Tag Archives: AAPI

Social Distance Dancing for Mental Health

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. 

In addition to encouraging everyone to enjoy the video, the group is inviting viewers to make a donation to AACI (Asian Americans for Community Involvement) to help support essential workers providing behavioral counseling. 

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.

America Runs on Diversity: GUAA Winner

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

#WashTheHate

As lockdown orders begin lifting across the United States, the Asian American community is not only concerned about protecting themselves from exposure to COVID-19 but also their physical safety. Since the outbreak of the virus, hate incidents against persons of Asian descent have surged throughout the country with reports of harassment, vandalism, and violent assaults. In March, the FBI assessed that hate crime incidents against Asian Americans would likely increase due to the spread of the virus and the assumption that certain individuals may associate COVID-19 with the Asian American community. 

#WashTheHate was launched in March following a series of violent assaults against Asian Americans and is a social media campaign created to raise awareness about COVID-related bigotry and xenophobia. It features videos of Asian American celebrities, leaders, and influencers, as well as community allies, washing their hands in accordance with CDC recommendations while sharing personal stories about how the pandemic and racism has impacted their lives. Notable participants include Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly), Panda Express founders Peggy and Andrew Cherng, Opening Ceremony co-founder Carol Lim, actor Ludi Lin (Aquaman), actor Osric Chau (Supernatural), singer AJ Rafael, actress Amy Hill (Magnum, P.I.), recording artist/producer Shawn Wasabi and former Miss America Nina Davaluri. Over two dozen national advocacy organizations have also endorsed the campaign. 

Comedian, Maulik Pancholy, on #washthehate

Due to the nationwide quarantine and social distancing restrictions, each of the PSA participants shot their portion of the spot in their homes using nothing but their smartphones. The self-shot footage was then compiled, edited, and transformed into the final product by Asian American communications agency IW Group, creators of #WashTheHate. To promote the PSA and social media campaign, #WashTheHate organizers and participants have embarked on a virtual speaking tour throughout Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. 

“As someone who’s come face to face with COVID-related bigotry, I understand the concern that many Asian Americans feel as the country begins to reopen and we start stepping back into the world,” said Tzi Ma, who experienced a racist encounter outside a supermarket near his home at the start of the outbreak. “We hope this PSA allows the public to see this situation from a different perspective while underscoring the need for solidarity during this critical time.” 

“Throughout history, there’s been a tendency to single out and cast blame on certain groups of people during difficult times. We must be vigilant in preventing this from happening again, not only to our Asian American Pacific Islander community, but to any community,” said Celia Au. “This PSA reinforces the need to stop bigotry and create solidarity, so that we can all come out of this pandemic standing stronger than ever before.”  

“A self-shot spot is usually the result of creative experimentation but, in this case, it was an absolute necessity,” said Telly Wong, Campaign Director of #WashTheHate and IW Group Chief Content Officer. “We needed to get this message out promptly, and this was the only way to do it. Our PSA was the result of a group of amazing individuals working together to address and elevate a serious concern within our community.” 

Our World is Online: Cyberbullying Rises

Digital culture has become all the more important in our social lives as we navigate a global pandemic. The face of a screen is no longer a source of personal entertainment, but our only real connection with the outside world. Most of my birthday was spent blowing out candles in front of a Skype monitor and finishing up a math test on Zoom. Everything from our next meal to our first meeting is defined by the version of ourselves we create for the Internet. And while I’m grateful that social media platforms can provide a surrogate for human interaction, I’m equally concerned by its implications.

Dr. Dhara Thakar Meghani MD

To discuss the troubling rise in cyberbullying amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Hindu American Foundation hosted a webinar featuring Dr. Abhay Dandekar MD and Dr. Dhara Thakar Meghani MD. A non-profit organization established in 2003, HAF is dedicated to educating the public about Hindus and their diverse culture. In their own words, they believe in, “promoting dignity, mutual respect, and pluralism in order to ensure the well-being of Hindus and for all people and the planet to thrive. Our positions are based on a relentless pursuit of facts; deep consideration of Hindu principles and American values, such as freedom, equality, and justice; and the input of subject matter experts.”

The webinar first outlined the nature of cyberbullying itself, which is unwanted and aggressive behavior transmitted through devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets. While traditional cyberbullying refers to subjecting an individual to harsh criticism and public ridicule, other variants of this abuse have become more common in recent years. Doxxing, for instance, is an illegal practice by which a cyberbully releases the personal information of a victim, such as his or her home address, phone number, photograph, full name, etc. Because laws surrounding online harassment are still nebulous, Dr. Dandekar mentions, it crosses into illegal territory without detection or proper attention. And when left unattended, this digital abuse can lead to various health complications in the future, such as mental illnesses, appetite loss, and even heart disease. Just because

What makes cyberbullying such an apt topic for this webinar is how our lives have changed amid self-isolation. For one,  children’s internet activity is less likely to be monitored by their parents since they have to navigate their job and household responsibilities at the same time. The lack of structure and surveillance can often lead to destructive behavior. But children are not the only ones impacted by digital media. The virus has also led to a troubling spike in xenophobia and hate crimes, which seep through the cracks of Internet culture. A month ago, social media star Malu Trevejo was under fire for spreading anti-Asian sentiments during a session on her Instagram live. And the isolation policy makes individuals like Trevejo feel less accountable for their actions and the hateful messages they spread.

Before closing off the webinar, HAF provided some helpful advice regarding how to avoid toxicity on the Internet and forge substantial connections despite the pandemic. Dr. Dandekar recommended using platforms that allow at least some kind of physical interaction, such as video chat apps or phone calls. “If we’re going to use a device, let’s try to talk on the phone. Let’s try and have real-time visual content..these are easy things we can participate in as parents and teens and kids.” And I can understand Dr. Dandekar’s point. Personally, I find conversations with my extended family so much more meaningful when I can hear the sound of their voice or see them smiling.

It’s a gentle reminder that beyond our digital personalities are humans, all of us trying to understand the unnavigable.

To watch the rest of HAF’s webinar and find resources, click here!

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Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Asian Americans Unite Against the True Virus

On April 25th, nearly 400 people logged into the Asian American Unification Seminar to strongly and forthrightly speak with one unified voice against racism and xenophobic acts targeting Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and blaming them for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The webinar, hosted on Zoom, was presented by the Asian American Unity Coalition (AAUC), in partnership with Ding Ding TV, and sponsored by Civic Leadership USA (CLUSA),  and APAPA.

Moderator Anthony Le introduced Dr. S.K Lo, President of the Asian American Unity Coalition (AAUC),  who welcomed participants to the gathering and highlighted contributions and donations made by Asian Americans during the pandemic. 

A video showed  Yen Marshall, the Executive Director, Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA), and members of APAPA chapters in NY, Texas, and Seattle, serving their communities by contributing PPE, get well cards, and other equipment to fight the pandemic. 

New York City Comptroller Scott M Stringer, assured Asian Americans on behalf of his city, which has seen a rise in Asian American hate crimes, that they were not alone. “There are public officials, advocates, activists from around the city, and the United States that are going to protect and defend the enormous contributions of the Asian American community.” He expressed admiration for the Asian American front line workers who fearlessly go to work every day.

Keynote speaker, NY Congresswoman Grace Meng, who was traveling with her two sons from Washington DC to New York, dialed into the webinar from her car.  Rep. Meng, a founder, and Co-Chair of the Kids’ Safety Caucus was introduced by Stringer as a defender of liberty who understands diversity. “When any community is under attack, when hate comes to Latinos, Jewish or any community she is the first one to show up,” said Stringer. “She is making a name for herself on the national stage and is being recognized as the next generational leadership in the United States of America.” Like Meng, Stringer is the father of two boys and does not want to leave a legacy of hate for them.  

“Attacks on Asian Americans have skyrocketed to 100 per day during the pandemic,” said Meng, who has introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to denounce the anti-Asian sentiment caused by reaction to the pandemic. The resolution has 124 cosponsors including Kamala Harris.

She pointed out that, “The increased use of anti-Asian rhetoric, particularly from our nation’s leaders such as the President, and their use of terms like ‘Chinese virus,’ ‘Wuhan virus,’ and ‘Kung-flu,’ is not only irresponsible, reckless, and downright disgusting, it threatens the safety of the Asian American community; such language demeans, disparages, and scapegoats Asian Americans.”  Meng urged people to speak up.  “It is because we spoke up that the President has taken note.”

Ding Ding TV Webinar

The rest of the webinar featured presentations and community sharing – audience contributions moderated by host Anthony Le. Speakers reported racist incidents and shared statistics about bias and hate crimes which have surged against the AAPI community, after the coronavirus crisis.  

Some participants reported that small businesses in areas with high Asian American populations have been vandalized.

Stop AAPI Hate, a website created by California-based advocacy organizations to document hate crimes in seven languages, reported more than 1,600 incidents in the three weeks since it launched, escalating to a rate of about 100 per day. Organizers say it’s likely that the rate of reporting severely undercounts the actual number of incidents taking place every day across the country.

Jason Tengco, Senior Advisor, National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA),  moderated sessions on hate and bias interventions, and on resources and non-profits that offer support.

AAJC and Hollaback! announced bystander intervention training sessions that teach people how to safely intervene when they see harassment happening

In a final interactive reflection exercise, people who were witnesses to hate crimes, were encouraged to commit to action: report the incident ( Stand Against Hate offers legal aid), partner anti-bullying organizations like Act To Change (a national nonprofit dedicated to ending bullying in the AAPI community, participate in AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hatred on May 18, and, sign up for bystander intervention training provided by Asians Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and Hollaback! 

Online surveys were conducted by the host before, and during the webinar to assess the mood of the audience which was calm and relaxed to begin with and then became nervous, worried, anxious, and unsure resulting from the backlash of the pandemic on APIA. 

It was clear that the virus of hate chokes the life out of us as much as the virus of COVID-19.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

A Mason Jar of Fortunes

The most far-fetched prophecy I have ever received is: maybe you can live on the moon in the next century! Although all Bollywood and Western romantic numbers croon about flying up to the moon, I feel safer on terra firma.

To pull out a fortune from a cookie seems gimmicky to me. Regardless, it’s okay to succumb to a little bit of self-love and to justify this behaviour,  we read our message in a cookie with an enthusiasm that slowly dwindles as we go around the table and read each other’s luck. 

Unfortunately, the United States has the largest number of COVID-19 infections in the world and with it, we have seen a rise in anti-Asian sentiment. I chose to remind you of all of the precious fortune cookies that unite families at a dinner table.

In 2013, our friendly yoga teacher gave us a mason jar with a picture of her place of worship, a fragrant herb, and a colored strip of paper with a blessing. Mine was – “Get up and out, the day is bursting with moments.” by Rabindranath Tagore. We all went home with our jars and I put mine on my kitchen alcove. Over the years I kept putting other blessings in this jar along with strips of fortune. 

Growing up, we ate Indian food at home every day and so to change our taste we went once a week for and Indian Chinese dinner in Mumbai. Hakka noodles, American chop suey, chili chicken/paneer, and big bowls of hot and sour soup were our favorite entrees.  Indian Chinese food is not available in Huntsville but the next best option for my Indian friends is the American style Chinese food at PF CHANGS, doused generously with extra hot chili sauce. After spicing our palettes and clearing the sinuses, it’s time to read our fortunes. Unlike my other friends, I don’t like to eat the sugar cookie. I just hold the twisted fortune crisp in my hand and take a tentative bite of the vanilla and sesame flavored shell. Then I put it down and after everyone else has read their fortunes, I read the vague aphorism silently. Then I put it in my purse and at home transfer it to the mason jar. Every time I open the jar, I think of my yoga teacher and once again I read my fortune. I turn it over in the palm of my hand, look at the random lotto numbers and stash it away in my jar.  

I did not know that these fortune cookies are not Chinese. They were popularized in America by Japanese immigrants in the 19th century. They were first made in the Benkyodo bakery in San Francisco and served with hot tea. Later, Kito the founder of “Little Tokyo” in Los Angeles sold his flour tea cakes with fortune slips to the Chinese. During World War II, when 100,000 Japanese were in internment in America, the Chinese started mass producing these cookies. Ever since that time, they appear as a courtesy dessert along with the check at Chinese restaurants. These cookies are accepted all over the world, including India, where people are fond of fortune-tellers, soothsayers, and Palm readers. Strangely enough, they are not popular in China and are considered to be too American. 

I have never visited China but I have lived in America for almost three decades. We live in a sparsely populated region in the South but my American friends, family members, and strangers are all sheltered in place. A few of us go for solitary walks or wave at people from our porches. Friends FaceTime us to update us about their health or share their thoughts on social media. We wash our hands, run fingers through our hair, take naps, and spend days and nights in our pajamas. Time as we know it has slowed down. There’s nothing rushed. We all are running out of projects at home. We clean, purge, organize, sort, grow herb gardens, sew and donate masks, cook, share jokes, indulge in arts and crafts, read the stack of books put aside for a rainy day. 

Today, I decided to open my jar of fortunes to look for a clue to solve the viral pandemic. I pour a cup of coffee and pour out my fortunes on the floor and arrange them in a cyclic semblance of destiny.  

Affirmative:

  • You will be honored with a prestigious prize or award.
  • Your dearest wish will come true.
  • A pleasant surprise is in store for you.
  • You will always be surrounded by true friends.
  • You have a strong desire for home, family comes first.
  • Good news will come to you by mail.
  • You have the ability to sense and know higher truth.
  • You will conquer obstacles to achieve success.

Sarcastic:

  • You are an evening star in someone’s romantic eyes.
  • You are competent, creative, careful. Prove it.
  • Generosity and perfection are your everlasting goals.
  • Focus on your long-term goals. 
  • Good things will happen sooner or later.
  • Golden hours are coming to you eventually.
  • A cynic is only a frustrated optimist.

These strange words remind me of the hilarious attempts of two Asian women working at the Fortune cookie factory in Amy Tan’s novel “The Joy Luck Club” who are not able to translate these proverbs into Chinese. They give up thinking that they don’t contain any wisdom but just bad instruction.

Cryptic:

  • Your smile is a curve that gets a lot of things straight. Answer the call to help a friend.
  • Now is the time to call loved ones. Share your news.
  • Don’t pursue happiness, create it (Mango?!).
  • Your luck has been completely changed today.
  • Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen?
  • The joyfulness of a man prolongs his days.
  • What you plant now you will harvest later.
  • You will learn about love and a peaceful heart. A smiley face and a Spanish translation. 

Mysterious:

  • Be prepared to receive something special.
  • The best times of your life have not yet been lived.
  • Everything will now come your way.
  • You will discover an unexpected treasure.
  • Now is a lucky time for you to take a chance.
  • You are going to change your present line of work.
  • Soon someone will make you very proud.
  • You were born with a sixth sense. 
  • Confidence is at a high? Whose?

Ominous:

  • If it seems fate is against you today. You are right!
  •  A closed mouth gathers no feet!
  • You will die alone and poorly dressed!

Duds:

  • How about another fortune
    • Blank fortunes are the scariest because you freak out that something bad is going to happen to you. 

I look at all these fortunes and put them back in the Mason jar and sit on my deck under a blue sky. I pray for all the people who are ill with this virus and especially for those who have succumbed to this terrible illness. I take a strip of green paper and tune into higher consciousness. I breathe in and out. I write, “VIRUS BEGONE!” and put it back into my mason jar.

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

Journey from Coerced Sterilization to Misinformation

The dialogue around health and healthcare systems has increased at similar rates to that of the pandemic. Fingers are pointed at the lack of ventilators, hospital beds, and testing kits. 

While it is easy to pick at the chipped paint, the flawed structural foundation becomes glaringly obvious when there is less paint to chip. Much like the horror one might feel seeing a panel of their home infested with termites, America’s structural integrity is threatened by its hegemonic narrative – its own version of termites. Exploration of government policies, in the past and present, is a necessary context for the receptiveness of diverse communities to information from government sources. 

A History of Racialized Care Breeds Distrust

Racism was not a singular one-dimensional vector but a pandemic, afflicting…communities at every level, regardless of what rung they occupied.- Ta-Nehisi Coates

History of racialized care has had an adverse effect on communities of color. Racialized care takes into account your race and subsequently, the healthcare you receive. African American, Latinx, Native American, and AAPI populations are disproportionately subjected to worse healthcare due to income, language barriers, lack of research, and implicit bias from healthcare professionals.

But above all, healthcare in the US is informed and shaped by an oppressive history. Disenfranchised communities have been given reason to be wary of a healthcare system that has been used as a conduit for injustice.

Virginia Hedrick, Executive Director of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health and panelist at Ethnic Media Services April 17th briefing on the impact of Coronavirus on diverse communities, noted the distrust of the healthcare system by Native Americans and their unwillingness to believe in the protocols of the pandemic. And why wouldn’t they be skeptical, considering the “sterilization of Native [American] women existed up until 40 years ago”, Hedrick added.

So what were marginalized populations encountering up until 40 years ago? And perhaps even as recently as 10 years ago?

In the 1960s, President Lyndon B Johnson led the Great Society Project in an effort to eliminate poverty by increasing access to welfare and social services. The backlash came from physicians, white men, who took it upon themselves to lower the rates of people on welfare. No short of a God complex, they believed that by sterilizing women of color, they were helping society – limiting birth rates in low-income, minority families. 

Between the 1960s and 1970s, 25% of Native American Women were sterilized by the Indian Health Service; various government programs formed the Indian Health Service. IHS had found that the average Native American woman had 3.79 children to the white woman’s 1.79 children; within 10 years that number declined to 1.99 for the Native American woman. This was attributed to education and higher income but unwanted sterilization was erased from the historical narrative. In actuality, the decrease in births had to do with the use of coerced sterilization as a procedure to help a medical ailment even if it was unrelated or nonconsensual.

A map from a 1929 Swedish royal commission report.

Latin and African women were targeted starting in 1909 when states started adopting eugenics programs. 32 states rallied together to advance eugenics during which 60,000 people were sterilized. In the documentary, “No Mas Bebes”, a Mexican American woman speaks to the trauma of being sterilized while giving birth to her children. This story isn’t dissimilar to the story of sisters, Minnie Relf and Mary Alice, two mentally disabled African American women, whose mother tried to get them birth control shots and, unbeknownst to her, they were surgically sterilized. Relf vs. Weinberger, a landmark case, revealed that 150,000 poor women were coerced into sterilization under the threat of their welfare being taken away from them. 

Mental institutions and prisons became breeding grounds for such programs and even a law was passed allowing anyone committed to state institutions to be sterilized. Until as recently as 2010, there were cases of inhumane treatment in California prisons and it is reported that 150 Latina inmates had been inflicted with forced infertility

Eugenics was just the start of questionable activity by the US government. It progressed beyond sterilization when marginalized populations became lab rats for large-scale experiments. There are 40 documented studies done on incarcerated peoples and we have yet to know the number of undocumented studies; most studies hurt the recipients and yielded no results.

The US Public Health Service worked on a study with Tuskegee University to observe the natural history of untreated Syphilis for 6 months. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment ran from 1932 to 1972, lasting 40 years during which the patients were purposefully misinformed, misdiagnosed, untreated, and eventually, forgotten. 600 impoverished African American men, 399 with Syphilis and 201 without, joined with the promise of free healthcare; healthcare which was inaccessible to the black diaspora due to their race. Without informed consent, those with Syphilis were not told of their condition. Instead, they were led to believe they were being treated for “bad blood”. To make a bad situation worse, the free treatment the patients were receiving was no treatment at all. By 1947, penicillin was discovered as a cure but was not given to these patients for another 25 years. Not a single one of the patients consented to the experiment and many died without ever knowing their actual cause of death or that their death was preventable.

Racialized disparities in health factors in the omission of and lack of care given to minorities. Asian Americans were less likely to be asked about their lifestyle, mental health, and doctors did not understand their background and values. The same study, additionally mentioned that Asian Americans felt their doctors did not listen, spend as much time, or involve them in decisions about their care. Significantly, not much is documented about Asian American health until the 2000s. 

Lack of Access Presently

Genoveva Islas, Founder of Cultiva La Salud and panelist for EMS, is confronting the plight faced by the farmworkers in Fresno. Fresno has 1% of the farmland, provides 25% of the food we’re eating in California, yet the farmworkers don’t have personal protective equipment, health insurance, savings, or retirement funds. A majority of these farmworkers are left out of the CARES Act and their housing and food security are in question. “We need a just and fair immigration system”, Islas advocates, putting the spotlight not on the lack of healthcare, but on our immigration policies that leave immigrants and undocumented people at a disadvantage. She wants to ensure that the pandemic is not a time when those who are already being exploited are driven to the fringes of society without access to basic human rights. 

Distrust is the Seedling and Misinformation is the Byproduct

COVID19 has brought with it an onslaught of news, statistics, and warnings, both fake and real. Minority groups are struggling with effectively parsing and using this information given their inconsistent histories with the US government and healthcare systems. 

Virginia Hedrick reminds us that in Native American populations, the myth is that the Coronavirus “was here in December and that now, there is herd immunity.” Many within Native communities believe that homeopathic remedies have the ability to heal and protect someone from COVID19. 

Another reporter at the EMS video briefing expressed that African American populations are taking social distancing and Coronavirus information lightly. 

One only has to look as far as their WhatsApp groups to find confusing and misleading information and anti-Asian propaganda.

A doctor on the frontline at the University of California, San Francisco, and EMS panelist, Dr. Tung Nguyen, acts a buffer to inaccurate information:

People within your network may be struggling, sifting through information and misinformation (real and fake news) about COVID19. The onus is on our communities to understand that American history is rife with instances of disinformation and misinformation. Discerning what information is relevant requires collective work.

And right now, more than ever, action must be taken against an infodemic that is percolating through the pandemic. 

Srishti Prabha is the current 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.


Featured image is a poster for a 1971 rally against forced sterilization in San Francisco, CA designed by Rachael Romero. (Library of Congress)

7th Grader Fights Anti-Asian Sentiment

The coronavirus is our generation’s distorted empathy quotient. As this life-threatening disease ravages low-income and minority communities, it becomes the world’s responsibility to protect our society’s most vulnerable. And from the mass-anxiety of COVID-19, the best and worst of society has bled into our daily lives. On one hand, GoFundMe is flooded with pages raising money for coronavirus victims. Young teenagers are distributing groceries in working-class neighborhoods while retweeting instructional videos for public safety. But the less endearing side to this narrative is also the most difficult to confront; Coronavirus concerns are being transformed into socio-political dog whistles for xenophobia and hate crimes.

Since the outbreak in January, New York City alone has reported 248 cases of race-based discrimination. On March 14th, a young man stabbed a family of three because they were of Asian-American descent and thus ‘spreading the virus’. A Chinese-American couple in Minnesota reported finding a derogatory and racist note left on their door. Without necessary precautions, our country may succumb to paranoia and racism before it caves into COVID-19. 

OCA letter signed by Teens For Vaccines.

To discuss the implication of such violence, I had a chat with 7th grader, Arin Parsa, a Davidson Young Scholar and founder of Teens for Vaccines. A strong proponent for public health and safety, Arin reached out to OCA, a national organization dedicated to preserving the rights of Asian-American Pacific Islanders. On March 31, Arin’s Teens for Vaccines co-signed OCA’S letter to President Trump, the FBI, and the DOJ demanding the urgent creation of a Task Force via Executive Order. This Task Force, Arin hopes, will allow the FBI to increase data collection and the DOJ to prioritize prosecutions against COVID-19 hate crimes. But his efforts extend well beyond preventing prejudice. Deeply concerned about PPE shortages (Personal Protective Equipment) for health care staff and senior citizens, Arin is raising awareness for sophomore Aditya Indla’s GoFundMe campaign to 3D Print Face Masks for healthcare professionals. When we spoke with Arin about his efforts, he discussed both his inspiration and ambitions for the near future. 

KN: First of all, your contributions to public health and safety amid the COVID-19 outbreak are absolutely amazing. What drew you to establishing Teens For Vaccines?

Arin Parsa: Thank you for the kind words! I founded Teens for Vaccines in August 2019 when herd immunity in California was falling dangerously below 95%, a risk for yet another measles outbreak. The bill, SB 276, had to be pushed through to stop fraudulent medical exemptions to vaccines. 

I was inspired by Ethan Lindenberger, an Ohio teen, who fearlessly testified in Congress about his decision to vaccinate himself despite his anti-vax mother’s beliefs. I spent my summer in NY at a research camp to truly understand what makes people anti-science. I found that, although skepticism was legitimate during the smallpox era, it had no standing in the modern world. Many are swayed by misinformation on social media about vaccine safety and vaccine ingredients (e.g. derivatives of pork, fetal strain from the 1960s), spread by a highly vocal anti-vax minority funded by alternative medicine practitioners and anti-government interests. Millions are being made by peddling dietary supplements as a replacement for vaccines. Sure, science isn’t perfect, and there are rare cases when vaccines are not suitable, but deliberately misleading vulnerable parents and religious communities, putting entire neighborhoods at risk, is deplorable. Over 140,000 have died from measles globally when we have a vaccine for it. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for all of us.

KN: For those who are unaware of your cause, would you like to explain the purpose of Teens For Vaccines? As the response to the coronavirus develops, what is the group’s primary goal for the future?

Arin Parsa: Teens for Vaccines is about educating teens on vaccine safety and minor consent laws from trusted sources, and connecting teen advocates worldwide. I recently connected with an HPV Vaccine advocate from Ireland! 

Education empowers us from falling prey to misinformation and rhetoric of medical freedom and anti-government messages. Amplifying the voices of immunization coalitions, doctors, and epidemiologists is a huge endeavor, whether in our local communities or through social media. In fact, as we speak, anti-vaxxers are denying the COVID pandemic, questioning social distancing, and peddling false cures.

Teens for Vaccines is also anti-hate since a lot of teens like Ethan face dire threats when they go against the anti-vax lobby. A huge realization I had a few weeks ago was the extreme racism suffered by Asians. Teens feeling isolated, alienated, spit on, hit, yelled at, and attacked is not good for their mental health. Suicide rates among the teen demographic are at dangerous levels. Teens for Vaccines is first and foremost about teen health, and I sought out OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, a national organization to co-sign their letter and demand action from President Trump, FBI, and DOJ. 

KN: What do you hope to accomplish with the creation of an Anti-Asian Hate Task Force via an Executive Order? Why a Task Force, specifically? 

Arin Parsa: A Task Force will put a light on the escalating violence against Asians, sending a very strong signal throughout America that we will not tolerate the insidious hate that is riding on the coattails of this pandemic. Being a history student, I know racism is a deep-rooted belief. As much as we want to change people through messages of empathy and solidarity, sometimes only fear of consequences will stop such people in their tracks. A federal task force, working together with local law enforcement, can bring in swift action in collaboration with the FBI’s deep data collection programs, and DOJ prioritizing prosecuting hate crimes.

KN: Do you think government authorities are not taking swift action in ensuring the security of minority communities — including Asian-Americans — during this outbreak? How do you think their action — or lack of it — impacts the current socio-political climate?

Arin Parsa: No one realized how quickly deep-rooted racism would come to the surface. It is not that the government isn’t doing anything about it: the FBI has warned of a surge. President Trump, after having said “Chinese Virus” tweeted that he didn’t intend to use it derogatorily. But, it is clear that more needs to be done than just condemning the acts. 

The Asian demographic is a huge contributor to America’s scientific and technological advancements. Lack of immediate action can lead to an extremely fractured America and potential intellectual drain out of America. 

KN: Despite the mass-anxiety of a global pandemic, how do teens cross boundaries and establish solidarity with other ethnicities and groups? 

Arin Parsa: The power of the internet can truly be harnessed in these times. Joining diverse groups through social media of their choice,  whether it is Discord, Slack, Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit, we can reach out and understand others. Teens can join the r/StopAntiAsianRacism, follow @BurntRiceBunch to show support to Asian teens who are suffering.  Empathy is about listening and can be really powerful, so responding with thoughtful comments can go a long way.  I also welcome everyone to TeenOpinions.org to write and show solidarity. Music is a universal language, so joining online concerts such as One World: Together at home on April 18 can build a feeling of togetherness. Locally, in our communities, we can make a difference too. Even a hand wave and a smile to the ones in your neighborhood can be extremely uplifting. 

KN: It’s wonderful that you’re so involved and politically self-aware. Any advice for other teenagers who want to support society’s most vulnerable during this difficult time? 

Arin Parsa: Thank you. First and foremost, respecting the shelter-in-place orders itself is a show of support to those who are most vulnerable. Protecting ourselves is protecting others. Checking out state and county websites are great places to know how we can help: sewing masks (with mom’s help if needed) or using a 3D printer if you have one, creating care packages, writing thank you emails to hospitals,  making yard signs of hope, doing grocery runs for our elderly neighbors, or simply calling a senior center and enquiring are ways we can help. Having a sense of purpose and togetherness can help us get through these difficult times.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Student Intern for India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

AAPI Fights the ‘Rakshas Virus’

Nearly 100,000 Physicians of Indian origin in the United States serve every seventh patient across the United States – This powerful statistic shared by  Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, Vice president of AAPIUSA at a recent teleconference, underscores the significant numbers of Indian American medical professionals involved in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

The teleconference on Friday, March 27, 2020  was jointly organized by AAPI, the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC, and the National Council of Asian Indian Americans (NCAIA).

“While COVID-19 continues to disrupt life around the globe, AAPI is committed to helping its tens of thousands of members across the US and others across the globe,” said Dr. Suresh Reddy, President of AAPI. “We do acknowledge that these are challenging times, more than ever for us, physicians, who are on the frontline to assess, diagnose and treat people who are affected by this deadly pandemic, COVID-19. Many of our colleagues have sacrificed their lives in order to save those impacted by this pandemic around the world.”

The numbers are grim. Coronavirus deaths in the US  are over 3000  (exceeding the initial death toll of September 11), while over 175,000  people have tested positive for the virus – more than double that announced by China.

In response to the pandemic, AAPI has embarked on several initiatives, the most effective being a twice weekly conference call attended by  over 2,000 physicians from across the United States,  to share expertise and best care practices with other professionals from the healthcare sector.

Nearly 200,000 Indian students in the US are impacted by the pandemic, said Anurag Kumar, Minister of Community Affairs, who outlined efforts to give them assistance.

“We are coordinating with the community and hotels owned by AAHOA members in arranging accommodation for students, “ he said. “Everyone is advised not to travel abroad and back to India, stay where you are until things get better.”

Speakers on the forum highlighted the need for the people to recognize that Covid-19 is an aggressive type of virus. “Everyone needs to take appropriate precautions. Even if symptoms are negative, one is likely they carry symptoms,” advised Dr. Bharat Barai.

Social distancing matters cautioned Dr. Prasad Garimella, a critical care medicine specialist . “Social distancing is not isolating. Keep in touch with loved ones. Stay busy and stay connected. Filter and assess the news, look for credible sources to rely upon. Everyone needs to act like a health care professional and need to have the best attitude in order to defeat this deadly virus.”

Emergency medicine specialist Dr. Arunachalam Einstein endorsed  self-quarantine and masks as a way to prevent spreading. “Go out only for essential things,” he advised. “ Everyone coming to ED symptomatic and non-symptomatic and the staff must wear mask, which will prevent droplets from affecting others.   Even when going out to grocery shopping use masks.”

Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalagadda, expressed concern about the adverse effect of inadequate testing for at risk seniors, as well as for physicians  and healthcare workers fighting infection on the frontlines, stating  “It’s essential to create a wholesale expansion of free COVID-19 testing available in order for identifying asymptomatic carries and then isolating them.”

A rising number of people across age groups are affected by the highly infectious virus, said Dr. Usha Rani Karumudii, an infectious disease specialist, reporting that “People of all ages are prone to the disease. Hand hygiene and social distancing will help prevent. Precautions while shopping, reduce trips. wash and decontaminate hands after going out.”

AAPI also has launched a DONATE A MASK PROGRAM – a major initiative to protect the medical fraternity as they combat the “rakshas” virus.  Members were requested to donate generously to fight “this ferocious virus which has put basic existence of entire human race at stake.”

A severe shortage of GS masks and other protective gear is impacting  “the foot soldiers and front line physicians,” some of whom have succumbed to the deadly virus. A donation box labelled “DONATE A MASK,” has been added to the AAPI website ands a task force established to identify hospitals and direct supplies of Masks/PPE.

Updates  on AAPI initiatives  can be found at  www.appiusa.org

 

 

 

Pacific Islanders Promote Their Own Identity

Despite mounting worries over the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a dozen Pacific Islander activists and media representatives gathered in San Mateo March 14 to anchor an online conference about the 2020 census and their collective stake in an accurate count.

They were joined online and over the airwaves by almost a hundred more people — various voices from the “Coconut Wireless” – who watched, listened and added their own perspectives.  The online conference was hosted by Ethnic Media Services with the support of the California Complete Count Office 2020 census.

“They [government officials] need to see us. We pay our taxes, we pay our dues,” said Nackie Moli, who runs the podcast Poly by Design. Identifying herself as a “proud Samoan woman,” she said she was excited to promote the census in her work with Island Block Radio, heard, she said, from Alaska to Mexico. “We all need to be counted.”

Census data permeates U.S. society. According to one expert, it directs $1.5 trillion in annual  federal spending (https://tinyurl.com/Census-drivenSpending) on health care, education and development, and more, in hundreds of government programs and projects.

Addressing the role of census data in supporting education, Manuafou Liaiga Anoa’i, of the Jefferson School District Board of Trustees in San Mateo,  said: “Empowering others — that’s census. Education in a classroom? That has to be funded. We have to continue to give our future generations more resources.

“We are an invisible community, but we don’t have that poverty mind-set. We continue to be warriors.”

Speaker after speaker addressed the battle to  distinguish Pacific Islander identity and “disaggregating” it from its current place as a subset of the Asian American population in the census.

The Pacific Islander community is highly diverse, but for most of its history, there have been few ways to specify origins on the census: Someone who identifies as “Asian or Pacific Islander” could also check boxes for Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Asian Indian, Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamanian  or “Other API.” “Other API” offered a write-in box for more detail – Tongan, perhaps, or Fijian, or something else.

In 2000, “or Chamorro” was added to the Guamanian choice, and for the first time, “Other Pacific Islander” appeared as a separate write-in box alternative to “Other Asian.”

According to the 2010 Census, the total U.S. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population was 1.2 million, more than half living either in Hawaii or California. By 2018, that number had grown to 1.4 million, still largely in Hawaii and California, according to estimates presented by Alisi Tulua, of One East Palo Alto and OCPICA.

With a fast-growing influx in populations from Micronesia, the Caroline Islands and other equatorial climes, the United States is seeing some of the first refugees of climate change and sea rise.

“The migration is inevitable,”said Epi Aumavae, of Samoan Solutions. “When you have nowhere to live, you have to move. That’s the reality.”

And it’s all the more reason for communities to be sure they’re included in the census this year, she said, because those communities will continue to grow and need resources. The numbers counted this year will be the basis for the next decade of government apportionments.

“Climate refugees are going to gravitate to where their communities already are. Those populations are going to increase because people will have nowhere else to go,” Aumavae said.

Finau Tovio, of the College of San Mateo’s MANA program, added, “Our Tonga is our churches, community leaders, ancestors.”

Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the number of people checking Guamanian or Chamorro increased 60%, Samoan grew 38%, and Native Hawaiian 31%, Tulua said. Also, people who checked “Other Pacific Island” and wrote in “Tongan” increased 55% and “Tahitian” write-ins increased 53%.

Other Oceanic populations demonstrated even more dramatic growth: Chuukese were up 544%, Solomon Islanders 388%, Kosraeen 301%, Marshallese, 237%, Carolinian 201%, Pohnpeian, 194%, Mariana Islander 177%, Yapese 177%, Fijian 138%, I-Kiribati 129%, Saipanese 117%, Palauan 115%, Papua New Guinean 86%, Tokelauan, 61%.

“We see the truth in climate change. East Palo Alto is, in majority, on a flood plain,” pointed out East Palo Alto native and College of San Mateo student Shaana Uhilamoelangi. “We’re seeing a big influx from the South Pacific.”

“It’s so important to be heard and fairly represented,” said Sonya Logman, chief of staff of the California Complete Count Census 2020 office in her opening remarks at the online conference.   The state government dedicated $187.2 million toward ensuring a complete count of its people. “We’re in a league of our own,” she said.

To reinforce that message, Aumavae urged meeting participants and listeners: “Make phone calls with your families, have conversations with relatives, because we’re not going to be able to do it face to face. Please, write your island in so it tells this administration and whoever’s next that we’re here.”

Mark Hedin is a reporter for Ethnic Media Services. He has previously written for the Oakland Tribune, the Central City Extra, the San Francisco ChronicleEl Mensajero, the San Francisco Examiner and other papers.


This article was originally published here.

Congressman Ami Bera tells AAPI why he endorsed Vice President Biden

In a conversation with AAPI’s for Biden on January 12,  Congressman Ami  Bera ( D-CA7) explained why he endorsed Vice President Joe Biden’s run for President, “I am honored to be part of Team Biden and I will do everything I can to help elect President Biden.”

Bera pointed to Biden’s views on immigration, his 36 years as a senator  and 8 years as Vice President as key factors that influenced his decision.

“Immigration is a major incentive here,” said Bera. When he sat down with his family to consider who to support in the upcoming presidential election and review which issues were important to them and the country, “The answer was pretty clear- it’s Vice President Joe Biden.”

Bera served in congress during the Obama administration, where it was clear they believed “the greatest investments you could make were in people and giving every individual that opportunity.”

Fast forwarding to the last three years of the Trump administration, Bera says that in comparison, ”I think about how,  as opposed to uniting us as Americans, they’ve chosen to look for places to divide us.” 

The strength of  America is a society formed by generations weaving culture, traditions and religion together states Bera, which even if it makes this country difficult at times, also makes America such a unique place.

“The AAPi is no different than any other American other communities, Bera points out, “We just want to create a better life for our kids….and Joe Biden gets that “.

“He gets the importance of who we are as a nation. He understands the importance of solving immigration and starting to heal the wounds that divide us”. 

Biden’s 36 year tenure in the US Senate has helped him form deep relationships on both sides of the aisle and a track record of getting legislation across the finish line. 

“That matters” says Bera. “If there’s one person who can get comprehensive immigration reform its Joe Biden.”

It’s also important that the next President is “ready on day one” to counter what Bera calls the “devastation” being inflicted on the country by President Trump. Biden’s eight  years as Vice President makes him that person says Bera,. “Biden is the only one who is ready to lead. It was a no brainer for me.”

“The world is a better place with American leadership,” and  Bera thinks Joe Biden can “restore America’s place in the world.”

Though the AAPI is not always “the most politically vocal community” Bera says they have been incredibly important in organizing and playing an influential role in several elections, including the 2016 senatorial raceand the 2018 midterm elections at the congressional level. 

The  AAPI community will be incredibly important in this election as well because taking on Donald Trump “.. is going to be a competitive race.” The AAPI community will be consequential in determining “if candidate Biden becomes President Biden” states Bera, who says he “cannot really fathom what another four terms of Donald Trump would look like.”

The Asian American community is becoming a force to contend with  “Asian American members of congress at ‘its highest level’ and an intake of remarkable new members like Andy Kim and TJ Cox. “I am incredibly optimistic about the next generation,’ reflects Bera. 

“It is really time for our community, Asian Americans, to take a seat at the table and give back to a country that’s given us so much”.