Tag Archives: American

A Union of Sikh, Japanese, and Mexican Americans

Mainstream South Asian American diasporic fiction focuses mostly on the post-1965 generation of immigrants, beneficiaries of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which abolished national origins quota and facilitated the arrival of highly skilled workers from India and other Asian countries to help the U.S.

Yet the history of immigration from India, China, and Japan to the U.S goes back much further to the early years of the twentieth century, at least, when many Indians, particularly Sikhs from the state of Punjab arrived in California to work in the logging and farming industries. Although historians like Karen Leonard and Ronald Takaki among others have documented this early history of Asian immigration, very few fiction writers have tapped into this rich history for their fictional explorations. Rishi Reddi breaks new ground by undertaking this ambitious project in Passage West.

The novel follows a group of Sikh men, particularly two friends Ram and Karak from 1914 to 1974. The novel begins with the death of Karak and Ram’s preparation of a eulogy which provides a narrative flashback into the life of his friend. The early part of the novel sets up the geographical landscape of Imperial Valley, California, where the two friends find themselves after stints in the British army, time in Hong Kong, and a brief experience in the logging industry in Oregon, for Ram.

Readers are gradually introduced to tumultuous events sweeping through the world, the growing farming community in the Imperial Valley consisting of Sikh and Japanese farmers, the restrictions to land ownership and citizenship rights, the inability for Sikh farmworkers to bring their families with them leading to the growth of bachelor communities, the growing racial hostility, and violence against Asians in the U.S, expressing itself in infamous incidents like Komagata Maru, a Japanese ship that carried passengers who were British subjects from India and who were denied landing rights in Vancouver, Canada, which was also a British colony and were forced to return to India.

Sikhs on board the “Komogata Maru” in English Bay, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. 1914

We also notice the growth of revolutionary politics with the rising influence of the Ghadhar Party, which consisted of expatriate Indians who raised funds to support armed anti-colonial resistance against the British, going so far as to support Germany during World War 1. 

The emotional core of the novel resides in the compelling description of two forbidden love stories. Both Karak and Ram develop relationships with Mexican women who they meet in the farming community. In spite of the anti-miscegenation laws, religious and linguistic differences, Karak marries Rosa and starts a new family and life with her. Ram, on the other hand, is attracted to Rosa’s cousin Adela but feels torn by his loyalty to his wife, Padma, and the son born out of their brief union. Ram and Padma at the beginning of the novel are deeply in love with each other, but as vagaries of their lives and the cruel immigration laws unfold, their ties gradually attenuate.

The racist immigration system is rendered most visible in their harrowing separation. At a more public level, we see the passage of Alien Land laws that restrict land ownership by non-white races, forcing many farmers to become internal refugees looking for land in other states or underpaid employees of farming corporations.  Even more poignant is the depiction of Sikh and Japanese soldiers joining the U.S. Army in the First World War, being lured to this task by the promise of citizenship. Yet, in spite of their service, they are denied recognition and dignity for their brave service.  Reddi provides us glimpses of the losses faced in the trench warfare as well as the deadly attack of the Spanish influenza of 1918 which claims the life of Amarjeet’s best friend, the Japanese American Harry Moriyama.

The most brutal rendition of racism is offered in Reddi’s depiction of the sustained attempts by agricultural corporations to exploit the Sikh farmers, not having the right of land ownership, by cheating them of their harvests. This results in the climactic episode in the novel which leads to a murder, the near lynching of a Sikh man, and the long-term effects of this traumatic event in Ram’s ability to return to India.

Reddi’s novel is the product of sustained archival research. She has conducted interviews with descendants of Sikh Mexican families, as well as historical research on the harassment, racism, and violence that these early immigrants were subjected to. She seamlessly weaves historical characters and events in the rich tapestry of her novel. This novel dispels the monolithic model minority myth of South Asian Americans. It celebrates the working-class roots of early immigrants from India, the multiplicity of religions and faith traditions that these immigrants came from and united to fight against common injustices.

In addition, the novel highlights solidarities between various minority groups, not only the marriages between Mexicans and Sikhs, which is very different from the mostly endogamous marriage traditions of South Asian marriages but also the solidarities between Japanese Americans and Indian Americans. This is a novel that deserves serious scholarly attention and should be embraced by more courses in South Asian American literature and history. However, even though this novel is the product of intense scholarship, the research does not burden the writing. The novel flows effortlessly. It is deceptive in its elegance and simplicity and powerful in its empathetic portrayal of early South Asian Americans.

Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Racial and Caste Apartheid: Are They Similar?

“No one is free until we are all free.”

Dr. King’s words continue to be a powerful message for South Asians throughout the U.S. 

Over the past month and a half, our country has been jolted by recent acts of violence against black folks. While systemic injustice and racism have existed in this country for centuries, there is renewed political engagement with the entrenched issues of race in our country. 

For the South Asian community, it is more important than ever to be “accomplices” in the fight against white supremacy and racism. Several South Asian activist groups and nonprofits are paving the way to help our community uncover some of its entrenched prejudices. Through education and civic leadership, these groups are helping the community discover how to participate in today’s movement. 

Why does this matter to the South Asian community? 

The human dignity of black folks is something so fundamental that has been repeatedly ignored by our country. South Asians have often ignored their complicity in this reality by hiding behind the bootstrap myth or perpetrating harmful anti-black ideologies

However, our communities are more interdependent than people might initially believe. 

“Our stories are very much interconnected and to deny that it is the doing of white supremacy and colonization that tries to keep our people divided,” says Sabiha Basrai, a member of ASATA, a grassroots South Asian activist organization in San Francisco. 

South Asians and black folks have a long and shared history. Black leaders have long fought for the liberation of South Asian communities. In the 1960s, the activism on the part of the civil rights movement banned national and racial quotas on immigrants, enabling the vast majority of today’s South Asian immigrants to come to America. 

Solidarity with communities of color is more than merely a thought, it’s been exemplified throughout the course of history. 

ASATA protests

“A specific example of that kind of solidarity is demonstrated through Bayard Rustin who was a civil rights leader. He actually committed an act of civil disobedience in support of the free India movement in the forties. He locked himself to a British embassy in the United States to protest the British occupation of India,” says Basrai. 

But over time, the South Asian community has forgotten about that solidarity. In today’s moment, it’s important to hear the call to action, Basrai advises. 

What’s Caste got to do with it? 

Equality Labs 2018 Research on Casteism in U.S.

“We must examine and reflect on our own complicity with hierarchical systems, like caste, which enables so much police violence within our communities and within home regions,” says Mahn, communications director at Equality Labs. Equality Labs is an organization that fights against oppressive systems in South Asian communities through political education and collective organizing. 

Holding complexity is an important part of this conversation, Mahn says. 

“Caste isn’t just a theory. It’s a real experience of hegemony for a lot of people.” Black and South Asian experiences are both tied to hierarchies of power. 

“Racial apartheid and caste apartheid depend on both racial abolition and caste abolition. They’re corollaries, they intersect in a lot of important ways for the South Asian community, but they’re parallel. They’re not the same thing,” Mahn says. 

Caste continues to be crucial to the conversation about the South Asian diaspora. Last month, technology giant Cisco Systems was sued for discrimination against Dalit employees. The employee experienced verbal harassment and fewer workplace opportunities due to caste. These systems of harm are real and have tangible consequences in diaspora communities. 

Progressive organizations like Equality Labs are encouraging South Asians to reflect on different vectors of privilege. While South Asians may be harmed by white supremacy in some respects, the community also benefits from the model minority myth. Similarly, it’s critical for South Asians to understand how they may propagate systems of harm. 

That’s great, but what do I do now? 

Being an “accomplice” to the movement can be framed in multiple ways, says Sree Sinha, cofounder of the South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance (SASMHA). 

“The incredible thing about activism is that there are so many different ways to be involved and each of them matter, each of them are important in terms of what the work is that needs to be done and the change that we need to see happen,” she says. 

Getting involved can range from a variety of different activities, from attending protests, to donating to black non-profits, to starting conversations in one’s own community – the critical piece is personal education. 

“None of us are born with bias against anyone. It is taught to us. And the beautiful thing about that is it means that it can be unlearned as well.” Sinha says. 

Sinha says action is like a ladder. We have the personal-level, targeting biases in our own minds. We have the community-level, where we help people in our communities fight against these injustices. And finally, we have the policy level. It’s important to hold political systems accountable, “whether that’s through calling into different congressional offices and police departments, and being able to use your voice in whatever ways is comfortable to you.”

It’s important for South Asians to mobilize against anti-blackness. 

“Where I really want people to understand that rather than being a source of fear or holding you back or paralysis that in fact, making even those small changes helps buffer us against racism. So if you’re feeling a little helpless or a little stuck pushing yourself to act on any level is a major part of what makes us heal.” 

Today’s moment is different from anything in our recent history. Sinha thinks that shows promise. 

“People are thinking about these issues for many people in a way that they never have before. And that just speaks to the power of the possibility and power of growth and change for humans.”

South Asian history is now inextricably linked to American history. The radical nature of today’s moment is important and will define the way our society functions for generations. We must choose the side of justice, for our collective liberation. 

Swathi Ramprasad is a senior at Duke University. She enjoys learning more about the world through her South Asian heritage.

Diksha Basu: ‘Immigrant ExPat Is a Spectrum, Not a Binary’

“It was easy for my parents. They wanted to live in America when America was the clear choice, they wanted to get married when marriage was the only acceptable option, and then they wanted to get divorced right around when divorce became socially acceptable. The times rolled with them. Now there are no rules. I can do whatever I want, be whoever I want, and I don’t know if I want that freedom.”

– ‘Destination Wedding’ by Diksha Basu

Internationally bestselling author and actor, Diksha Basu is originally from New Delhi and currently based between New York City and Mumbai. She holds a BA in Economics from Cornell University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. In a phone interview, Neha Kirpal recently spoke with Basu about her experience writing about immigrants in a globalized world, the great Indian middle class, and using humor as a tool to explore contemporary India.

Diksha Basu

Neha Kirpal (NK): Your new book Destination Wedding is all about “family, careers, and belonging.” Tell us how you came up with the idea for the story.

Diksha Basu (DB): One of my points of inspiration was my own big wedding in New Delhi a few years ago, which was such a wonderful and mad experience with all my loved ones from all around the world for one week in one place where I had grown up. It was such a whirlwind in a way, and this book was a way for me to relive parts of that. I didn’t quite get to live in the moment, because the bride and the groom never really get to enjoy their wedding the way their guests do. This book gave me the chance to go back and experience it all over again. 

NK: Tell our readers about how you use humor as a tool to explore contemporary India.

DB: I live in Bombay most of the time. A lot about India can be so frustrating, and I think that if I didn’t write about it with humor, it might be easier to get angry or annoyed. That said, I feel a deep and great affection for the country and all my characters. And I think my humor comes from affection and never through mockery. I write about my characters with a big heart. I love my characters, cities, and settings. I’ve always felt like I’ve belonged in both India and America—I split my time now between New York and Mumbai. I understand now that home is an idea, not a place. My feeling of home comes from my family. That also allows for humor and comedy.  

NK: Your book The Windfall reportedly started off as a collection of short stories that you were writing during your master of fine arts (MFA) at Columbia University. How did the structure change to a novel? What elements of the story collection do you think remain in the final book?

DB: Yes, that’s right. The book started off as a collection of short stories that I was writing during my MFA and it slowly became a novel in the year and a half after I graduated. From the original story, hardly any of them remain. But that’s when I discovered my characters. I needed to write the stories in order to understand, know, and love my characters as deeply as I now do. But the structure of the novel changed completely.

NK: The Windfall is about the changing aspirations of an average Indian couple. How did you come up with the story?

DB: Before I started working on The Windfall, I was stuck in the void of writing about twenty-something women, because everyone says “write what you know.” Twenty-something women were just not interesting to me, and other writers had done it much better than I ever could anyway. I handed one of the first short stories from this collection very nervously to my professor Gary Shteyngart. Not a lot of people at Columbia were writing through humor but Gary came back to me a week later saying that he read it on a flight to China and found himself laughing out loud on the plane. I am so deeply indebted and forever grateful to Gary for reading and giving me the encouragement—and the permission, really—to write from the perspective of a middle-aged Indian man. His feedback gave me the confidence to keep writing these characters and to keep using humor as a tool to explore contemporary India. Later, I am forever grateful to my agent Adam Eaglin for reining in some of my attempts at humor. The book, I hope, is very different from a lot of the work coming out of the subcontinent right now. 

NK: How do you think your books speak to the current moment in India? What worlds, or collision of worlds, are they invoking?

DB: We live in a globalized world where the terms “immigrant” and “ex-pat” are quickly losing meaning. Indians in America no longer live afraid. They’re not on the peripheries, and non-Indians visiting or living in India are doing so for reasons other than tourism or volunteerism. There are a large number of immigrants that now defy definition and stereotype. There are people from all over the world who choose to live in countries different from those of their birth, but they still carry within themselves a sense of self-identity that isn’t necessarily tied to a nation or a race—and even if it is, it’s a source of confidence rather than a reason to apologize. 

There’s a global tongue emerging that goes beyond language. While parts of the world are also getting increasingly divided and frightening, some boundaries are also dissolving. The points of reference for a certain wealthy global elite are all the same. We live in the era of global citizens and that is a world that I really like to explore, which is what I do in my books. I know I’m making heavy generalizations here, and of course, I know there’s a worrying global refugee crisis on, there’s a lot of racism that the world is being forced to confront and contend with, and the luxuries of global citizenship feel so indulgent to speak about—but that is the world that I happen to write about. Fortunately, there’s room for all stories. Immigrant ex-pat is a spectrum, it’s not a binary.

NK: In a sense, your books bring out the plight of the great Indian middle class—neither rich nor poor. Please elaborate more on this “middle ground”, one that is “too confusing to explain to an outsider”.

DB: I write about a cross-section of society. My characters are never sitting in ivory towers. They live, breathe, and interact with the cacophony of the cities where it’s impossible to stay separate. The reason I like to write about and am currently living in a very urban Indian city like Bombay is that you have to be a part of the complicated fabric of the city—you can’t avoid it. The crossroads of property and wealth, the haves and the have-nots, the blurred line where the marginalized meet the mainstream—this is what I’m most drawn to in my work. There are so many windows through which one can look at the world, and this is the one that I choose. I love exploring how people from different worlds connect with each other, what humans have in common when there seems to be nothing at all in common. Do we surround ourselves with people who are mirrors or windows? How does that change how we see the world around us? I don’t have an answer for that. But it’s something I like to explore and keep coming back to in my work.

NK: One of the characters who is featured in both your books, Mrs. Ray, is a young widow who defies the stereotypes of widowhood. As someone independent and unconventional outside of social norms, what was your inspiration behind her character?

DB: Oh, I love Mrs. Ray! The idea of widowhood, and especially young widowhood, fascinates me. Women of Mrs. Ray generation in India are so often defined in terms of their relationships with other males—their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. What happens if you end up without any of those? Who are you? Who gets to define you? And what if it happens to you when you’re still young enough to have more years ahead of you than behind you? It’s almost as if Mrs. Ray has to keep it a secret that she is okay being widowed, that she’s happy living life alone, that she has her own sense of self that she doesn’t want to apologize for, and that she enjoys drinking whiskey!  

NK: Your father, Kaushik Basu, was India’s Chief Economic Advisor. You also studied economics at Cornell University. In a sense, was it inevitable for you to write books about Delhi’s explosion of extreme wealth?

DB: My father and I are very close. I’m very inspired by him when it comes to making things accessible. My father is a very technical economist. When he writes for newspapers or gives talks, he has the ability to engage people who have no background or interest in economics, and I’ve always admired his ability to do that. He’s an economist while also being a storyteller. Growing up, he often helped me with my math homework, and I developed a real love for math while studying it with him. He doesn’t allow his own breadth of knowledge to make it boring for others. So, I suppose I have grown up thinking about and discussing economics at home—but more on a micro-level, not on a macro level. So, I don’t know if the stories of my books are necessarily because of my conversations at home but definitely the fact that I am a writer is very much because of my parents who are also storytellers and readers. 

NK: Apart from being a prolific writer, you are also an occasional actor who has reportedly acted in two plays, a TV show titled Mumbai Calling, and a film called A Decent Arrangement. Does your acting help your writing, or the other way round?

DB: I love writing dialogue. I love the space between what people say and what they think they are saying and what they actually want to say. That space is where the stories are. In mainstream Bollywood, the stories are not in the space between the lines—and there’s no room for subtlety. I really like the television and film industry and I think the entrance of streaming networks like Netflix and Amazon are changing the kind of television and films being produced and consumed.

The Windfall is currently in pre-production with anonymous content in Los Angeles to be turned into a TV show, and I’ve also just signed a development deal with a very exciting team for Destination Wedding. I am going to play a more active role in the screenplay of Destination Wedding, because I think that’s a very obvious progression for me—combining both my career in acting and fiction.

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

What Would My Mother Say to Donald Trump?

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began, I have been thinking of my mother. If ever there was a person who was ready for an epidemic, it was my mother. She was the FDA and the CDC combined. Her advice on health matters was prescient. Fearing cancer, she refused to use artificial colorings in food even though the FDA would not study and ban some for six decades. She suspected that fats like margarine, which were solid at room temperature, would stick inside you. When you consider that she was raising children in India in the nineteen-fifties you have to marvel at her audacity.  

Yet she was a middle-class woman with no college education. Not for lack of ambition, mind you, but because women of her generation were not even expected to finish high school. She had worked alongside Anglo Indian girls at the General Post Office in Mumbai during the Second World War however and felt nostalgic for her life as a working woman.

One of my earliest memories is of being taken to the family doctor because she thought one of my legs looked shorter than the other and suspected polio. We lived in the old part of Nagpur then, where stones were covered in saffron paint and worshipped as Gods. Where women wearing nine-yard saris carried offerings of oil to the temple to appease the goddess who had scourged their children with smallpox. The women did not know science, my mother said, so they catered to andhashraddha, blind belief. She was so wary of superstition that she refused to keep the vatasavitri fast she was expected to observe as a Hindu woman in order to obtain the same husband for the next seven incarnations. 

I can see her now, sitting on the doorstep and reading Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare, the only mother I knew to do so. Dr. Spock was her bible and her Bhagavad Gita. Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. Jonas Salk were household names in our family.   

Sarita Sarvate’s mother

My mother was devoted to science because she lived in a world teetering on the edge of calamity. In his thirties, my father had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and had to move his family from Mumbai to his hometown of Nagpur in case he needed help from his brothers. My father’s plate and eating utensils were kept separate, he never hugged or kissed me, he lay in his cot, resting. His chest X-Rays were stored in a locked trunk and the word TB was never uttered in my earshot, yet I sensed death in the air. Streptomycin, the cure for tuberculosis, was either around the corner or had recently been invented, but not commonplace in India, I suspect. I recall being taken by an aunt to a series of TB-themed Bollywood movies, similar to the cancer movies of a later era in Hollywood. I would cry at the imminent death of the hero or the heroine in these movies, not realizing that the films allowed me much needed catharsis. 

Dangers lurked everywhere. Cholera, typhoid, and malaria were rampant. I had to drop out of preschool because of measles.

After my father recovered, my infant brother was taken ill with diphtheria in the middle of the night and carried to the hospital in a rickshaw by my mother. 

Upon her return, she made a bonfire in the yard and threw into it her clothes, including the best sari she had worn to the hospital. It was the only sure method of sterilization she knew, since alternatives like clothes washers and powerful detergents were not accessible to her.  

Health and hygiene were never far from my parent’s minds. So that when the Nagpur Improvement Trust began to develop land on the outskirts of town, my mother withdrew from her post office savings account the money she had saved from her job in Mumbai and made the down payment. Soon we moved to our new house with running water – cold, not hot – and a flush latrine and the quality of our life made a quantum leap. 

Slowly, India began to catch up with my mother’s ideas. Newly independent after one hundred and fifty years of British rule, the country aimed to build a public health system along the lines of Europe. Public health workers began to come to our door every month to ask if anyone had a fever and if the answer was yes, to offer pills. This was how malaria was eradicated in our region. Later, one of my aunts began working as a public health worker as well, distributing contraceptives to women in remote villages.  

Our community celebrated all of the Hindu rites and rituals while maintaining a firm belief in medicine and science. Thousands of cities and towns like mine thrived across the nation. No wonder then that India began to nurture one of the largest workforces trained in science, medicine, and engineering in the world.  

My mother is long gone from this earth. But I wonder what she would say if she learned that many citizens of the nation of Dr. Spock are denying vaccines and science today. What would she say if she discovered that there does not exist a nationwide public health infrastructure capable of coping with COVID-19 in Dr. Spock’s America? What would she say if she learned that not only is there no such system along the lines of what many European nations have and what India and other developing countries have always aspired to, but that many Americans do not even expect to have it? 

Would she laugh at the jokes many Indians are posting on social media about Americans belonging to the flat earth society?  

Or would she feel incredibly sad?   

Would she be shocked that the US has recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths?

What would she say if she learned that in defiance of medical advice, the president of the nation of Dr. Spock and Dr. Salk refuses to wear a mask? That he has suggested that people should drink Lysol to cure COVID19?  Or that they should shine ultraviolet light on their inner organs?  

Would she curl her lips and ask if Donald Trump studied any science in school at all? 

Sarita Sarvate has written op-ed pieces for the Los Angeles Times, the Oakland Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News, the Baltimore Sun, and Salon.com among other publications and has written her Last Word column for India Currents for twenty-five years.  


Featured image is of Sarita Sarvate’s Parents. 

Imperial County: Infecting the Hand That Feeds You

Shrouded by divisive thought and taunts, no issue remains non-partisan. Blame is placed on political parties, denying accountability on either end. 

“This entire country was not prepared to deal with a pandemic. The political divisions, the lack of political will to address and invest in the inequities that have been long characterized, for many years, by academics..and experts have gone ignored”

Community activist, Luis Olmedo of Comite Civico Del Valle, Inc., comes into the July 10th Ethnic Media Services briefing full throttle. His frustrations are apparent as he speaks about the disenfranchised Latinx population in Imperial County. 

Imperial County is currently the hot spot of COVID-19 in California. Imperial is 88% Latinx, many undocumented, with a heavy hand in California’s agricultural production. Imperial County is the 10th largest food producer in the state, with their yield being domestically exported to Hawaii and California and internationally exported to Japan, Mexico, South Korea, China and Canada

The county has 2,835 cases per 100,000 people versus 491 cases per 100,000 statewide and only two hospitals bearing the brunt of this massacre.

Yes, a massacre. Of the same people who are working to provide us food and other essential services. Latinx families are being confronted with the nightmare of the pandemic. The worst America has to offer – which is nothing at all. 

Letters and calls to action were sent to growers, contractors, and packing facilities when the pandemic began. “All those letters and calls went unheeded,” says Armando Elenes of the United Farm Workers, “they continued their operations as normal.” 

Stock Photo (not representative of Imperial County)

Employers are not communicating with their predominantly Spanish speaking populations and choosing to forego the use of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. H2A workers or temporary agricultural workers, are having to carpool together, work together, and live together and are unable to take sick leave when they develop symptoms. Inevitably, this leads to an increase in infection and mortality. 

Employers have absolved themselves of any responsibility, taking advantage of the desperate situation their low-wage workers are in and in poor taste, victim-blaming those that have contracted COVID. 

CDC has provided data that suggests cases of COVID increased in Latinx communities while all other demographics showed a decrease. Using this data, Edward Flores and Ana Padilla of the UC Merced’s Community and Labor Center have found positive links between low wage work and COVID positivity.

They further defined and found a positive link between a term called worker distress and COVID positivity. Worker distress is characterized by wage (above or below the state average) and the size of the household. In Imperial County, 38.5% of workers have high worker distress. Correlations between worker distress and industry were made. High worker distress was seen in food service, transportation, farm work, warehouse work, and retail. 

A matter far removed from political factions, we turn to inward reflection. It is our habits, practices, and behaviors that have led to the exploitation of an entire population.

Reduced food cost, low wage outsourced labor work, privatized healthcare, inaccessible housing, exported food for profit…

Luis Olmedo said it best at the beginning, we have ignored all the signs for our own convenience. But the turn around for a profit has come back to infect us all. As the infection spreads in Imperial County, the risk of infection domestically and globally increases. 

An advocate from IV Equity & Justice Coalition, Luis Flores, states that “county backing for accountability is needed.” As a resident of Imperial Valley, Flores is able to address the needs of the residents and convey them at the county-state level. He and his coalition are hoping for economic stability, public health structures, clear mechanisms for accountability, mitigating housing precarity (city-level eviction moratorium), accessibility to equity, and data to support the narrative they see. 

A huge thank you to all the activists that are on the ground advocating for minority rights and educating community journalists! Consider donating to United Farm Workers or Comite Civico Del Valle, Inc. and aid their efforts to gain traction for the marginalized Latinx communities in California.

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Mahesh Pailoor’s TV Debut on ‘The Blacklist’

Raised in a small town in Maine, born to immigrant parents, it has indeed been a long journey in filmmaking for the Indian American writer and director, Mahesh Pailoor.

Having studied filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and later honing the skills from various film schools, Mahesh did his first short film, Little India in 2001. It premiered at SXSW and screened at different film festivals around the world. He has also directed award-winning documentaries, commercials, and branded content.

He moved onto, Brahmin Bulls in 2013 that garnered him many accolades, which had a notable cast including Sendhil Ramamurthy, Roshan Seth, and Academy Award Winner Mary Steenburgen. The film won the Audience Award at the San Diego Film Festival, the Jury Prize for Best American Indie at the Sonoma International Film Festival, and was released theatrically in the US and the UK.

On May 1st, 2020, he made his episodic television directing debut with NBC’s The Blacklist.

“I always wanted to be known as a visual storyteller, creating as many unique stories as I can. It has been a long journey so far and the goal was always to break into TV, meeting and networking with acclaimed directors. This Emerging Director program opened up a new universe for me and I would love to venture more in this space. Hopefully, this opportunity will pave for others,” opined the director.

Mahesh was chosen from 500 applicants for the NBC’s Emerging Director program, the network’s annual initiative for ethnically diverse male and gender non-binary directors. 

Celebrating its 10 year anniversary, the program aims to increase representation among scripted series directors. It took Mahesh years of hard work, perseverance, and rejections before this golden opportunity knocked at his doorstep. 

“I have been eyeing on this program for a while and had even applied once long back but did not get through. Though many networks offer such programs, the one offered by NBC is one of the best amongst them mainly because they offer lots of support, opportunity to shadow the directors, and then guarantee an episodic directing credit. The entire process involved the submission of my work and different levels of interviews. Once selected, my work was then sent to its different shows for the various teams to review. I was lucky enough to be chosen by the episodic directors of The Blacklist to shadow them,” said Mahesh Pailoor.

The Blacklist — “Brothers” Episode 718 (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Lauding the team, Mahesh claims the experience on The Blacklist set in New York as invaluable, which helped him learn more about the nuances of television direction. “The shadowing experience was really amazing, especially to work with such experienced directors. Right from being on set, pre-production to post-production, it was great to have the first-hand experience. I got to work with them twice before embarking on my own directorial debut,” he said. “Once the crew knew me, they were really supportive as I ventured into directing. They were very cordial and rooted for me, which was the best part. The entire period with the team was phenomenal. To be a small part of this incredible series that has been running for seven seasons with remarkable characters, was an enriching experience,” added Mahesh.

Fascinated by his father’s video camera, Mahesh was attracted to the craft of storytelling at a very young age of 12. The captivating power of visuals made him realize its potency in communication and connecting with the minds of people. “The great stories around and the visual medium always inspired me.

Growing up, I realized the need for having more stories that I could relate to and which later steered my path into filmmaking,” recollected the director. Speaking further on how the representation of Indian Americans in Hollywood and American TV space has been evolving, he added, “Earlier, we could not relate to any characters on screen and the representation was very less. But things have changed over the last 3-5 years with more Indian Americans not just behind the camera but also in front of the camera. Even programs like NBC’s Emerging Director makes it more welcoming for all. Changes are evolving but still, there is a long way to go.”

Aiming at the television space for his immediate future plans, Mahesh is currently looking out to venture further into episodic direction. He is also co-writing a dramatic feature, an immigrant love story based on true events, which he also plans to direct with half setting in India and rest in the US.

Foreseeing a remarkable era for creativity and cinema, Mahesh concluded, “This is a golden time with so many digital platforms evolving, we get to watch such amazing content, accessible to all from anywhere around the world. The geographical barriers are disappearing and with the advancement of technology, anyone interested can now make a movie even with their iPhone and broadcast it. My advice to upcoming filmmakers is to grab this promising phase. Don’t wait for someone to say yes. If you have an amazing idea to share, then just do it. There is no need for a big crew or equipment, you can make something with friends. The goal should be to passionately follow your dreams and you will definitely find your way.”

Suchithra Pillai comes with over a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading publications in India and the United States. In her spare time, you would either find her scribbling down some thoughts in the paper trying to find a rhyme or story out of small things or expressing her love for dance on stage.

Local Teens, Global Impact

It’s vital that we don’t forget about aiding communities impacted heavily by the virus even as the lockdowns and shelter-in-place are lifted.

Rayan Garg (Left) Arjun Gupta (Right)

Non-profit Elevate The Future, started by teens Arjun Gupta and Rayan Garg, is a 501(c)(3) organization is focused on “providing youth with the resources and support in order to spark their passions and set them up for success”. This involves giving students exposure to fields beyond the traditional STEM sphere — topics such as business, finance, and computer science. Established a year ago, Elevate the Future has seen incredible success, with 22 chapters all over the world, 200 volunteers, and 1000 completed hours of service.

While the coronavirus pandemic could have stopped this organization right in their tracks, Elevate The Future has emerged resilient and prepared. Recently, they collaborated with the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce to help family-run businesses adapt to this rapidly shifting environment. This involved providing them online presence for takeout meals and coaching their students in developing websites for these businesses. Not only does this endeavor protect local establishments, but also provides students with a web development skillset that they can use for the rest of their lives.

To encourage the same creative, entrepreneurial spirit that led to their formation, ETF has hosted multiple online Global Entrepreneurship Summits in partnership with local chapters. Their most recent effort is the Cloud 9 summit, which is a virtual competition that produces student-led businesses. The judges include the Head of Global Customer Conferences at Juniper Networks as well as the co-founder of the 1517 fund. First-place winners will receive a mentorship opportunity from an IBM Executive Partner, while top competitors will receive prize money and assistance in filling out a patent. 

During these tumultuous times, it’s heartening to see young students like Rayan Garg and Arjun Gupta encourage and empower their communities. To find out more about Elevate the Future, check out their Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn!

If you are a business and need help, you can complete this form. If you are a student who wants to learn or would like to volunteer and help, you can reach them through their website.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor of India Currents, she is also the editor of her school newspaper The Roar and the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.

Without My Dad

This is the first Father’s Day without my dad. 

I reflect on his advice, “Son, don’t hate. Never be a victim and give in to anger.”  

Advice that could not be more relevant in today’s political climate. I see my father’s importance and the positive role he played in my upbringing, my sense of self, and my commitment to my work.  

To fully appreciate the philosophy behind dad’s life, you need to know one thing about him – he lived a life with an Attitude of Gratitude

He raised us not to feel entitled. We learned, early on, the subtle joys of appreciating the good in our lives with daily prayers of thanks. It was a common bond that connected us as family.

He taught us to never compromise on our values and principles and to take accountability. He pushed people to do their best and pushed us outside of our comfort zones, which really helped us grow. He said “We are humans and mistakes can be made. But we’re not going to make mistakes of character or integrity.”

When other fathers were bragging about their wealth, their children’s grades, clothes, and success, dad never boasted. He said “be a good human being in life,” and that is all that will matter in the end. He brought everybody together.

Dad was a caring, thoughtful, and gracious man. He was always quick to recognize and express his admiration for the skills and accomplishments of those around him. Dad believed that giving back to the community was of utmost importance. This was demonstrated by his extensive involvement in civic and community activities.

I am filled with incalculable joy at the thought of the many lives my dad touched. Reflecting on his life reminds me of all the ways my father is still with me after death. I am not without my dad – I am filled with his wisdom and values and while I live, so does he.

Sunil Tolani is the CEO of Prince Organization and a devoted son to his father, Arjan Tolani. He writes this in memoriam of his father, who inspired him to be the person he is today.

Fear and Hope

 Fear and Hope

Life without living, a burden to bear!

In the midst of thorns, hope like roses

flourishes and releases sweet fragrance.

“Sweet are the uses of adversity.”

It too will wither away, slowly though.

“Suffering makes a man wise.”

Where there is suffering, there is hope

waiting patiently in the wings for the cue.

 

Haltingly though, let’s bear the burden

and march along toward our homes,

though they may now seem far away.

Don’t let negativity deflect our hope.

 

Difficult it may be to bear suffering

that is within us; let’s face it with positive energy.

******

Satyam Sikha Moorty is a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and taught for 31 years at Southern Utah University. He has two chapbooks ready: “Who Am I? and other poems”  and “Poems of Fear and Songs of Hope.”  His book “Passage from India: Poems, Short Stories, and Essays” has recently been published by Austin Macauley, London, England


Notes: “Sweet are the uses of adversity”—Shakespeare, “As You Like It,” Act II. Scene i.

“Suffering Makes a man wise”—Aeschylus, from his “Fragments”

Complexity of a Modern Father

To be a FATHER in the “yesteryears” was easy because he heard only “yes” to every command he gave. Easy but not healthy. It actually kept our culture somewhat stagnant by keeping a father walled off. On the contrary, I consider the modern father to be a lot luckier. 

Education is no more gender-specific.

Father may know the best” but not on all subjects and matters. Women of today, plunge, and successfully so, into almost every sphere of study. Medicine, Law, Technology, Aerospace Engineering, whatever profession you can name, has seen an increase in female involvement.

A few years back, I questioned my medical students about an anecdotal enigma of a young man who was hit on the head by an automobile and was admitted to the ICU.

The Neurosurgeon looked at the patient and exclaimed in agony, “ This is my son!”

The young man, however, said, “This is not my Father.”

“How is that?” I asked the class.

What the older generation of the medical students could not answer was at once answered by the current generation. The Neurosurgeon was his MOTHER.

Hopefully, we should hear more dialogues like, “ Son, I do not know the answer to your science question. Go ask your mom.” With joint help from both parents, children will learn a lot more about not being gender specific., 

Feeding the family can ALSO be a father’s privilege since both parents are usually working.

This applies to other household responsibilities like changing the diapers, bathing children, nursing them when they are sick, etc. Why should hungry, sick, or hurting children always have to run to the mother? My daughter, when a child, always wanted me to shampoo her hair. I am very happy to have done that because that privilege was taken away from me when she grew up.

At the time of our marriage, my wife was busy with her Ph.D. studies. I went to India by myself to buy the wedding clothes and the matching accessories for the occasion. Throughout my journey, I was busy praying that my choice of purchase met her approval!

The gendered myth relating to right and left brain dominance needs to be readjusted.

Boys and girls, alike, gravitate to STEM in their educational upbringing. We need to dispel the earlier notion that boys should lean on science and girls are good only for arts. These young people are our future parents who will need to learn and teach both in their real life. It should be remembered that Corpus Callosum, the wide web connecting the two brains, is going to be the focus of our future, controlling and coordinating the functions of both cerebral hemispheres. 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will need STEAM (A for Arts) to nurture the coordinated growth of our future generations. 

 What could be the main reason why children rush to their Mother when in need?

A modern father has to effectively incorporate both sides of his brain, so that children do not differentiate between the two parents. Our concept of Lord Shiva as an Ardhanaarishwara (Half man and half woman) was conceived at a magnificent moment of this perception. The word female incorporates the male in its body anyway.

When the roles of father and mother get reasonably reversible, fathers will feel fortunate to experience their children in an unprecedented way. At that point in time, there may not be separate celebrations of Father’s and Mother’s Days but a combined Parent’s Day, much to the chagrin of the Business community.  

Till then, have a meaningful Father’s Day!

Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a poet, playwright, Sanskrit scholar, philosopher, and a priest who has conducted about 400 Weddings, mainly Interfaith.

Juneteenth: Examining Our Own Bias

This Juneteenth, I reflect on the state of our nation. I’m heartened to see many South Asians protesting in solidarity with the Black community, but saddened that some in our community remain indifferent. I worry about deep-rooted biases that remain unaddressed within our community. 

Even as we speak out, we must also look inward. We need to change the ways we think and speak and act in the privacy of our homes and families. 

Growing up in India, I was, unfortunately, no stranger to racist biases. Some of my aunts believed fair skin was more beautiful. Villains in books I read were usually portrayed with darker skin (some written by and for Indians). A South Indian friend who moved to Bombay was teased and called “Kaalu” (black) at school. We might try to pass off these examples as “small things” but they aren’t. At the very least, this sort of insidious prejudice damages our self-confidence and instills self-hatred. Worse, even subtle bias against dark skin can build a wall between South Asians and other communities of color.  

Unfortunately, I noticed that immigrants continued to harbor insidious (and overt) prejudices.  I’ve rarely seen art by Black artists adorning the walls of South Asian American homes or books by Black authors on shelves. We rarely question the history our children are taught. We buy into the model minority myth; few of us question where it came from. Some of us deny the cruelty our own communities suffered as a result of colonial oppression. And when we experience racism, we often try to explain it away or excuse it or pretend it didn’t happen, as though we fear that admitting it might lead to our expulsion from America. 

When I came to Southern Virginia, I saw a noose hung in a yard; I was pulled over by a policeman whose hand went to his gun holster when I reached for the identification he demanded; I was told, by a well-meaning neighbor, how pleased she was that I, a “colored girl”, hadn’t created any trouble in their neighborhood.

Whenever I speak to young people, I work up the courage to mention these incidents, because to pretend they never happened would, I believe, do a greater disservice to their generation than any discomfort that I – or they – may feel if I share these difficult memories. I also acknowledge the privilege I have despite all that I’ve experienced because my skin isn’t Black (which is why I live to tell the tale about my frightening encounter with the police).

In addition to speaking honestly to our children, raising our voices on social media, and supporting organizations that seek change, there are a few other simple steps we can all easily take. We can actively seek to support black-owned businesses.

We can read books by authors like Dunbar-Ortiz and Kozol that speak about aspects of history or our nation today that are too-often overlooked. We can take pride in well-researched and documented achievements by South-Asians and people of color and distinguish these from unproven or exaggerated claims.

We can add books by diverse authors (African-American, South-Asian, indigenous, Latinx etc.) to our children’s shelves. We can educate ourselves about anti-racism. We can listen to music and comedy and watch current films and TV  created by and for people of color.

We can examine and eradicate racist expressions from the language we use. And we must celebrate joy and beauty in communities of color, too – because it is by embracing other people of color today that we move toward a more equitable tomorrow.

It’s hard enough to alter our own behavior and admit and accept our mistakes; it’s harder still to counter racist assertions when they’re made by family or friends. Especially when these members of the community are older than us. We uphold the notion that elders are to be respected. It’s an important, fundamental and undeniably compassionate aspect of our culture, which should be maintained. That doesn’t mean we ignore racist rhetoric; it means we devote time to cultivating individual ways to persuasively and persistently call attention to racism when we encounter it. A commitment to creating permanent and fundamental change sometimes involves engaging in uncomfortable conversations with those we love. Speaking up may be perceived as disrespectful, but remaining silent is worse – it is not only disrespectful to humanity but also a form of violence that aids the oppressor. 

If we ignore injustice, we set an example of cowardice to our youth and we endanger their futures by allowing oppression against people of color to continue. We also dishonor the thirty-five million South Asians who lost their lives because of white colonial oppression and forget how many of us – or our parents or grandparents – were driven here in part because of the floundering economy left behind in their countries of origin after years of white rule. Participation in protests is a wonderful beginning; we must continue by creating lasting cultural change.

Padma Venkatraman at a protest.

Black Lives Matter to our South Asian Community for two reasons. The first and far more important reason, which has been explored already in India Currents, is that we owe the Black community our gratitude because if it weren’t for the battles they fought, we wouldn’t be in this country today. The second and more self-centered reason to speak up and stand up is the one expressed in this article: we owe it to ourselves, our elders, and our children. 

Happy Juneteenth!

Dr. Padma Venkatraman is the author of The Bridge Home (a 2019 Global Read Aloud selection and winner of the Walters, Golden Kite, Crystal Kite, and South Asia Book awards), A Time to Dance, Island’s End (winner of the Paterson Prize) and Climbing the Stairs (a Julia Ward Howe young readers award winner).

A Father Sees the Sugar Cube Moments

On the first of January 2016, our girls party drove up to the Gateway of India and entered the heritage Taj hotel for a quick immersion in the grandeur of a bygone era. 

“Let’s do high tea, it’s tradition!” I told my daughter and niece. 

We sprinted through the lush corridors of the hotel and floated up the cascading carpeted staircase. We caught a glimpse of ourselves in the long mirrors. To our chagrin, we were not dressed in our Sunday best. But we “ragamuffin trio” shrugged our elegant shoulders because the sparkle in our eyes more than made up for our casual attire.

The hostess of the Sea lounge looked at us and asked if we had a reservation. “

“No,” I said, “but I used to frequent the Sea lounge with my dad when I was a teenager.” 

“Surely,” said the well-trained employee, without blinking an eye and took us to a window seat in the restaurant. 

We sat down. I gazed out at the glimmer of sea. The silver waters stretched over the teeming heads of a madding crowd of Mumbaikers and their guests on the street below. In the seventies of my childhood, Mumbai was not so crowded!

I studied the scene in front of me like viewing a painting in a gallery. The boat with ochre and emerald trim and a hint of red. White billowing sails competing to mingle with fluffy cloud gestures in the western sky. The barely perceptible boats far away on the horizon, bobbing peacefully on the waves invoked tranquility.

With a great difficulty of a child leaving the sight of her companion, I turned my gaze inside. I looked around me. I was alone at the table. From the snowy white linen, my eyes jumped to a Blue China sugar bowl heaped with perfect cubes of crystallized sugar. 

Transported to my childhood, I took a cube and let it sit on my tongue. As it melted, I remembered how I would gingerly advance my fingers towards the sugar bowl as a child. At the same time, cleverly gauging how many I could stuff into my fist without catching the eyes of either parent in one go. Dad would be sipping his tea and mom would be pouring her cup. In that busy moment, when the spoon was turning, I would plan my sugar swoop.

Me and my younger sister with sugar cubes in our mouth.

I would manage to pilfer two or three of these extraordinary sweets with great ease. I would surreptitiously stuff them into my mouth and then try to conjure an expression of innocence. Alas, the two sharp bulges in my, then smaller cheeks, would give me away! My sister would take pleasure in my failure.

As I tried to assimilate the cubes, I was amazed at how much time they took to dissolve in my mouth in those days. My countenance would melt in embarrassment and I would beg for mercy at my mothers’ rebuking gaze. My mother prided herself in instructing us on good behavior. The tension would break as my dad would chuckle and say, “trying to avoid the horse’s eye, eh?”

I never understood that expression because there was no horse in this gathering! But I always obliged him to be at the butt of his joke. Then I would hide my face in my hands, but not for long because he would smile his dazzling smile and we would all be hypnotized by his presence. His lips would form his sweet singing signature moue that I have never been able to emulate and he would sing:  “Rum jhum rum jhum, (2) Chhupo na Chhupo na, oh pyari sajaniya, sajan se Chhupo na…

I brush a tear and listen to the sounds of the ocean. I can hear dad’s laughter rise and fall on the waves.  I catch myself singing the same song…

The waiter appears at my elbow, discreetly ignoring my faux pas of pilfering sugar cubes, “Would you like some champagne, miss?”

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.