The Chinese government banned Facebook in 2009. And even Mark Zuckerberg — despite having a wife of Chinese origin; learning Mandarin; and doing public relations stunts such as jogging in the smog-filled streets of Beijing to say how much he loved China — was not able to have it change its policy. Zuckerberg even went to the extent of creating new tools to censor and suppress content — to please the communists.
But the Chinese were smarter than he was. They saw no advantages in letting a foreign company dominate their technology industry. China also blocked Google, Twitter, and Netflix, and tripped up companies such as Uber. Chinese technology companies are now among the most valuable few in the world. Facebook’s Chinese competitor, Tencent, eclipsed it in market capitalization in November 2017, passing the $500-billion mark. Its social media platform, WeChat, enables bill payment, ordering taxis, and booking hotels while chatting with friends. It is so far ahead in innovation that Facebook is desperately trying to copy its features in the payment system it added to WhatsApp. Other Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, and DJI, have also raced ahead. Huawei has become a global threat with its 5G technologies and deep government links.
The protectionism that economists have long decried — which favors domestic supplies of physical goods and services — supposedly limits competition, creates monopolies, raises costs, and stifles competitiveness and productivity. But that is not a problem in the technology world. Over the Internet, knowledge, and ideas spread instantaneously. Entrepreneurs in one country can easily learn about the innovations and business models of another country and duplicate them. Technologies are advancing on exponential curves and becoming faster and cheaper, making them affordable to every country. Technology companies that don’t innovate risk going out of business because local start-ups are constantly emerging to challenge them.
Chinese technology protectionism created a fertile ground for local start-ups by eliminating the threat of foreign predators. The government selected what companies it could best control and gave them the advantage.
China actually learned some of its tactics from Silicon Valley, which doesn’t believe in free markets either. The Valley’s moguls openly tout the need to build monopolies and gain an unfair competitive advantage by dumping capital. They take pride in their position in a global economy in which money is the ultimate weapon and winners take all. If tech companies cannot copy a technology, they buy the competitor.
And then there is data, the most valuable of all technical resources. Data analysis enables everything from micro-targeting of advertisements to voter suppression and population control. Mobile applications are the greatest spying devices ever invented, monitoring not only their users’ interests but also their locations, purchasing habits, connections, political opinions, and health.
That is why the top technology companies from both East and West, the monopolists and predators, see India as the juiciest of all spoils. It has a massive market ripe for the picking, and data gold mines. India has also been naïve in its data protection policies and support for domestic innovation; it bought the old propaganda about the need for open markets.
There are some big differences, though, between the Chinese and American companies that are vying for the Indian markets. The Chinese government largely controls the actions of its companies, feeds them resources and technologies it has stolen from the West. It gives them every unfair advantage so that it can steal more and subvert democracies. Silicon Valley companies want more data so that they can sell more products. They may show bad judgment and cross ethical lines, but they aren’t playing geopolitics or endangering the sovereignty of free nations.
This is why the Indian government’s decision to ban TikTok and other Chinese companies makes sense. What was long holding Indian entrepreneurs back was the lack of Internet connectivity and mobile phones. When these became pervasive, the foreign companies stepped in. Eliminating some of that competition will give Indian entrepreneurs a chance to build world-changing technologies. These will benefit not only India but also the rest of the world, which is desperately looking for an alternative to Chinese influence and domination.
This is not to say that, without broad data and privacy protection policies, Indian technology companies won’t abuse the data that they gather. Such policies are needed as well. But the day politicians talk of breaking up companies such as Inmobi or Jio because they have become global monopolies and gained too much power will be the day of recognition that India has taken strides forward. Right now, what the country has to worry about is the dire threat from the East.
The representation of the Asian American community is in a perpetual state of evolution — much like the community itself. Every age of immigrants must forge their own narrative, from leaving behind the securities of their motherland to confronting racial stereotypes. Read 11th grader Arya Das’s essay, Remote, where she discusses the generational ties between her father and herself amid a changing America. This essay won the ‘Best In Class’ award in the ‘Growing Up Asian In America’ contest.
I pick up the remote control, flip through the channels, and count off the characters.
One geeky sidekick whose glasses lay atop his large, angled nose. Two simple-minded shop owners who speak with the same broken English that my grandparents have struggled to leave behind. Three caricatures. The comedic relief whose awkwardness is overlayed by laugh tracks. They all look like me, and they have never had a story of their own.
This must be why the people at school giggle amongst themselves with their hands together in prayer, nodding side to side and grinning like fools. I fail to see the humor in the familiar way they drum their d’s like a tabla, imitating Apu from the Simpsons but reflecting my relatives and loved ones. Flipping through the channels, these are the jokes that they see. Confusion bubbles up inside me, but all I can manage is a small laugh. This is what I have learned. When my father immigrated to America over 20 years ago, he counted. He counted down the days, working as a hotel dishwasher to pay for engineering school and dreaming of moving to the heart of innovation and technology. He left behind security for hope.
There are unfathomable sacrifices that every immigrant has made for the future of themselves and their children. These sacrifices cannot be brushed aside. My father’s story wasn’t written out for him, but he picked up a pen and set to work. I asked him one day, now that he has raised us in the Bay Area and works as an engineer, whether he feels prejudice. Whether he even has to think about his accent. I didn’t expect him to say yes. He recounted the investors, associates, and superiors who turned him down, seeing him primarily as his race, completely remote from his credentials. Does his accent make him stupid? Is he unintelligent for learning a new language by himself, for moving across the world and working as hard as he can? He told me it’s okay, that he just picks himself up and moves on to the next person. This is how he survives. This is what he has learned. Even when living in the Bay Area and knowing that TV portrayals are a stark contrast from the people in our lives, these stereotypes still sting us in a million little ways.
However, equality is no longer a remote dream. Acceptance must be the story we write every day, the narrative that drives our future. The next generation will see us when they flip through the channels. We can help them recognize that they span beyond the control of others’ expectations, into arts, innovation, and vivid colors. We count, and we need them to know that they count, too.
Image: The artwork, entitled, America Is Not Complete Without Us, was created by sixth-grader An Ly.
Essay: Remote was written by eleventh grader Arya Das.
Minor children born to Indian nationals abroad and holding OCI cards.
OCI cardholders who wish to come to India on account of family emergencies like a death in the family.
Couples where one spouse is an OCI cardholder and the other is an Indian national and they have a permanent residence in India.
University students who are OCI cardholders (not legally minors) but whose parents are Indian citizens living in India.
All OCI cardholders who satisfy the above conditions are requested to register themselves. Those OCI cardholders who had registered earlier are also required to register online again.
The OCI cardholders will not require any fresh emergency visas if they fall into one of the categories mentioned in para 1 above.
In view of a limited number of seats and a large number of registrations, eligible OCI cardholders would be accommodated in the non-scheduled commercial flights on the basis of availability of seats.
The cost of travel from designated airport in the USA to the designated airport in India will be borne by the passenger.
The Embassy/Consulates will share the details of passengers identified with Air India Offices that will contact them directly regarding booking of tickets and mode of payment. Refund or adjustments, if any, for previously booked tickets may be processed separately with Air India.
All passengers will be required to undergo medical screening before boarding the flight and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to travel.
All passengers on arrival in India will be medically screened and would have to download and register on Arogya Setu app.
All passengers will need to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine on arrival in India in institutional quarantine facilities on a payment basis as per the protocols framed by the Government of India. COVID test would be done after 14 days and further action would be taken according to applicable health protocols.
All passengers will have to follow the protocols and procedures including Health Protocols issued by the Government of the USA on departure and by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Civil Aviation and other concerned authorities of Government of India before, during the journey and on arrival in India.
All passengers will be required to sign an Undertaking, which will be collected from them at the airport before boarding the flight.
Self-quarantined in my bedroom in San Jose, I pen down my thoughts about a time that will be forever etched in my memories. It is a journey between India and the US during a time when borders were getting closed, schools were reinventing themselves online, social fabrics were getting challenged, and loved ones were lost to a pandemic.
On Feb 23rd, I got a call from my father that my mother is in an ICU in a hospital in Kolkata. My mother, aged 69, is a Lupus survivor and in recent years, she had her bouts of cardiac and respiratory incidents. I thought she would manage this one also. But by the first weekend of March, her condition seemed to deteriorate and I decided to travel to India. This was also the first weekend that the coronavirus was moving its way into silicon valley. People started to hoard things. I could not find a thermometer and there were long lines and fights for parking places in supermarkets. I did some essential shopping for home, bought a direct United SFO – DEL ticket, imparted a list of instructions to my 12-year-old daughter, bid goodbye to my wife, and boarded the 15 hour flight.
Corona was on the periphery of my thoughts …. I had other things to worry about. I reached Delhi in the wee hours of March 4th. India had not started screening incoming passengers yet – not for flights coming from the US. I came out of T3 and walked 10 minutes to the newly created T2 to catch an Indigo flight to Kolkata. In the next 2 weeks, my dad and I shuttled daily to the hospital during visiting hours to catch up on my mother’s condition, which was not getting any better. Her sufferings and pains were hard on me emotionally. Corona was slowly coming to Kolkata. Masks were seen everywhere and hospitals were doing a good job of cleaning and providing sanitizers. I started avoiding elevators and used stairs to the 3rd floor ICU. I bought a mask for my father and made him wear it.
My early mornings were spent WhatsApping with my family and friends back in the USA. The changes in the Bay Area started slowly but suddenly picked up by the 2nd week of March – remote working, schools closed, 40 minutes line to check out groceries. And, then came the “Shelter in Place” order on March 16th – an (almost) lockdown of 6 counties of the Bay Area/Silicon Valley. I was concerned about my family but was also comfortable, as my close groups of friends were supporting them in every way possible.
I lost my mother on March 17th. By then we had moved her to a different hospital and she was on Ventilator life support for the last 5 days. We lost her to a Sepsis Infection (an infection that flows in the bloodstream) caused by a bacteria “Burkholderia Cepacia”. She most likely acquired during the long ICU stay in the first hospital but it was undetected. It was too late by the time we moved her to a different hospital. I did not say the last goodbyes but I wished on her bedside that she is freed from her pains.
After the cremation, we planned for the rituals of “shraddha” on March 26th. And then the arrived on March 19th that India is stopping international flights starting March 22nd. We made the difficult decision to complete all the rituals in the next 24 hours. Surrounded by my extended family in Kolkata, we offered our last pranam to “Maa” and I hopped on the last Air India flight ( KOL – DEL – SFO ) leaving India.
Corona cut short the time I wanted to spend with my father during this difficult time. The ride from the airport to home was eerie as I started assimilating the changes that happened during my absence of 3 weeks. Empty roads, silent parks, supermarkets rationing eggs, bread, and paper products and meeting friends over hangout and zoom. I decided to quarantine myself in one room of my house to protect my dear ones as there is a slight risk of my getting the virus due to my travel in long flights and the transit area of busy airports. It has been 7 days now in my room and 7 more days to go ….
The image which is still stuck with me is related to the most prized commodity of this new world – ventilators. It is still pumping oxygen in the still body of my mother ….
Featured Image by Bharatahs and license can be found here.
With the entire world seemingly off the highways and on WebEx or Zoom, I got to thinking if there is some good that will come out of this pandemic, a silver lining in the polluted clouds. For those of you not feeling terribly hopeful right now, isn’t it wonderful to know that when there’s a burning platform in front of us, we will come together to take action? It gives me hope around what we, 7.6 billion, can collectively do to turn the tide on climate change!
To be sure, these trying times of the coronavirus might reverse the progress made with controlling carbon dioxide emissions; but in the first quarter of 2020, global emissions were down considerably. Like an overweight sick person who loses weight, at least we plump citizens of the earth now empirically know that we can do something to manage our over-consumption. Here’s a somewhat optimistic article I wrote from a family trip last year to Kerala, India’s own version of paradise.
On a hopeful day after Christmas in Kochi, I am reflecting on what a solar eclipse means to me. While I can focus on the darkness, given the many blessings that have come my way I prefer the light. Perhaps it is merely the spirit of the season that has given me hope in what otherwise has been a rather dispiriting close to the past decade. Or perhaps because, here in Kerala, I’m reminded of the diversity that has long been India’s strength.
This inclusive sense of all religions sharing India as a welcoming home is reflected in a favorite ditty of mine from Manmohan Desai’s film Amar Akbar Anthony:
Anhoni ko honi karde honi ko anhoni | We make the impossible possible and the possible impossible!
Ek jagah jab jama ho teeno | Together in one place, we three stand united:
Amar Akbar Anthony
This is the first time in nearly two decades that I have not spent Christmas Eve at the Stanford Theater on University Avenue in Palo Alto, California. My family has made a tradition of going to see a film quite different from Amar Akbar Anthony, but one with a similarly hopeful heart: It’s A Wonderful Life, the holiday classic directed by Frank Capra.
My family missed seeing our favorite Christmas movie because we were in Cherai Beach, at a resort some 45 minutes north of Kerala’s Cochin International Airport (COK). We were having a reunion of sorts, with family in India coming from Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Pune, and family from outside of India coming from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It has been a time of great joy, but I find myself reflecting on the past “dumpster fire” of a decade.
I’m usually a hopeful sort, but as I look back over the past ten years, the metaphor that haunts me is a heartless fire. I smell this place that I call home burning. Home is Earth. Home is India. Home is America.
Our planet is literally on fire. According to nasa.gov, “The world is getting warmer. Whether the cause is human activity or natural variability—and the preponderance of evidence says it’s humans—thermometer readings all around the world have risen steadily since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.” The website proceeds to ask (and then answer), “But why should we care about one degree of warming?” I think each of us must answer that question in our own way.
For me, it’s not just the Earth science, although that, too, is vitally important. It is about the world that my granddaughter, Eshni, will inhabit long after I am gone. Already, I am distraught about the fact that while she was in New Delhi, Eshni was smoking nearly 50 cigarettes each day. Okay, my daughter and son-in-law’s nine-month-old baby wasn’t actually dragging on several packs of Marlboros or Charminars, but she might as well have been. The smoke in the capital of the country of my birth is intolerable and getting worse. I can barely imagine what is worse than intolerable. Unlivable?
And the United States is not much better. Although we Americans don’t have the daily visual clues to tell us that our planet is burning, I, as a Californian, can attest to the fact that the blue sky is a false harbinger of things to come if we don’t manage the change of climate change. For two weeks last year, I could not step out of my home without tearing up. Yes, I’m an emotional sort who is easily moved to tears in sentimental Bollywood and Hollywood movies. But these weren’t filmy tears. No, the sun in my gray sky was eclipsed by smoke from fires burning thousands of acres over 100 miles away. The sting of the smoke caused the tears and required me to wear a mask so that I could breathe. And if we can’t breathe, our world becomes unlivable, acre-by-acre. California’s thousands of charred acres have now given way to Australia’s millions of scarred acres. I take in the smoky air and choke at the impossibility of doing anything substantial about climate change.
When troubled by national and international issues, I look to good governance to save the day. Surely the United Nations or the Prime Minister of India or the President of the United States have the foresight to envision a world that is habitable for my little Eshni. Hooray for the UN. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has a fine objective to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” If this were baseball, I would be shouting, “Hip, hip, hooray! Let’s put the UN Secretary-General into the Hall of Fame!” I would throw a parade for our collective grandchildren’s happy future world. Well, it seems that the UN does throw parties of a sort. Year after year since 1995, there has been a Conference of the Parties. And year after year, the climate gets hotter and hotter. Protocols such as the Paris Agreement are ratified and rejected by the countries I call my own.
America and India’s positions on the protocols are quite telling and put one nation firmly in a disquieting Hall of Shame and the other in a disorienting Hall of Mirrors.
Trump’s United States is a rejecter of the protocols. Modi’s India is ostensibly a supporter. Both Trump and Modi remind me of those afflicted with the disease of hubris that has them looking directly at a solar eclipse as if their retinas could withstand fire.
In his first year in office, President Trump said, “The Paris accord will undermine (the U.S.) economy,” and “puts (the U.S.) at a permanent disadvantage.” Donald Trump moved the needle from intolerable and unlivable to unthinkable. Midway through Trump’s term, The Atlantic Monthly listed some 50 unthinkable acts that characterized the Trump Presidency. In essence, while the earth burns, Trump fiddles on his many incendiary interests including the following from the past 12 months: building a wall at the US/Mexican border, adding trillions to the fiscal deficit, overseeing a contraction of domestic manufacturing, threatening and waffling on tariffs, recklessly executing an unethical—if not illegal—assassination of a foreign official to gin up a war to win votes, and responding to the inquiry of impeachment with a multitude of distracting lies.
On paper, Prime Minister Modi is the anti-Trump, almost an exemplar of climate change leadership. He has done much to champion India as a global green leader; indeed, one can see solar panels floating on acres around COK, making Kochi’s airport the first in the world running fully on solar power. But despite his laudable renewable energy investments in solar and wind farms, the Prime Minister was a reluctant signatory to the Paris Agreement; he has argued that as a developing country focused on giving her citizens a better life, India must not be constrained from investing in coal and other dirty fossil fuels. There is much truth to the position that emerging economies merit dispensations not afforded to countries, which developed during the Industrial Age’s plunder of the Earth, but one must ask questions about Narendra Modi’s commitment to giving all Indians a better life.
What is the Prime Minister’s philosophy of social justice? What are his intentions to make India not only a global green leader but also a moral leader? Why does his office in Delhi encourage policies that are Hindu-centric rather than Hindustan-centric? Perhaps the Modi Ministry could benefit from a rereading of Section 420 in the Indian Penal Code to clarify its disambiguation in how Muslims are treated as a source of terror. Certainly, a unified India would be more influential on the world stage if her fissiparous tendencies did not distract from the real terror of global warming.
Imagine an Earth with the blood-red skies of Australia where people flee to beaches to escape bushfires racing towards the coast. In Kerala, my hope is that we are not required to retire to backwaters houseboats to escape the fires of climate change; my hope is that we are not all sidetracked by our “Distractors-in-Chief;” my hope is that with a Surya Namaskar, we salute the sun as it rises; my hope is that hope is not eclipsed.
While it has been lovely to celebrate time with family on the tranquil waters in what Keralites call “God’s Own Country,” inevitably all of us want to return to our wonderful lives in Pune, Melbourne, London, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and California. None of us desire a world where we, or our brothers and sisters, are climate refugees, or refugees of any sort seeking to escape home due to persecution of our race, religion, or sexual identity. How about we convey our belief in the art of possibility and translate “Amar Akbar Anthony” for the next generation of (grand) children making Planet Earth their home?
We make the impossible possible and the possible impossible!
Together in one place, we three stand united:
Eshni, Ayesha, Emily.
Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, a Change Management Consultant, envisions 2020 as a transformative year. His vision: Replace shortsighted politicians with clear-eyed leaders like Greta Thunberg (climate strike activist and Time’s 2019 Person of the Year) and Varshini Prakash (challenger of climate change’s status quo and Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement).
According to the latest Travel Advisory, all scheduled international commercial passenger services to India shall remain closed till 1830 hrs GMT of April 14, 2020. In view of these temporary travel restrictions, all Indian nationals are advised to:
I. Stay safe and isolated within the residential premises and follow the advisories updated on CDC web site https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/ and other state and federal advisories relevant to COVID19.
II. Please follow social distancing norms and avoid any non-essential local travel.
V. Please also continue to check the website of the Embassy of India in Washington DC (www.indianembassyusa.gov.in) and social media (Twitter & Facebook) for latest updates. In case required, please contact the Indian Embassy or one of Indian Consulates depending upon your location in the US at the 24/7 helpline details mentioned in our previous article here.
In the United States, workers from India comprise the largest number of H-1B professionals.
But, in the wake of US policy changes on immigration, Indians have been hit the hardest, putting their eligibility and professional dreams at severe risk.
In a recent report from the National Foundation for American Policy it was shown that in 2017 72%of the H-1B petitions denied were for professionals from India. What’s larger, however, is the emotional hardships families have had to bear from these denials. Ashish Kumar, a software engineer from Indore, has a particularly apt story. In 2014, Ashish and his family moved to upstate New York from India for work. Four years later, his family had completely acclimatized to America, with hopes of permanent residency. His son, who upon arrival, barely spoke English, now spoke indistinguishably from other American children. Even more, his wife, six months pregnant, had the hope of raising another child in America. In early September, Ashish and his family received the shocking news that their H-1B had not been renewed. They were given two weeks to pack all their belongings and relocate back to India.
Ashish’s plight is shared with many other families. These families become completely immersed in American culture. Some even have American born children. For them, America is home.
While some professionals may be eligible for employment based green cards (EB-2 and EB-3), these visas can be restrictive. Wait times are severely backlogged from 10 to 15 years. To make matters worse, employer sponsorship does not assure green card approval and prevents the candidate from moving cities.
With such massive uncertainty, is there a better solution?
The EB-5 Investor Visa is one such opportunity, giving Indian citizens the chance to earn permanent residency through capital investment. Unlike EB-2 and EB-3, there is no severe backlog. Even more, EB-5 does not:
Require employer sponsorship
Depend on a lottery system
Have long wait times for family sponsorship
Instead, it gives Indian citizens a chance to build a future by working and living anywhere in the US, with the added opportunity to earn US citizenship.
On, November 9th at 2PM EST US Freedom Capital will be hosting a webinar to discuss the ins and outs of the EB-5 Investor Visa. CIO, David Gunderson, will discuss the process, timelines, and successes of our own H-1B clients who have received their green cards in as little as 14 months. In addition, we will have a Q&A session after the webinar to discuss any specific questions/comments from the audience.
US Freedom Capital is a global investment firm committed to the long-term growth and security of its investors’ assets. Our investment projects are thoughtfully designed for the EB-5 Program and to create diversified, high-yield returns.
The US Freedom Capital team combines decades of experience in commercial US real estate, immigration, and investment management. Our industry experts have over $3 billion in commercial real estate experience, and include the three former highest-ranking officials at US Immigration (USCIS).
CNN’s Emmy Award-winning United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell will feature the first-ever hour-long cable episode exclusively focusing on the Sikh American community. The episode is scheduled to air on Sunday, May 6th at 10 pm EST/PST.
W. Kamau Bell interviews Sikh Coalition co-founder, Harpreet Singh and Sikh Coalition Social Justice Fellow, Winty Singh along with Yuba City Sikh Mayor, Preet Didbal; Yuba City farmer and community leader, Karandeep Bains; Sikh lawyer, filmmaker and organizer, Valarie Kaur; Sikh soldier and doctor, Lt. Colonel Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi; Sikh actor and designer, Waris Ahluwalia; and Harpreet’s son, Dilzafer Singh.
“This will be an exciting and important moment for the Sikh community to come together and celebrate Sikh awareness,” said Sikh Coalition Executive Director, Satjeet Kaur. “We continue to make progress in our efforts to educate the American public and this is another milestone.”
Thanks to work by Harpreet Singh and Valarie Kaur, the Sikh Coalition media and communications team spent six months supporting United Shades of America producers with background resource material, fact-checking and B-roll footage.
“The United Shades episode provides a nuanced portrayal of the Sikh experience in America,” said Sikh Coalition co-founder, Harpreet Singh. “It will educate mainstream America about Sikh values and beliefs that have enabled Sikhs to overcome adversity and thrive in this country for over a hundred years.”
Per CNN, all air dates for episodes of United Shades of America are subject to potential change. United Shades of America will also stream live for subscribers via CNNgo (at CNN.com/go and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Samsung Smart TV and Android TV). The series will also be available the day after the broadcast premiere on demand via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.
The Sikh Coalition has worked on several high-impact television moments in recent years, including The Daily Show, NBC Evening News and CBS Evening News. For more information about the upcoming CNN episode or to interview Sikh Coalition staff and board involved with the project, please contact Mark Reading-Smith
Warning that the country is heading down a white nationalist, nativist path, four immigrant rights advocates issued a call to action just hours before the U.S. Senate rejected all four proposals to change U.S. immigration policy, and a second federal court found the president’s “Muslim ban” unconstitutional.
The advocates spoke at a national telebriefing for ethnic media sponsored by Ready California, a collaborative cross-sector effort led by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
“We’ve all learned to expect the unexpected,” said Sameera Hafiz, an attorney and senior policy strategist for the ILRC in Washington, DC. “The reason we’re here is because of Trump’s decision in September to rescind the DACA program and throw the lives of close to 800,000 young people into chaos and uncertainty.
“But while the Senate was ostensibly debating the future of the DACA program,” Hafiz argued, “the reality is that any (proposed) DACA proposals go hand in hand with eliminating the diversity visa program, severely curtailing the family immigration program and expansive border enforcement measures – far beyond what we think about when we think about border security.”
“And while we’ve been focused in DC on the legislative side, we’ve been distracted from what the administration is already doing.” Hafiz cited attacks on jurisdictions with sanctuary policies and other enforcement actions against Dreamers, mothers and activists.
Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), agreed that what is underway is an attack on legal immigration itself which she called “a white nationalist agenda (whereby) certain individuals are not qualified to come into the United States based on their country of birth and their religion.”
On average, Salas noted, “our clients being deported from Los Angeles had been in the country more than 25 years. With the crippling of various legal channels like the Central American minors program, the separation of children from parents, the ending of diversity vistas, “the list goes on,” she said –“we’re destroying people’s lives.”
“This is not just about the immigrant community any more. It’s about what kind of country we want and who we are, as Americans.”
Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a civil rights attorney, hailed the decision by the Fourth Circuit which joined a chorus of courts across the country who have said that the Muslim ban is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, she noted, “Whether you are from Iran or Somalia, it does not matter what your story is, you cannot come to the US.” Billoo quoted a Georgetown University estimate that 60000 people had been impacted in their efforts to get an education or see their families.
“We’re optimistic,” she said, but cautioned that what’s legal doesn’t always align with what’s moral. “The court in the past has allowed many unjust things, such as the Japanese internment.”
Adoubou Traore, director of the African Advocacy Network which provides legal counsel for immigrants of the African diaspora, highlighted the dramatic growth of the African immigrant community, from 816,000 in 1980 to more than 4 million in 2016, Largely faceless and voiceless, this population has borne the brunt of every new restrictive immigration measure, from the Muslim ban to the removal of Temporary Protective Status (TPS). As immigrants and as Blacks, “we are the only group that has been named racially, and coming from countries that have been named in ways that I don’t even want to repeat, but we all heard it.”
Asked about the future of the immigrant rights movement, Salas noted the “tremendous mobilization by immigrant youth and this will only increase as people mobilize around the March 5 Congressional deadline for a solution on DACA.
“But this is a call to the broader immigrant community and Americans in general,” Salas emphasized.
“We need to stand up not just to be in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, and our brothers and sisters from the Muslim community. We need to stand up as Americans, as a country saying this is not who we are or what our values are. I think this is what’s missing.”
Talent “that wouldn’t otherwise be heard” is what Jim Pugh, founder of Little Village Foundation, looks for and then goes about promoting. “It’s like pebbles on the beach. You pick up one and it’s beautiful, but when you hold four together the commonality emerges. It’s breathtaking, and the bigger picture of what America really sounds like leaps out at you,” he says on his blog.
Every year, Village promotes a few hitherto unknown artists—this year features two South Asians, Aki Kumar and Aireene Espiritu.
Kumar gave up a career in software to create a music genre which Pugh called “Muddy meets Mumbai,” singing 1960s Bollywood songs in blues or jazz tones. The album has popular Hindi numbers such as “Jaanu Meri Jaan,” “Badan Pe Sitaare,” “Baar Baar Dekho,” and “Chala Jaata Hoon.” They sound different, rendered in Kumar’s voice that has an American country twang. While non-Indian audiences have been appreciating these, what’s more interesting is Aki’s take on the blues. In “Home is Prison” and “Going to Bombay,” Kumar certainly sounds more in his own groove and one hopes that he commits to this sub-genre in the future, perhaps singing them in Hindi.
I asked Kumar a few questions about his music.
AK: I didn’t find the blues, the blues found me. If you talk to any real blues lover, they will tell you that there is something so compelling and undeniable about this music that you have no choice but to fall in love with it. The same happened to me. My journey into the blues was through American Rock ’n‘ Roll—mostly music from the 50s and 60s—which I took a strong liking to in my late teens.
IC: Do you consider Bollywood from 1950-60 to be “Blueswood?”
AK: Haha, not “Blueswood” in the pure sense but, yes. If you listen to Bollywood music from the era, you will find that blues, swing, jazz, Rock ’n‘ Roll had a huge influence on it. I suppose those Bollywood music directors and artists were just trying to stay hip and keep up with musical trends in the West.
IC: Who has been your favorite audience—city and profile/ethnicity?
AK: That is very tough to say, because I have had a great time performing all over the world to some incredibly loving and receptive audiences. I recently wrapped up a short tour of Finland with Chicago blues guitarist Rockin’ Johnny and I must say I had such a good time performing to the blues lovin’ crowds there that I’m eager to go back again, soon!
IC: How did you make the jump from 9 to 5 to full time musician?
AK: When I started dabbling in the blues harmonica, it was nothing more than a hobby. I would occasionally play with my colleagues or friends who were just looking to get together and have fun. As time went on, I improved as a musician and a performer. I found myself collaborating with many local blues musicians, attending jams and even performing my own shows. I was leading a very fulfilling but sometimes strenuous double life—software engineer during the day, blues musician at night. In the last few years, especially, it became very obvious that I had a true passion for the blues and that if I didn’t pursue it wholeheartedly, I would be denying myself the opportunity of a lifetime.
Philippines originated Espiritu, on the other hand, has always been on the move—she literally lives out of her car. Pugh was reminded of the reigning blues queen Sugar Pie DeSanto (who is part Filipino) and doing a tribute was the original idea behind the album “Back Where I Belong.” However, it became much more than that, encompassing Espiritu’s whole style, which in her own words, is an “umbrella of Americana—a mix of country, blues, bluegrass, gospel, and folk,” and some Filipino folk songs. I asked Espiritu about her musical journey.
IC: How would you describe your own discovery of a musical identity?
AE: I remember the first time I became obsessed with a song. I was 10. Shortly after we moved to the United States, we lived with my aunt and her family for a couple of years. I found a cassette tape in their basement and put it on out of curiosity. The first song played and I found myself playing it over and over. I would think about the song during the day, the different layers, simultaneous notes and looked forward to coming home to repeat play again. The song was Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” I knew then that I wanted to play music.
IC: The album has some Filipino tracks: How did that come about?
AE: At family gatherings, my uncles, aunts, mom, would sing and dance. I never sang along, just enjoyed watching everyone and listening. I thought someday I’d like to record them playing these Filipino songs. “Bayan Ko” (My Country) is a patriotic song about yearning to be free. “Oras Na” (It’s Time) is about conquering fear and following your heart. “Dukha” (Poor) is about being poor.
IC: Do you visit the Philippines often, what do you seek in those visits?
AE: I try to go almost every year ever since my grandmother moved back in 2009. She’s in her 90s so time is precious. I love going to the province where she lives, disconnected to technology and just “be.” Up until last year there was no internet, no cell phone service. So my family hang out in the living room and share stories of growing up in the province. We would wake up at 4 a.m. and wait for the man on a bicycle to pass through town with freshly baked hot pan de sal (Filipino bread), have meriendas (snacks, appetizers, desserts). Family, food, and stories. That’s what I look forward to.
IC: Would you rather continue living the life of a traveler—does that provide the canvas or the colors for your music?
AE: For now, yes, I prefer to be traveling. Last year I told myself that maybe 2015 would be the year I’d settle down, but the year came and went and I never felt the longing to have my own place again. I like spending time with friends in different places and meeting new ones, collecting their stories, visiting new places, landscapes, and cultures. On the flip side, it’s also exhausting constantly planning schedules, loading and unloading my things which includes my kitchen, instruments, office, clothes. Still, the pluses outweigh the minuses and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. I imagine eventually I’ll want a place again, but I don’t see it anytime soon.
“Born in the land of the mighty Roraima/ Land of great rivers and far stretching sea … ” are words sung in drunken glee by relatives of my parents’ generation. The song tells of the land of my birth, Guyana, a place called “back home” by my elders, but which to me had always been merely a source of relatives’ funny accents and the occasional bawdy provincial story; a place lost entirely in the immaturity of infantile memory, and remade incompletely through the borrowed memories of others.But all that changed as I return to Guyana, unexpectedly and unprepared, 31 years after leaving as a baby. “Born in the land where men sought El Dorado/ Land of the diamond and bright shining gold,” the song goes, boasting of the land’s natural wealth, and hinting at the plight of those who had sought it. I return as a recipient of one of Guyana’s national arts awards, undeserving because I am heretofore unable to find a connection to the ancestral land, which now honors me. That would change as the assault of sights and scents, and the camaraderie of locals, conspire to force my acknowledging of that buried organic thread of belonging.
Despite the song’s promises, I see no gold or diamonds, nor do I find the time to explore the great rivers or far stretching sea. But I do taste the sweetness of Guyana’s fruit, remark on the comeliness of her women, the brightness of her tropical sun and the seeming timelessness of her stitch within the fabric of colonial history. This is a place beaten by its history, existing at the rare conflux of a dozen trading nations, yet striving valiantly to pull itself from the status of Third World indigent to modern Caribbean power broker.
Guyana is a frequently misplaced and mispronounced nation in the Canadian travel vocabulary. Formerly called British Guiana, it is nestled longitudinally between Brazil and the Caribbean ocean, and horizontally between Venezuela and Suriname (formerly Dutch Guyana). A democracy, she remains the only officially English-speaking country in South America, and one of Canada’s most effusive sources of Caribbean emigration.
At the time of Columbus, the region was inhabited by the Arawak and Carib aboriginal tribes whose legacy is the word guiana. It means “land of waters,” testament to the region’s multitude of waterways streaming to and from the Amazon basin. The three Guyanas of history, Dutch, French and British, were a trading and farming delta operated by European powers for the past two centuries. The land was valuable for its rugged frontier against the rich South American jungle, its navigable river system, its potential for a plantation-style economy, and its position on the shore of the lucrative Caribbean shipping lanes.
When the aboriginal tribes were pushed back into the rainforest, African slaves were brought in to work the sugar plantations. With the transition to British rule in 1786, the labor structure, punctuated by violent slave revolt decades earlier, fell under the auspices of British imperial law. Hence, the abolition of slavery in the British Empire 21 years later led to a critical need for cheap plantation labor. That labor was found via the indentured servitude system wherein subjects of the empire, mostly East Indian and some Chinese, were shipped in to work on a supposedly contractual basis. The colorful songs do not tell of this history. That task is left to the pockets of angry subversive writers scattered throughout the diaspora.
Most historians agree that the British violated the service contracts and refused the indentured laborers their promised passage home. The result was generations of large numbers of people, mostly Indians, stranded in a country to which they never truly intended to emigrate. In the twentieth century, with the dissolution of British rule in favor of a fractious parliamentary system, Guyana remains a nation of essentially two races: African and Indian. This racial duality is a persistent social and political theme, occasionally sinking to riotous violence, and sometimes rising to philosophical elegance, as in the establishment of the multi-racial socialist government of the late President Cheddi Jagan, Guyana’s most beloved fallen hero.
Jagan is often called the father of the modern Guyanese nation. His 80-year old widow Janet, also a former President, remains an honored national figure who hearkens to a bygone era of Gandhi/Mandela styled social protest and political sacrifice. Even their 1943 interracial marriage (he was Indian, she a Jew from Illinois) was a daring feat, a template for a coming age.
Despite the Jagans’ heroism, Guyana’s story in the twentieth century is one of corruption and lost opportunity. As the song describes so proudly, it is a nation rich in mineral and biological wealth, devoid of the population pressures of other developing nations (there are fewer than a million permanent residents). Its rugged beauty inspired the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle who fashioned his 1912 novel “The Lost World” after Guyana’s unspoiled jungle primacy, specifically the misty Mount Roraima upon whose paleolithic peak Conan Doyle envisioned Victorian dinosaur hunters and lost prehistoric tribes.
Guyana’s enviable position as an English-speaking literate nation whose expatriate vim offers access to the resources of the West should have propelled Guyana into the role of Southern leader. Yet the nation has languished economically by virtue of recent dictatorial corruption and mismanagement. High inflation, elevated rates of maternal and child morbidity, increased street crime and official corruption, and residents poor access to infrastructure—the textbook signatures of Third World status—have been typical of Guyana up to and including the 1980s.
This was the ominous data I weighed while considering whether to undertake the visit to the land of my birth. I was taken from Guyana at the age of 2, and returned once more for a summer visit 20 years ago. I had joined the great soup of immigrants in Toronto, multicolored, multicultured, and undeniably Canadian. Despite the thickening density of Guyanese expatriates filling the Toronto-New York corridor, I had no conscious desire to return to my motherland.
However, my book of short stories titled “Sweet Like Saltwater” ostensibly about the Indo-Caribbean diaspora, surprisingly won the 2000 Guyana Prize for Best First Book. Just like that, I was on my way back to this lonely tropical waystation.
The existence of the Guyana Prize is itself a window into the psyche of a nation making great strides to re-position itself as a trade-and tourism-worthy modern democracy. It is one of the English-speaking world’s most prestigious literary awards, and the only national book award offered by a Caribbean country other than Cuba.
Though the official literacy rate hovers about 98%, the country only produces a handful of books each year. But in many Southern societies, the written word retains both power and prestige, regardless of the official rate of book production and consumption. The literary legacy left to Guyana from its most culturally influential ancestral places—India, West Africa and England—is one that seemingly demands the recognition of communicative excellence, evident in the oratorical skills of local leaders and in the impressive feats of poetic recitation required from schoolchildren. Given the poor rate of domestic book production, due in part to a hobbled publishing industry, it is not surprising that the nation glories in the artistic achievements of its expatriate children. London’s Pauline Melville and Fred D ‘Aguiar of Florida are but two such non-resident writers oft honored in Guyana.
Arriving in the capital city, Georgetown, I am filled with trepidation. One guidebook describes the place as “the second most violent capital city in South America, after Bogota.” It further warns: “under no circumstances go out at night, and avoid doing so in the daytime, too.” Wariness of violent street crime was the mantra preached to me by friends and relatives, none of whom had been to Georgetown in many years.
But the city is surprisingly pleasant. Nestled against the Atlantic shore, it nonetheless considers itself a Caribbean metropolis, yet its official population of 200,000 would make it merely a large town by North American standards. It was once a colonial gem, still proudly bearing its traditional moniker of “the garden city”, though decades of infrastructure neglect have tarnished its floral vigor. Whitewashed wooden buildings with thatched multicolored roofs still provide a fair amount of charm and elegance, and rebuilt roads encourage the recent inundation of American sports cars and utility vehicles. All about, the signs of an economic renaissance abound.
One is struck by a distinct odor that, to me at least, is ubiquitous across all tropical domains: the scent of damp fabrics, unseen fungal growths and hot, wet sea air. Not necessarily unpleasant, it is womb-like in its familiarity. Eager surveillance from the window of a cramped Guyana Airways plane revealed dazzling green arteries of water that pulse with life, giving truth to the aboriginal name for the place. The odor and the greenery seem complementary, and one is made less aware of the urban concrete, and more sensitive to the nearby ocean and strategically planted foliage.
The streets and highways are cluttered with autos, muscular and loud. The car is a symbol of machismo here, and owners have taken to emblazoning their vehicles with personalized names. My driver has named his for the Backstreet Boys, and gestures to the photo of the cover girl on his dashboard: “That’s the backstreet girl,” he jokes.
Minibuses plow by. Lynn Mangru, a local sitcom actress and my guide for the morning, tells me that the buses are privately owned with fares set by the government. “People choose which bus to ride by the music the driver is playing,” she says. I decide that my favorite bus is one named “Sweetness” driven by a sloppy, big-bellied, very un-sweet man. On the bus’s back, the driver has written the explanation: “Your sweetness is my weakness.”
Crowds of people gather in every public locale in Georgetown. The roars of rancorous Creole, English-based and similar to Jamaican patwa but spiced with elements of French, Dutch, Senegalese, Hindi, Spanish and Portuguese, assault the ear in torrents of musical speech, sometimes joyous and sometimes angry 97the sounds of street commerce common around the world. The Creole of Guyana is a trademark of the place. It was the language of my youth, usually summoned from my subconscious only with the aid of alcohol or family prodding, embarrassing for its foreignness and inapplicability to Canadian life. Here it is refreshingly familiar, heard at last as a living language for an entire people, and not, as the locals would describe it, as simply “poor English.”
Teenage boys, both brown and black, strut along the roadways with New York ghetto attitude. Basketball shoes, fake jewelry and hip-hop mannerisms are common. Judging from fashion choices and the plethora of cheap low-quality consumer products, this could be any American inner city—except that, alongside these thrusts into the banal continuum of the world economy, there are unmistakable nods to both tropical wherewithal and a recent colonial legacy.
Indeed, while modern autos screech through crowded roads, many side streets are the exclusive domain of horses and horse-drawn vehicles. The preferred mode of transport of many goods, particularly construction materials, appears to be via animal sweat. Time does not allow me a foray into the rural countryside to visit the rice-farming village of my infancy, or to the rugged interior; it would have been interesting to see whether supreme reliance is still made upon beasts of burden for all physical tasks too challenging for mere human muscle. It is quixotically ironic, this superposition of agrarian methods against an urban backdrop of somewhat modern buildings, Western outlook and new American automobiles.
More irony befalls me as I check into the Hotel Tower, supposedly one of Georgetown’s top hotels. Half a century ago, my father worked here as a waiter and had alerted the industry minister to the hotel’s unfair treatment of workers; the pro-labor socialist sentiment runs strong in Guyanese of his generation, those touched by the crusades of Cheddi and Janet Jagan. Today, after decades of decline, the Hotel Tower has remade itself into a gateway for adventure tourism, offering “romantic” rainforest tours to mostly foreign couples. Indeed, eco-tourism is the buzzword across the nation. Industrial forces are arrayed to parcel off Guyana’s pristine jungle ecology in the name of debt reduction, and ventures within the city are positioning themselves to provide the necessary support for such activities.
The city’s center is dominated by the clock tower-crowned Stabroek market, a grand old Dutch structure whose contents today can be compared to rural flea markets in Canada. It is probably the oldest building in the country, and an enduring democratic structure in which everyone, rich or poor, shops. Some say it was intended as a railway station for another colony, but ended up in Guyana by accident. Pierre Trudeau once called it a “bizarre bazaar.” Whatever the colorful anecdote, the market is a beloved sprawl of simple commercial reciprocity where anything that can be carried by hand is sold.
In addition to the basic supplies and knick-knacks sold here are the fresh produce brought in from farmers outside the city. The fruits are glorious in their ripeness, and I gladly indulge in a wide array of tropical nectars. Tourists are ill-advised to wander about the market unescorted, so I was pleased to find manning some of the vending stalls relatives whom I had never before met in person: an aunt, a great uncle and several cousins.
The place had evolved since my family’s exodus I was informed. No longer the refuge of impoverished rural agrarians desperate to hawk their undervalued goods, it is now a locus for lucrative high commerce. A vegetable stall like that owned by my aunt would be sold for the equivalent of tens of thousands of American dollars.
That night is the televised ceremony for conferring the Guyana Prizes for Literature; my reason for being in the country. Professor David Dabydeen of England takes top honors for his novel “A Harlot’s Progress”—the trend of rewarding expatriates continues. Harvard student and proud Guyanese native, Paloma Mohamed receives the award for best drama; her rousing patriotic speech would bring the crowd to its feet. While I nervously wait to make my acceptance speech for my Best First Book prize, an elderly woman strikes up a conversation with me about her grandchildren in Canada. It takes a few minutes for me to recognize Janet Jagan, former President and figure of lore. It is surreal to be making disposable small talk with a woman whose name is spoken with quiet reverence in most Guyanese households, my parents’ included. I decide that this is indicative of the informality of the place, where grand historical figures are simply citizens on about their business.
It is therefore not surprising that the sitting President of the country, Bharrat Jagdeo, proves eminently approachable. His mind is understandably elsewhere as a national election looms close. But his popularity almost assures a victory for his People’s Progressive Party, the political party founded by the Jagans. Government stability is an encouraging sign for sustained development and wealth production.
“My job is to pull government into the background and let creative people run with their innovations,” he says, sounding vaguely Ontarian in his politics. He further laments the limited experiences of many visitors to Guyana, wishing more would choose to step beyond Georgetown to see the beauty of the unspoiled interior. “Just a few hours travel and you can meet AmerIndian children who must take canoes to get to school.” Again, there is that ubiquitous dichotomy of the modern alongside the pastoral and ancient. His words remind me that despite Guyana’s bold forays into aggressive world commerce and the increasing affluence of many of Georgetown’s more visible citizens, this is still a country struggling to find its role in the globalized Caribbean milieu.
I recall the growing links between Guyana and Canada: the 1997 flirtation of Saskatechewan’s SaskPower with acquiring the Guyanese electrical infrastructure; the public health program offered by the medical school of Kingston’s Queen’s University to allow their graduates exposure to the truly impoverished in Guyana’s interior; and recent rumblings about debt forgiveness and other sorts of aid. Yet, despite its rural poverty and tiny population, this is a nation with, astonishingly, 23 television stations.
“Anyone can put up a TV transmitter from their front porch,” says John Mair, a BBC producer who moonlights in Guyana as an election consultant for Mr. Jagdeo, and who also writes a popular political satire column for a national newspaper under the pen name of Bill Cotton. The television medium tends to be so unregulated and unprofessional, Mair says, that “if you watch the Berbice news, you can hear the dogs barking on the broadcaster’s front lawn!”
Guyana is a nation much like other Southern countries in this new age, traveling simultaneous paths of spiraling rural poverty and rapid modernization. The vivacity and robustness of Georgetown is promising, though, as is the seeming genuineness of the current government. But one young entrepreneur, the owner of a rice mill, is keeping his enterprise off-line until after the coming election. When asked what difference it makes which party wins, he answers, “I need to know whether they prefer their bribe as a percentage or as a lump sum.”
The chorus of that inescapable Guyanese song seems particularly poignant to me then, testament to a people’s penchant for adaptation and renewal: “Onward, upward, may we ever go/ Day by day in strength and beauty grow/ Till at length we each of us may show/ What Guyana’s sons and daughters can be.”
Raywat Deonandan is the author of “Sweet Like Saltwater” (TSAR Books, 1999), winner of the 2000 Guyana Prize for Best First Book. Visit him online at www.deonandan.com.