and ethnic divisions, bigotry and incidents of hate.
“What we are experiencing is the America First virus,” declared Jose Roberto Hernandez, Chief of Staff, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, where hatred is manifesting in a rash of vicious attacks targeting Asian Americans.
STOP AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination, received 2,808 reported incidents of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans across the U.S. between March 19 and December 31, 2020. Sixty nine percent of anti-AAPI attacks occurred in California, followed by New York City (20%), Washington (7%) and Illinois (4%).
According to STOP AAPI Hate, victims reported prejudice incidents that ranged from physical assault (8%), coughing and spitting (6%), to being shunned or avoided (20%). The vast majority (66%) reported verbal assaults.
In another study, hateful comments on social media also reflected racist trends sweeping the Internet. The term Kung Flu spiked in March and July last year in a Google key word search, while an analysis of Poll and Twitter posts from January 2020 saw a similar surge of Sino phobic racial slurs in March.
The most victimized group in the AAPI population – almost 41% – were people of Chinese descent while Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos also were targeted.
Another poll, added Yang, reported that 40% of Asian Americans either experienced discrimination or heard someone blame Asia or China for COVID-19. Many of the people who felt threatened are frontline workers in essential jobs at grocery stores, hospitals and community centers and custodial services.
Hate against Asian Americans is not a new phenomenon added Yang, referring to historical fear and prejudice that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the incarceration of 120 thousand Japanese Americans during World War 2, and the war on terror after 9/11 that impacted Arab Americans.
Asian Americans are often demonized for being ‘foreigners,’ or carriers of disease, but during the pandemic, said Yang, the ‘need to blame’ someone for the virus has exacerbated those fears and morphed into violence against the Asian American community.
Hateful rhetoric from President Trump, who referred to COVID19 as ‘the China virus, the Wuhan flu, and the China plague’ at political rallies, further inflamed racially motivated violence against Asian Americans.
“That has had a lasting impact”, stated Choi.
Her view was echoed by Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director of Pacific Policy and Planning Council, who pointed to “.. a very direct connection between the actions and the words of the former presidents and the administration.” She referred to policies initiated by the former administration to ‘alienate, isolate, and prevent our communities from getting the support they needed, and to reports her organization received, containing ‘the words of the president.’
“Words matter,” said Yang, calling on people to come together to dismantle the contagion of racism and hatred.
AAPI advocates drew the strong support of Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League, who condemned the ‘climate of intolerance which has been created in this nation.” He reiterated his support for AAPI, accountability for perpetrators of violent acts, and commitment to cross cultural understanding “which is central to civil rights in the 21st century.
“Hate anywhere, is hate everywhere,” noted Morial. “We stand against efforts to demonize the Asian American community.”
So how is the nation addressing this issue?
“What we need to work on is establishing the checks and balances in society that grant equal power to everybody,” said Hernandez, “at home, at work, and in the community.” Yang called for a stand against hatred, for witnesses to report incidents, and for bystander intervention training, so people know what do when they witness accounts of hate. He urged setting up dialog at local levels.
At the national level, said Yang, Biden’s national memorandum against AAPI hate is a good start in terms of data collection and better understanding of the hate Asian Americans are facing. But the government needs to invest in communities – in victim response centers, financial resources for victims and cross-community, cross-cultural conversations,” – to break down the barriers of prejudice.
“Often our communities are pitted against each other,” said Kulkarni, “that is how white supremacy works.” She remarked that sometimes AAPI communities tend to turn on one other because of ‘close proximity’ geographically or socio-economically, while too many people in AAPI communities accept the model minority myth or anti-blackness “all too easily.”
Communities need to collaborate to combat this culture of hatred and take responsibility to work on solutions, rather than accept the premises of white supremacy, added Kulkarni. She called for healing rather than division. “We have so much in common …that we should be able to work together for the right, restorative and transformative justice.”
Everyone has a part to play in highlighting this issue. urged Yang. “The virus of racism is very contagious and affects all of our communities. We need to fight that virus together.”
About a century ago, Rabindranath Tagore visited Shanghai where he was hosted by a young Chinese poet Xu Zimo, who had studied at Cambridge. Xu died young but changed poetry in China forever by liberating it from the formalism to introduce free form, and his work was influenced by Tagore.
Tagore wrote a poem called The Year 1400 (Bengali calendar – 1996 in Gregorian) addressing a reader a hundred years into the future. In it, he tells the future reader: “My spring birdsong and breeze fills me with song and I can’t send it forward but won’t you too sit by your open window and think of a poet who wrote this poem for you to share the youthful passion spring brings for all.”
Jing Jing, an immigrant from China, moved to the U.S. and taught herself English, to earn her young American daughter’s respect, and eventually become the current poet laureate of Cupertino (aka the place where Apple has built its spaceship HQ). She heard Tagore’s poem, The Year 1400, late on a Saturday night, when she visited our Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley readings last May. We happened to be celebrating Tagore’s birthday by inviting all our Bengali poets to read. One poet, Jayanta chose Tagore’s poem and its English translation by Ketki Kushari Dyson, from Oxford. It moved Jing Jing to goosebumps and tears.
As Jing Jing planned the Lunar New Year celebrations with poetry reading, she invited the grandson and great-granddaughter of Xu Zimo to read his work. Jing Jing remembered Tagore’s poem and wondered if our poets would be willing to read it at the celebration — to bring the old poets’ works together — like the friends who met in Shanghai a century ago.
I had no recollection of it and wondered who might have read it. Jing Jing had saved a screenshot so I knew it was Jayanta. When I reached out to him, he said “Anything Jyoti asks, I have to do.”
But as it turned out — there was a conflict in his schedule. He found the poem and its translation for us, even though he couldn’t read it. That is how I ended up reading Tagore’s poem and another of our poetry circle members, Debolina, read the original in Bengali.
130 people attended this online event. This is amazing for so many reasons. The China, India, US, and UK connections, the passion and love of poems and ode to spring, old friends connected through poetry, strangers making happenstance connections across the impossible distance and centuries, in springtime for celebrations with verse, and me getting caught up to enjoy it all, without leaving the comfort of my home.
Dr. Jyoti Bachani is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is a former Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, with degrees from London Business School, UK, Stanford, USA, and St. Stephen’s College, India. She translates Hindi poems and edited a poetry anthology called The Memory Book of the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley.
(Featured Image: Illustration by Jawahir Hassan Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera)
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global health problem that disproportionately affects women; about 35% of women globally have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. The core elements of IPV include: physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression.
In the United States, it is estimated that 35.6% of all women will experience IPV in their lifetime. IPV results in several mental and physical health issues, which has shown to disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority and immigrant women. Literature on rates for IPV has reported that Asian American minorities have a significantly greater odds of experiencing IPV compared with other racial and ethnic groups.
Specifically, Asian Indian Americans report a 38-94% risk for lifetime experiences of violence. Research, educational outreach, and prevention programs can help educate and provide resources for Indian Americans on IPV related issues, however, these services have been criticized for an overemphasis on Western (European and American) ideologies. To create services with a better cultural perspective for Indian Americans, it is important to create a culturally relevant definition of IPV.
As an Indian American myself, I feel the effects of a lack of representation in research and healthcare services, which is why I started this research project examining perceptions of IPV within Indian American communities. Considering the severity of this health issue, this research raises awareness on IPV and its consequences within the Indian American community. Using survey data collected from Indian American communities, the current study will establish the relationship between IPV and its factors. To gather data for this research, willing and interested participants are encouraged to participate in a confidential online survey that takes 25 minutes to complete. The survey will ask you questions about your opinions and experiences as an Indian American on IPV and IPV related factors. Demographic information will also be collected.
If you are interested in joining in this effort to spread awareness and encourage others to make their voice heard in our Indian American community, here is the link to the survey: https://www.psychdata.com/s.asp?SID=191163
If you feel uncomfortable answering any questions, you are able to skip any questions at any time. In order to be a participant in this study, you must be at least 18 years of age or older and be an Asian Indian American.
Briana Joseph is the daughter of two Indian immigrants from Kerala and is currently in her third year of college. This research is a part of her thesis and she hopes to continue this line of research in graduate school.
(Featured Image: Screenshot from CNBC coverage of the 2021 Inauguration)
I was pouring my coffee and almost spilled it when I heard Senator Amy Klobuchar’s words, “Our first African American, our first Asian American, our first woman Vice President, Kamala Harris” waft from my TV. As nonchalantly as I had been watching the inauguration, that moment – those words violently ran through my body, as though all my ancestors were asking me to listen.
Kamala Devi Harris.
I was happy to hear of the Democratic shift in our Executive and Legislative branches of government and had voted accordingly, yet I remained skeptical. Skeptical if the words matched the vision.
I accepted Vice President Kamala Harris as a person of color, but I’m not sure why, I hadn’t rationalized the identities she presented. Her Indian-American identity was one she had disengaged from early in her career, rightfully so, only to reach out conveniently when she needed votes. I still voted for her, advocated for her. Not because of her Indian heritage but because of her qualifications, her recent policies, her passion, her willingness to adapt, change, and grow. She was a powerhouse and deserved a position that matched her abilities. This was the narrative I spun for myself and others.
But…it wasn’t until those words were uttered at the inauguration that I felt myself shudder. Shudder in disbelief. Shudder at the significance. Shudder at the thought of my connection to her.
A Lotus Goddess.
And there she was…like Lakshmi Devi, ready to sit upon her throne. Her purple garments, vibrant like the purple lotus. Rooted in America in the most American way – a child of immigrants from two spaces and places. I could not will that away and neither could she.
For so long, I denied seeing myself in Kamala in the interest of seeming impartial; to not be criticized for voting based on resemblance. I cannot deny it any longer. Our Vice President, Kamala Devi Harris is an Indian-American and I love her for it. I love myself for it. She will be a part of my history and I, hers.
Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.
The 2020 US presidential election is poised to be the watershed moment in Indian-American (IA) politics. The significance of this election lies in the stratification of IA votes. Once a solid Democratic voting block, IA voters have been progressively turning away from the Democratic Party.
A recent Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) survey suggests that as many as 28% of eligible IA voters will vote for the Republican Party candidate Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential elections. That is a 12 point increase from a paltry 16% in 2016 who voted for Trump. The data suggests just 66% of support for Joe Biden. Compared to this, nearly 84% of Indian-Americans had voted for Barack Obama. The AAPI data also suggests only 57% of eligible IA men will vote Democrat in the 2020 elections compared to 71% in 2016.
The numbers for the Trump supporters could be even higher. We all know that most surveys had grossly underestimated support for Trump in the 2016 elections. Most gave Hilary Clinton, the then Secretary of State and the former First Lady, 90% (or more) chance of winning the election going late into the election night itself. Suffice to say, many Trump supporters did not openly profess their electoral preferences in the last election for fear of ridicule and public shaming. With intolerance and ‘cancel culture’ sweeping the American landscape, this fear has become a reality. Several stories of personal and professional harm have come up in both social and mainstream media.
The change marks a tectonic shift in the voting preferences of IAs. There is a general sense of disenchantment and disillusionment against the Democratic Party. Many IAs are not comfortable with the Democratic Party’s hard left turn and its support for Antifa and other radical violent groups. That process of disenchantment has been exacerbated by Democrats’ brazen Islamopandering. When the Indian Parliament made provisions for full constitutional integration of Jammu & Kashmir, and when it passed the Citizenship Amendment Act making special provisions for persecuted religious minorities in the theocratic Islamic states of the Indian subcontinent, some of the high profile Democrats launched a campaign against the government of PM Narendra Modi. One of those high profile Democrats includes the presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
The real concern for the Indian-Americans isn’t necessarily the H-1B visas, nor is the overall Indo-US relationship which has already “overcome the hesitations of history” in the last decade or so. The Indian-Americans, however, are now genuinely concerned about their future and safety in the US. The left-dominated academia and media have created an extremely negative image of the Hindus, the largest religious group among Indian-Americans. The specter of Hindu Nationalism, Hindutva, Caste, etc., has been raised – without much understanding and contextualization – to demean and create hatred against the followers of one of the oldest and most liberal faiths.
Many Democrats, including Indian-American politicians, have actively indulged in enabling and perpetuating Hinduphobia in the US. For example, some of the most vicious Hinduphpobic attacks on a former presidential candidate and a practicing Hindu woman came from within the Democratic Party and its affiliates. That trend of attacking politicians with Hindu roots has continued unabated as we approach the election date.
Another reason for the shift in IA voting preferences is due to what is going on in India. Home of the oldest civilization, India is the sacred land that “bears traces of gods and footprints of heroes.“ The memory of this land is etched deep in the consciousness of the Indian diaspora across the globe. That sacred land is undergoing, what journalist-scholar and parliamentarian Dr. Swapan Dasgupta calls, a phase of ‘awakening’.
After hundreds of years of loot, plunder, subjugation, colonization, and experimentation with the leftist ideology, India is rediscovering its roots, its suppressed history, and trampled pride. As it recovers from the abject poverty due to colonial exploitation, India as the world’s fifth-largest economy is much more prosperous and confident now than when its British colonizers had left it in1947. The idea of India presented by the prejudiced Indologistson one hand and colonial (and colonized) “outsiders” on the other, is being challenged. This challenge, however, is resisted by vested interest groups and many of them find support within the Democratic Party.
The Republicans may not be much different from the Democrats but President Trump, on his part, has refused to get involved in India’s internal politics and has openly embraced and extremely popular PM Modi. As a result, more Indian-Americans are willing to give Trump a chance and are jettisoning the Democratic ship in droves. They made their presence felt in the defeat of an extremely anti-Hindu Bernie Sanders in the US presidential primaries and they are gearing up for the presidential election, especially in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina. They already see a template in the historic defeat of the Labour Party in last year’s UK parliamentary elections.
No matter how one looks at it, there are telltale signs all around of a strained relationship between the Democrats and the Indian-Americans. Whether there will be a short-term break-up or a permanent divorce from what some call an abusive relationship, only time will tell.
Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and an activist. He writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, and current affairs in several media outlets.
A group of Bay Area musicians and dancers have come together to spread joy during these challenging times with a Bollywood inspired version of “The Other Side” from the Trolls World Tour. The video features 27 dancers bringing various forms of dance to the feel-good song originally performed by Justin Timberlake and SZA.
Corte-Madera based dancer and choreographer Enakshi Vyas saw her dance life evolve as shelter-in-place started taking shape in March. “Our entire industry changed overnight. We were in a situation where what we needed the most – exercise, art, community – could not exist like they did before. But we had to find a way to keep the community together,” said Vyas. She quickly embraced technology and shifted everything online, hosting dance classes and rehearsals over video chat, and instantly found herself re-energized.
When it came time to consider making her next video, she turned to San-Francisco based Bollywood composer Vivek Agrawal with an idea: what if we choreographed a dance video to a feel-good song where everyone could record from their own homes?
Agrawal, intrigued by the thought, remembered that the new Trolls movie had a track that felt appropriate for the times called “The Other Side.” On why this song in particular, he said, “It is one of those songs that make you smile the first time you hear it. It reminds us that even when we may think things are tough for us, there’s always something to appreciate about the world. For us, even though we can’t be physically together, we can still create beautiful art together, even from our own homes.”
Agrawal recruited Aarti B to lend her vocals to the song. They recorded the entire cover over Zoom, and Vyas recruited dancers throughout the Bay Area and taught them the dance over a series of online tutorials. In less than a week, they had a video ready.
After piecing together video recordings from dancers of all different styles, the group released “The Other Side” on Instagram and Youtube on Friday, May 8th. “I never would have imagined that this cover song project, that we recorded over Zoom, would turn into a 27-dancer, donation-raising extravaganza! What a special moment for us all. I’m so proud to have my voice on this project.” said Aarti B after seeing the reactions on social media.
Founded in 1973, AACI is one of the largest community-based organizations advocating for and serving the marginalized and vulnerable ethnic communities in Santa Clara County. Our mission is to strengthen the hope and resilience of our community members by improving their health, mental health and well-being.
AACI remains open during the shelter in place order, to care for the vulnerable, low-income, and limited English speaking families who need help. We provide culturally appropriate behavioral health counseling to individuals and families of all ages and backgrounds which is more important than ever during this stressful and uncertain time. Your gift to AACI during Mental Health Awareness month will make a huge difference in the lives of families who are struggling with anxiety and depression.
Enakshi Vyas, a Marin county native, has trained and taught throughout the Bay Area in a variety of styles including but not limited to Jazz, Tap, Kathak, Bharata Natyam, West African Dance, Ballet, Contemporary, Hip Hop, Indian Folk styles, and Bollywood dance. As the director of Elite Naach Academy, Enakshi instructs a variety of stylistic backgrounds and cultures, providing her students with a more complex and diverse dance curriculum. She strives to create a safe space for dancers to explore their versatility, ignite their passion, and find their story.
Vivek is a composer based in San Francisco who previously worked with A.R. Rahman, just left his tech job to pursue music full-time, and is working on his debut album of original Hindi songs. He recently left the tech space to focus completely on music, and is currently working on two projects. One is an album of American pop covers with a Bollywood flare. The other is an original Hindi album of songs that he has written over the past two years.
Aarti is an SF-based professional singer, born and raised in the Bay Area. More recently, Aarti was asked to come to NYC to audition for Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, the Broadway musical. She also was the lead singer in the house band for SF’s high-end Indian restaurant, Rooh. Aarti is currently working to record her first-ever original music and release new music this year.
Being the child of immigrants colors your experience in the Land of the Free. From navigating between different cultures to confronting whitewashing and racism, teenagers used the ‘Growing Up Asian in America‘ contest to pay tribute to their cultural roots. Read fourth grader Ella Dattamajumdar’s essay, America Runs On Diversity, where she discusses the inextricable relationship between America and its immigrant communities. This essay has been paired with, artwork contest winner, America Is Not Complete Without Us, created by sixth-grader An Ly.
America runs on Dunkin’ is the punchline of one of my favorite foods, but I say that America runs on Diversity. It takes all sorts to make this world, whether it’s doughnuts, dal, dumplings or daikon! Cuisines of the world bring us together. Not just cuisines but diverse perspectives too. I believe that everybody should have a voice because one word can change the world. Everyone has their own opinion or unique perspective, if famous people didn’t speak up they would have never achieved great things and become who they are today.
For example, if Asian American, Jerry Yang did not put his ideas to action we would never have Yahoo. For my essay I am using Google and Microsoft Word which are headed by Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella. I admire Senator Kamala Harris who was raised by an Indian American mother. They are so many successful Asian Americans who have made America proud. I find Nina Davuluri who is the first Asian American woman to win Miss America very inspiring. At the Miss America contest talent round she performed a Bollywood dance. A lot of people were upset and said hurtful comments when she won Miss America as she looked different compared to the past winners.
I feel that being American is a state of mind, it is based on a common set of values and beliefs and not based on how we look, the color of our skin, what we eat, how we speak or where our grandparents come from. Just look around the Silicon Valley — every time I drive around with my family we are always debating what to eat — Biryani, Pho Soup, Sushi, Pad Thai, Tacos, or Steak. We need all kinds of nutrients to nourish our brains whether it is food or diverse perspectives. I dream of being an Asian American leader who is proud of her heritage and can make America proud because America truly runs on diversity.
Image: The artwork, entitled, America Is Not Complete Without Us, was created by sixth-grader An Ly.
Essay: American Runs on Diversity was written by fourth-grader Ella Dattamajumdar