Tag Archives: #Anjana Nagarajan

South Asians Running for Office – Ajit Varma in Palo Alto, CA

Ajit Varma is running for City Council because he wants Palo Alto to be the best place to live, raise a family, and start a company for generations to come.

Ajit tells DesiCollective about his Silicon Valley dream that brought him to Palo Alto when he was just 19. He is raising his young family in the city and if he is elected, hopes to encourage investment and innovation in housing, jobs, development and technology. 

This story is the fifth in our series on conversations with candidates – SHORT TAKES for India Currents – where first time contenders for political office share their aspirations and plans with our community!

If you live in Palo Alto, take a look!

SHORT TAKES/DesiCollective: South Asians are Running for Political Office

Short Takes: Belal Aftab in Saratoga

Short Takes : Harbir Bhatia in Santa Clara

Short Takes: Sri Muppidi in Dublin

Short Takes: Kuljeet Kalkat in Los Altos

Short Takes: Sumiti Mehta in Natomas

South Asians Running for Office – Sumiti Mehta in Natomas, CA

Sumiti Mehta volunteered for an incredible 11 years in her school district. All those years in the classroom gave her a bird’s eye view of what works and what doesn’t for the schoolchildren of Natomas- the second most diverse school district in the country.

Sumiti was the first Indian-origin Parks Commissioner for the city she now calls home, and told  DesiCollective about her vision for the future of Natomas schools  – she’s running for one of three vacant seats on the school board.

What drives her? South Asians aren’t represented because “they don’t step up for things” says Sumiti. You can’t move the needle if you don’t push your boundaries -“that uncomfortable feeling? We have to get over it!”

This story is the sixth in our series on conversation with candidates – SHORT TAKES for India Currents – where first time contenders for political office share their aspirations and plans with our community!

If you live in Natomas, take a look!

SHORT TAKES/DesiCollective: South Asians are Running for Political Office

Short Takes: Belal Aftab in Saratoga

Short Takes : Harbir Bhatia in Santa Clara

Short Takes: Sri Muppidi in Dublin

Short Takes: Kuljeet Kalkat in Los Altos

Short Takes: Ajit Varma in Palo Alto


South Asians Running for Office – Sri Muppidi in Dublin, CA

Sri Muppidi, a 25 year-old Stanford graduate, is running for city council in her hometown, Dublin.  She may be one of the youngest candidates in the surge of South Asians running for office in the Bay Area – but Sri tells DesiCollective she is motivated by the urgency of the moment – with Covid-19 decimating the economy and Climate Change wreaking havoc on our environment. Sri wants a hand in shaping the future for her generation. 

This story is the third in our series on conversation with candidates – SHORT TAKES for India Currents – where first time contenders for political office share their aspirations and plans with our community!

If you live in Dublin, take a look!

SHORT TAKES/DesiCollective: South Asians are Running for Political Office

Short Takes: Belal Aftab in Saratoga

Short Takes : Harbir Bhatia in Santa Clara

Short Takes: Kuljeet Kalkat in Los Altos

Short Takes: Ajit Varma in Palo Alto

Short Takes: Sumiti Mehta in Natomas



South Asians Running for Office – Harbir Bhatia in Santa Clara

Though they excel in their chosen fields, South Asians tend to ‘play it safe’ when it comes to running for public office, says Harbir Kaur Bhatia – who is running for a seat on the Santa Clara City Council.  They tend not to venture outside of their chosen professions and engage in the hardscrabble demands of a political campaign.  As a result, minority voices have long been missing from the civic discourse of the communities they live in.

But that’s changing with the next generation of South Asians says Bhatia, especially when they see political contenders – whether at local state or federal level- who look like them or share their ethnic identity.

Bhatia – a community organizer, engineer, civic entrepreneur and longtime resident of the City of Santa Clara ,who is commited to IK Onkar,  the central message of Sikhi, tells DesiCollective why she’s challenging the status quo in District 1 of the Santa Clara City Council.

This story is the second in our series on conversation with candidates – SHORT TAKES for India Currents – where first time contenders for political office share their aspirations and plans with our community!

SHORT TAKES/DesiCollective: South Asians are Running for Political Office

Short Takes: Belal Aftab in Saratoga

Short Takes: Sri Muppidi in Dublin

Short Takes: Kuljeet Kalkat in Los Altos

Short Takes: Ajit Varma in Palo Alto

Short Takes: Sumiti Mehta in Natomas


South Asians Running for Office – Belal Aftab in Saratoga

A record number of South Asians are running for political office for the very first time across California. They come from the hi-tech, finance and the non-profit sectors, but what is unique is they represent a new generation that is ready to take an important next step – engaging with conviction in the civic life of this nation.

What drives them? What are their hopes and inspiration? What sort of difference do they hope to make?

DesiCollective finds out why.

This is the first in our series on our conversation with candidates – SHORT TAKES for India Currents – where first time contenders for political office share their aspirations and plans with our community!

Find out more from Belal Aftab, running for City Council in Saratoga.


SHORT TAKES/DesiCollective: South Asians are Running for Political Office

Short Takes : Harbir Bhatia in Santa Clara

Short Takes: Sri Muppidi in Dublin

Short Takes: Kuljeet Kalkat in Los Altos

Short Takes: Ajit Varma in Palo Alto

Short Takes: Sumiti Mehta in Natomas

Krishna Sudhir & The Prince of Typgar

I have not read to and with my kids in many years but this is one that we could have definitely read together.  The first two books in this series are set in an alternate universe, an earth-like planet Syzegis in a distant galaxy. This modern fantasy is a coming of age saga of Nujran, the Prince of Typgar and in the best traditions of Indian mythology, it has a little bit of everything – adventure, friendship, magic, romance, betrayal, loss, philosophy, ethical dilemmas with some guru-shishya relationships thrown in as well.  

Krishna Sudhir is not your typical first time writer.  A Bay Area physician and cardiologist by training, he is the author of over 180 publications in the medical field. In his first attempt at writing a book, he has taken the best things from stories he has read – Mahabharat, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings to name a few, and made it his own with a unique twist. Sudhir has conjured up some cool futuristic technology mixed with his medical knowledge to propel the story between the real and the fantastic.

Read it with your kids or by yourself.  You will recognize many  themes from our ancient puranas to the present day political situation. His use of vocabulary as a canvas to paint this alternative universe is brilliant while he challenges the reader to question many norms we take for granted.   And if that is not enough, try to figure out the anagrams tossed into the book.  Hint: Amsibh is Bhisma!

I interviewed Krishna Sudhir to learn more about the books and how he came to write them.

Tell us about your books.  Catch us up, without giving away the punchline of course.  

Nujran and the Corpse in the Quadrangle is the second in the Prince of Typgar series, a sequel to Nujran and the Monks of Meirar. The stories are set on the planet Syzegis, in a distant galaxy. In the first book, Nujran is a spoiled prince, who leads a comfortable life at the palace. Enter Maestro Amsibh, a gifted teacher with extraordinary qualities, and the prince’s transformation begins. Nujran travels with Amsibh, and experiences romance, conflict, friendship, betrayal, and loss.

 Having published the first book, I felt there was more of Nujran’s story that needed to be told, and I wanted to have readers go along with him on all of his new adventures as he begins college.  We begin the second book, Nujran and the Corpse in the Quadrangle on the campus of the University of Western Foalinaarc, where a body has just been discovered. Who is this girl, and why is she dead? There’s drama in plenty with fugitives on the run, turbulence on the university campus, fresh intrigue, a new romance, a strange kidnapping, an escape from prison, and a rescue mission where things don’t quite go as planned.

Who is the target audience for your books?  What has the reception been so far?

While the books are targeted to teenagers and young adults, I’ve had readers from ages 8 to 85! It’s hard to predict who is most likely to enjoy a good fantasy fiction tale. The novels seem to appeal to readers with an interest in young adult (YA) fiction, sci-fi, or magical realism. An alternate universe, with multi-ethnic characters, many with unusual abilities, likely attracts fans of the Marvel and DC Entertainment films and comic books. The reception so far has been excellent; the stories resonate particularly with people of Indian heritage, both those living in India as well as abroad. Plus, I hope young readers from various immigrant and diverse backgrounds who don’t see their culture widely represented in YA novels will enjoy that aspect as well. 

Can you give us hints about some secret anagrams that you have snuck into your books?  

The names of many of my characters are anagrams or derivations of names in mythology and literature. For instance, Nujran is an anagram (plus an extra letter) of Arjun  from the Mahabharata. Pholtorimes, a detective is a fused anagram of two favorite detectives, Holmes and Poirot. The names of many places are designed to remind you of locations on planet Earth. For example, Foalinaarc is an anagram (with a vowel switch) of California. Nadii is an anagram of India. I’ll let you guess the others!

Why did you self-publish your books?  Can you tell us what you have learned about doing that and the wider publishing world?

The publishing industry is not kind to first-time authors.  Additionally, as a physician, with a full time job in the Medical Device industry, I didn’t have a lot of time to go back and forth with agents, traditional publishing houses, and so on. The self-publishing route makes this process a lot easier; I worked with Notion Press in Chennai, who then made the book available on Amazon, Google books, iBooks, and other sites, both in paperback as well as e-book options. Furthermore, one ends up owning the copyright, with a lot more control over format, cover design, advertising, etc. In retrospect, the self-publishing approach saved me a lot of time, uncertainty and angst, and I would certainly recommend this approach to fellow writers.

Sudhir, you are a cardiologist by training.  What made you delve into writing books? 

I’ve always wanted to write, but a career in medicine and cardiology took me down a different path. I’ve published quite a bit in the medical literature…a few years ago, I thought I would try my hand at fiction. As an Indian-American writer, I wanted to bring a unique perspective to storytelling, drawing from my love of Indian mythology, the Arabian Nights and other classic literature in the diversity space.  The ideas for the books came from multiple directions. Raising two boys (who are now 26 and 24), I read a lot of young adult fiction. We perused the Harry Potter novels together, a delightful shared experience. When they were younger, I learned to spin a lot of yarns, mainly as bedtime stories. And going further back in time, there was my own childhood and early adult fascination with the Indian epics—magnificent tales of princes and warriors woven into stories. 

As for how I found the time to write, here’s the scoop: the entire first novel was written on long trans-continental United Airlines flights, something I had to do a lot of in my working life pre-COVID. The cabin of an airplane is an unusual, but perfect place to lose yourself in a new universe through writing! Most of the second novel was also written at 35,000 feet, before quarantine and shelter-in-place restrictions kept me home for the tail end of the process. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers out there?  

Writing is hard, but is wonderfully relaxing at the same time! We all have great stories to tell, so why not write and share these stories with the world? One can pursue a dream at any age, whatever that dream might be.  In my case, having a stable career was the perfect backdrop to working on the novels, because then writing is for fun! 

And when you write, don’t edit while creating new content. Write first, then edit later. Let the thoughts flow and write them as they come, then go back and re-shape the manuscript as many times as you need to.  

Who are some of your favorite writers?  What inspiration do you draw from them?

I enjoyed reading all the Harry Potter novels with my sons. That said, my favorite books are (1) One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (2) Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie (3) The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. Marquez’s novels introduced me to magical realism, Rushdie draws on his Indian heritage, and Bulgakov was a medical doctor who wrote one of the most phantasmagoric masterpieces of the 20th century. As I have no formal training as a writer, reading is a great way not just to be inspired, but also to learn how the best authors approach their craft.

What are you reading right now?  What are you watching right now?

I’m re-reading Crime and Punishment, by the great Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky (I first read it as a teenager). On TV I’m currently watching the detective dramas Midsomer Murders and Death in Paradise, Nordic Noir mysteries like the Valhalla Murders and Deadwind, and a futuristic sci-fi comedy-drama called Upload. On a separate note, I enjoy culinary exploration, and appreciate cooking shows like the Bombay Chef and the Great British Baking Show,

What are your plans going forward?  

The series is planned as a trilogy, so there’s one more novel after this one.  I hope to release it in mid-late 2021. Nujran’s adventures will continue,and hopefully my readers will stay with me through the end of the series. Once I finish the Prince of Typgar trilogy, I want to write detective fiction. That was my favorite genre growing up, and continues to be my favorite type of TV drama. Or I might start a new fantasy fiction series…let’s see where life takes me!

The first two books of the trilogy are available on Amazon:



Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents


Is Kamala Devi Harris Desi Enough?

I just spent the last fifteen minutes enjoying a new TikTok cultural phenomenon. Wakhra Dougie.  It’s blowing up on TikTok.   Combining the Dougie with bhangra dance moves is certainly fun, but on a deeper level,  isn’t it a lot more? What could be a better way to express joy in the choice of Kamala Harris as the next VP candidate for the Democratic party?

Kamala Harris made history last week when she became Joe Biden’s running mate.  Immediately, every desi had an opinion on it.  While most were excited to see a person from their part of the world represented, it brought on the doubters. She is often described as the “first Black woman” every time she breaks another glass ceiling.  That irks the Indians.  Is Kamala Harris desi enough?  She’s only half Indian and why doesn’t she speak to it more often? She only comes to our community when she needs to raise money but not much else. How can she represent us?

I am sure there is a reason for that, part deeply personal and part, a commentary of our cultural expectations. 

Senator Harris was raised in the East Bay in the sixties, but it was not the Bay Area we know of now.  Her mother Shyamala Gopalan fell in love with a Jamaican economist, married him, and had two daughters. Raising two girls who were mixed brown and black was not that easy then, and not now either.  If we desis are honest with ourselves, we know that we are not the most open of cultures to “otherness”.  

My guess is that her mother recognized this and decided that she would raise her children in a culture that would be more accepting of them.   As Ms. Harris described in her memoir, “My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as Black girls.” Going on to study at a HBCU (Historically Black College and Universities)  Howard University helped cement this identity.  

Then, there is the larger society as well.  Since they were racially half Black and appeared Black, they would always be identified as Black.  As research by the Pew Center says, “How you were raised, how you see yourself and how the world sees you have a profound effect in shaping multiracial identity.” 

I always found it very curious that President Obama, who was essentially raised by his white mother and grandparents, identified as a Black man.  

What does that say about our society’s cultural expectations?

My daughter, raised in America to a Sindhi dad and me, a Tamilian mom, says “Because I can’t speak any Indian language, my friends tell me I’m not actually Desi-American—that I’m just a coconut—brown on the outside and white on the inside.”  A friend of mine in San Diego was lamenting how her half desi-half Peruvian teenage daughter is not invited to the Indian parties of her peers because she is not “Indian enough”. 

What in the world does that even mean? If we are this quick to judge kids, who for the most part are proud of their biracial identities, imagine the Harris family in the 1960s.  

Kamala Harris has often admitted herself that she struggles to define herself for others. For me, she is a representation of our multicultural, blended, fluid society where everything is up for grabs.  Why not race?  She “is both”  Black and Indian.  

Why are we expecting her to be everything to both communities?

But as we are all learning through the stories of the BLM movement this year, our histories ( Black and Asian Americans) are intertwined.  Rev. Martin Luther King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha movement which led to the Civil Rights movement here in America.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 led to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act which directly affected most of us Asians in this country.  It opened up the door for us to immigrate.  We would not be here if not for the thousands of Black Americans who took to the streets to fight for their rights.  

At a time in history now, where civil rights and immigration are at the center of our civil and political discourse, Senator Kamala Harris uniquely brings a viewpoint and life experience that could help us move forward.  

The fact is that both parties in the United States use racial identity to segment the voting blocs to their advantage.  Although the financial power of the Indians is increasing, statistically we do not make up a large part of the electorate yet.  Eleven million Asian Americans will vote this year but the number of Black voters is estimated at 30 million.  

But the funny thing is that the population of people who are two or more races is projected to be the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group over the next several decades, followed by Asians and Hispanics. So, does it really matter how Desi or how Black Kamala Harris is?  It should not. 

She is both and uniquely American at the end of the day.   Let our lack of imagination not box her into one identity.

Her story, her blended heritage will speak more to our children and grandchildren than we can imagine and inspire them to public service and politics.  There will come a time very soon, where people like her will be the norm, not the exception in this flat world. 

But it would behoove Senator Harris to reach out to our community in a more meaningful manner.  We would love to be a part of her journey and have our voices amplified.  

Vote for Harris and Biden if you think their policies will be good for America, not what Kamala looks like and which race she belongs to. 

We have come a long way, America!  I am excited by the journey ahead and I remain optimistic.  Maybe doing a Wakhra Dougie mashup TikTok video will be the most patriotic thing you will do today.  And Vote!

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Are Workplace Rights Equal For All?

The struggle at the core of every movement for equality is a right. The right to vote. The right to marry. The right to not be killed. At the core of each is a struggle for respect, to be treated like a human being and to exist without prejudice or discrimination.

Legalizing gay marriage is considered a huge step in favor of LGBTQ+ rights in American history. But people often dismiss the post-legalization discrimination that occurs by assuming that gay people are “equal” now. However, the decision of nine supreme court justices cannot change a longstanding culture of internalized homophobia and discrimination.

On June 15, the Supreme Court of the US made a milestone decision: firing people on the basis of being LGBTQ+ is unconstitutional. This  case Bostock v Clayton County, clarified  the stipulations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, becoming the first national bill to do so. Though it advocates for gender and sexuality rights and ensuring people get the rights they deserve, the bill  does not cover all people and situations, which could let discrimination continue.

Bostock v Clayton County began because the Trump administration questioned whether or not Title VII extends the protection of people based on sex to protecting people based on gender identity and sexuality. Title VII, passed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin”. In other words, people cannot be fired on the basis of things they cannot control.

While the prohibition only mentions “sex”, the interpretation is that it also bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but that was not confirmed until the SCOTUS decision in June.

The Bostock v Clayton County decision is as important as the Obergefell v Hodges decision of 2015 which legalized gay marriage. Before this, the LGBTQ+ community had to rely on a “patchwork of state nondiscrimination laws,” and in 25 of the 50 states, there was no protection at all. 

Another important aspect of the decision is the grouping together of gender identity and sexual identity rights which will allow future decisions applicable to the entire LGBTQ+community. One issue, however, is how Title VII is applied. By definition, LGBTQ+ people in workplaces of less than fifteen can still be discriminated against and can still be fired.

The Religious Freedom Act of 1993 (RFRA)  may call this decision into question. RFRA prohibits the government “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion”, which means that those who are religious could theoretically say that their religion does not allow them to hire LGBTQ+ people. RFRA actually supersedes Title VII, operating as a “super statute” according to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But it is unclear as to how much the RFRA interacts with Title VII because that only applies when governments attack religious freedom, such as banning crosses.

The major conflict between the LGBTQ+ community and the government is how religious freedom interacts with human rights because many religions claim that their religious tenets allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ folk. It will be the focus of Fulton v the city of Philadelphia, a case that will examine whether religious (childrens) organizations can reject those ( LGBTQ+ parents for example), who in their view are not aligned with their doctrine. 

The case is essentially about whether gay couples can adopt children. Religious rights are constitutionally protected  in the Bill of Rights,  so what’s at stake is whether religious institutions can manipulate that right to discriminate against others.

But shouldn’t the basic right  to exist as a human being be upheld above religious rights?

Religion cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate against entire communities, especially those who are so marginalized.  Currently, the Trump administration is trying to roll back medical care for the LGBTQ+ community, which could cost lives, depending on how states respond. Which is why cases like this matter so much. Last year nine Republicans introduced the Fairness for All Act, which prohibits discrimination except when religious groups find it against their doctrine. While it is marketed as a compromise, it could possibly greenlight LGBTQ+ discrimination, making it dangerous.

The government has to explicitly give the community these rights, so people’s livelihoods and lives are not at risk. 

A government that risks its people’s lives is a government that has failed its people. 

Congress will be the next battleground for LGBTQ+ rights. The Equality Act passed in the House last year but has not come closer to becoming law. It bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation/identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. The bill’s sponsor, Rhode Island Democrat Representative David Cicilline is hopeful, as five years ago, such a bill wouldn’t have been heard on the floor, let alone pass the House. Sadly, the bill never made it to the Senate floor. 

While people in the Bay Area and other progressive parts of the country may assume that LGBTQ+ people have “equal for all” rights, that’s not the case on a federal level.  In the ideal world, LGBTQ+ people would unquestionably have equal rights and never would have needed additional legal protection. We cannot pretend otherwise. 

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash


Sachin Helps Homeless by Stepping “In Their Shoes”

Sachin Radhakrishnan, the co-founder of the San Jose non-profit  In Their Shoes was recently honored by  AACI (Asian Americans for Community Involvement) for his work with the homeless population.  “Through his work, Sachin reminds us that our actions speak volumes. His many accomplishments are a shining example that any ordinary person, like you and I, can change lives.”  A high honor indeed for this self-effacing young man but when you read his journey of how he got to this point, you will not be surprised.

When Sachin was in college during the economic downturn of 2009, he was aghast that “the first thing that our state cut was colleges, community colleges.”  It became an issue because he and his fellow students could not get their required classes.  So, he fell into community organizing and started lobbying with professors in Sacramento to effect change.  He switched his major from engineering to politics because “I wanted to get into and learn as much as I could about how do you solve a problem.” The rest as they say is history.

After college, Sachin was working in City Hall in San Jose, when homelessness was becoming a challenging issue. In December 2014, the city decided to dismantle San Jose’s massive homeless encampment known as “The Jungle” which set off a chain reaction.  This encampment was thought to be the largest of its kind in the US.  Many people had been living there for almost 20 years and had built waterproof but non-traditional homes for themselves. While the city found other housing for some residents, many others were left with few viable options when their encampment was dismantled.  Sachin started fielding calls from city residents when homeless people started moving into their neighborhoods.  

Sachin realized really quickly the ramifications of the city’s actions.  Instead of solving the problem of homelessness, their policies were only moving it around.  “Just imagine your state of mind when you’re constantly being moved around.  You feel like you’re breaking no law, but you’re just poor. You have no control, you lose your medication, you lose your identification. So, I started learning like that.”

Homelessness is not just a humanitarian issue for Sachin, but a deeply personal one.  A close friend suffered from mental illness and was homeless himself.  “His family did not know how to deal with that. And so, my friend was homeless just because relationship-wise, he was not doing a great job of respecting his parents. And at the same time, his parents didn’t really know how to talk to him.” 

Sachin tried to make sense of his friend’s struggles, “Because he had money, his parents had money, but how does he end up homeless?  And, he is intelligent and he has a lot of stuff going for him. How does he end up homeless?”

It has been a long journey but this story has a happy ending because his friend is now in the army and is doing well and. But that experience had a profound effect on Sachin and helped him better understand this complex issue.

Sachin and his friend Jamie Foberg had long conversations about homelessness and came to the conclusion that one of the key components that most of us take for granted – strong interpersonal relationships are completely missing for the homeless.  They co-founded In Their Shoes to do just that – be a buddy and support the homeless. “To be one positive relationship that hopefully would spark other relationships. Maybe it would get them to heal relationships they had burned in the past. Because if they keep the relationship good with us, we’ll continue to help them. We advocate for them. We’ve been to the hospitals advocating for people, we’ve gotten people back on the list for housing.”

It started very organically for Sachin and Jamie. They would befriend the homeless in San Jose by bringing socks, water etc and start a conversation with them.  They built relationships with them.  They did not even pretend to have any understanding of their situation but just try to “step into their shoes” to really understand what their life is like and what they are dealing with.  

Sachin recognizes that his unique background at City Hall helps him see the issues from both sides.  One of the biggest aha moments for him was when he realized that the government can try to solve the cases while blaming homeless people for drug use etc, but “when you are working for the government, you should see the effect of your own policies.” 

“Jamie and I, we would go and help people. When the city came in and kicked them out, they would lose their phones. It wouldn’t be so hard to find that same person who maybe we have a bed for at the shelter.  The city needs to understand that you’re making social work harder.” 

One of the myths of homelessness is that drug users end up on the street, but the fact is that people who end up homeless, often resort to drugs as a way to cope with their feelings of despair and hopelessness.

As inequality grows in our society, people are actually becoming homeless faster than before.  Silicon Valley is the poster child for this problem but the right to a secure home is a universal right under international human rights law. Sachin is not the lone voice who thinks the policies guiding homelessness nationwide lack empathy and actually criminalize it.  A United Nations expert on housing has called the Bay Area’s treatment of the homeless “cruel and inhuman”.  

Sachin believes that “ it would be great if we could focus on that housing part, but at the same time, stop kicking people around. You know, I can’t imagine someone’s mental health after a year of being homeless.  I’m actually so surprised when I see people happy in the streets, they have some sense of pride, they still have hope. I don’t know how they have it. They’ve been kicked out so many times.”   But when they are moved around so much, they lose that pride, security and sense of self and that leads them down a spiral.  

Today at the Bill Wison Center, Sachin is doing outreach and case management for youth and loves being a part of this endeavour.  He plans to go back to graduate school for business, concentrating on finance.  He has seen first hand the effects of not understanding basic finance and learning to budget. “You’re easy prey to other people that may understand it. If people just even know a little bit, they may be able to stop the cycle of poverty.”

When I asked Sachin what we could do as a community to better understand the problem and be a part of the solution, he shared this point of view. 

 “So much of our culture is philanthropic and service . But there’s also another side of it that is very, very callous. Really disrespectful to people and their experiences. And yeah, that’s something in our society that we need to really think about, on how we talk about others. How we may even perpetuate certain stereotypes.” 

He also urges all of us to get rid of the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) mentality.  Sachin would like us to get  involved in our community and be a proponent for solutions for low income and subsidized housing.  There are many reasons people become homeless. Being empathetic and trying to understand them instead of criminalizing and stigmatizing them would be a start.  

Changemakers: Individuals making a difference in all walks of life

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor, India Currents



Building API Community Power

The Asian Pacific Fund (APF) held a virtual annual API Summit to highlight how the API (Asian Pacific Islander) community was responding to the devastating impact of the pandemic. Frontline organizations shared stories on the rise in xenophobia, access to healthcare, and recovery and rebuilding efforts. 

NBC’s Raj Mathai moderated the conference which was sponsored by Comcast/NBC Bay Area.

The API community has been hit hard, said Mathai, kicking off the summit with a reminder that the pandemic affected physical and mental health, and also cost us jobs, while the harassment of Asian Americans has grown exponentially.  Yet the most important response, he urged, was to remember the need to control the narrative of our story.  

APF President Audrey Yamamoto was excited to report that the COVID response fund had collected over $500k in support of  many API non-profits that have made “significant pivots to be able to meet the needs of our clients.” These organizations have countered the impact of COVID-19 on the community by creating food delivery programs, new food pantries, and building new websites to collect data and improve service, while reimagining their services for remote delivery.   

Yamamoto also reported that the historic “Give in May Campaign” fundraiser which honors API Heritage month,  raised over 165k to distribute over 92 organizations across the country. 

She cautioned participants about the unprecedented dangers they face as a community. The “unemployment rate for Asians is rising six fold – a faster rate than any other ethnic group”. In California the API death rate is also significantly higher than the general population, and harassment and racial discrimination is causing an added threat to mental health.  But Yamamoto remained hopeful, adding “we will find ways to step up and come together just as we are today to make sure that our most vulnerable get the support they need to be able to survive and thrive.” 

Keynote speaker Maulik Pancholy an Asian American actor, author and LGBTQ activist, described his experience growing up brown and bullied. “It was not exactly the easiest thing for me to be brown where I was growing up. If it was challenging being brown, you can also imagine how hard it was for me to realize that I was also gay.”  

Pancholy is best known for playing Jonathan on 30 Rock & Baljeet on Phineas & Ferb and recently published an award winning book The Best At It.  

He shared his gratitude for family role models who engaged in service and philanthropy and taught him to become a louder advocate for his community.  Today he lends his name to organizations and nonprofits that address issues about Asian American identity and being LGBTQ.

In 2014, Pancholy was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Advisory Commission to examine the wide prevalence of bullying and hate towards AAPI kids.  This led to the creation of the first ever AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Anti-Bullying task force in the White House.  

Pancholy was also instrumental in creating the Act To Change initiative to end bullying for all youth including AAPI, Sikh, Muslim, LGBTQIA+ and immigrant youth.  It’s now a grass-roots non-profit that documents stories and provides support via social media and has recently launched a series of webinars called “Covid Convos”.Pancholy hoped that the healing power of sharing painful stories and celebratory power of sharing successes would empower young people “to tell the authentic story of who they are.”   

A panel representing Bay Area grassroots nonprofits discussed what Sherry Hirota – (CEO of Asian Health Services) called a perfect storm of immigrant bashing(Public Charge), COVID-19 and Anti-Asian attacks.

Hirota reported that after the lockdown, AHS health clinics  pivoted to telemedicine by purchasing laptops, mobile phones and data coverage. Their rapid response and radical transformation helped clinics return to 80% of normal visit volumes. Going forward, their solutions include telehealth, remote monitoring equipment and televised education and outreach.

According to Hirota, the AAPI community has a higher fatality rate than the average because they lack access to diagnostic tests and/or are more likely to die if infected. She believes there is a need for culturally appropriate and linguistically accessible public health testing and tracing, adding that, “We will not be victims, we need our own narrative.”

Since the outbreak, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) has received over 1800 reports of hate directed at Asians (40% from CA with 40% – 19% from the Bay Area), says CAA Co-Executive Director Cynthia Choi. “We need to build solidarity within our community and across our communities to fight racism and structural inequalities.” 

Choi plans to fight racial discrimination and harassment with in languages resources, countering misinformation and propaganda that are primary drivers of hate, holding the government accountable for enforcing civil rights policies and challenging any policies that harm API communities.  

She believes that this is the time “to speak up, organize and prepare for the onslaught of Anti-Asian violence,” and to stand in solidarity with the black community, the LatinX, and Native American community, essential frontline workers, and people dying in prisons and detention.  “When we begin to do this, we will see real change and begin to heal our country,”  said Choi.

Sarita Kohli, the President & CEO of Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), highlighted an underreported aspect of this pandemic – the increase in domestic violence for women sheltering in place with their abuser.  Kohli reported an increasing need for monetary support  and use of  SafeChat  by clients. AACI has expanded staffing for this program.

The summit also featured a fireside chat with Debbie Chang President & CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation, who drew attention to the many issues being amplified by this pandemic. – inequities in how communities experience health, the vicious cycle of domestic violence, and the connections between economic inequality and poor health. 

“The pandemic is making visible tangible forces that have been at work in our communities and systems for generations,” said Chang.

The Blue Shield California Foundation is working on policy changes like paid leave for domestic workers and essential workers, and increasing outreach to immigrant communities.  

Chang is hopeful that solutions will be found in innovations sparked by this crisis, for example, SafeChat, “We need to keep looking for opportunities like that,” she added.

David Chiu, California State Assembly Member (AD17) and California API Legislative Caucus Chair, concluded the summit with a caveat.

“There is a lot to celebrate in the API community in the national and state political arena,” he said, but “2020 has shown us that we are still foreigners.  We are still viewed as the others.”

However, the API Caucus is working with the Newsom administration to publicize resources for those experiencing discrimination. They advocated for the first immigrant relief fund for Californians who cannot get unemployment assistance because of their immigration status.

Asian American legislators also are pushing for more funding to support efforts like Stop AAPI Hate, research the disparate impact of Covid-19, advocate for a racial bias taskforce, and bring together law enforcement, civil rights communities, and non-profits to coordinate efforts to address discrimination. 

“This moment has to be a wakeup call for our community.  Corona virus has laid bare the challenges we have before us,” said Chiu.

He  believes that the biggest challenge we face as a community “is how fractured we are.” But to build power as a community, Chiu believes, “We need to bring our voices together to speak as one.”

“I look forward to see us all rise together.”

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents


Sweet Sixteen In Quarantine

I turned sixteen a week ago. I spent my birthday in the sweltering yet comforting solitude of my bedroom trying to prevent my English teacher from finding out and avoiding awkward attempts by her to acknowledge it by making our class sing to me. I also tried a Zoom peer review with a friend.

It’s finals season for me. So no matter what, I will probably be doing homework through my birthday for the next couple of years, as it always falls right before finals. 

It was a busy birthday.  I was studying for the last trig test and the last chem quiz of the year, doing Spanish practice activities, and brainstorming less-than-dumb ways to actually finish my photography assignment.

But somehow this year, I felt more alone than ever. And I’m including the birthday when I cried in a bathroom at school because I was so embarrassed about a bad assignment (sixth-grade Kaavya was a weird kid!)

Two of my friends were sweet enough to drop by with gifts (a Tupperware of brownies and a bunch of snacks, bless their hearts), and I will love them forever for that. But I was still pretty much stuck at home all day.

Turning “sweet sixteen” in quarantine was not what I expected. 

At the very least, I hoped that I could go out with friends, even if we didn’t go all-out. Ideally,  that would be eating exorbitant amounts of ice cream with the monthly Baskin Robbins deal (a dollar per scoop is too much of a bargain to pass up) or drinking bubble tea in the late spring sunshine. We’d probably be pretending we weren’t stressed about finals either. That’s okay, though.

Admittedly, I shouldn’t complain. On my birthday, I was quarantined with my family of five, which helped alleviate the irritation of being stuck with one person for too long. And there was my favorite thing alive, Luna, my cousin’s dog, adorable, fluffy, and faster than any person I’ve met. 

But it just doesn’t feel like your birthday without seeing your friends.

The night before I turned 16, I watched both Mamma Mia movies with friends and they sang me happy birthday at midnight, which I loved.

The thing is, my birthday has never been my favorite day. I don’t like the awkwardness of happy birthday greetings and teachers trying to get my classes to sing to me. I do appreciate family and friends buying me books and being able to choose the cake.

But I don’t like getting older. I would’ve gladly stayed six years old, when I could read all day and get complimented for it. Today, being productive means ACT prep, schoolwork, debate, summer courses, and something else I’m probably still forgetting.

Or, I’d much rather be in the last couple months of being fourteen last year when I was riding high off the end of debate season, good test scores, and good mental health.

Quarantine has worsened that regret of getting older. The last three months have not felt like actual months, but just lapses in time that may or may not have happened. My birthday was just the frosting on the cake (cue groans about how bad this pun is).

I’m sixteen though. Not much can change that. Unless I get in some odd Benjamin Button situation or the time travel mishaps in Avengers: Endgame.

Age is just a number, I guess. Sixteen is only significant for being four squared.

There’s always next year. And the year after.

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.

Image Credit: Bikki, Pixabay

Image Credit: Wokandapix, Pixabay

Ethnic Media Roundtable with Elected Officials

The Asian American population grew 72% between 2000 and 2015 (from 11.9 million to 20.4 million), the fastest growth for any major racial or ethnic group in the US; in California, 1 in 7 votes were cast by an Asian American. 

That is a powerful statistic.

Though Asian Americans have not been politically active historically, believing that their votes did not matter statistically, there are signs this may be changing. More political contenders are reaching out to ethnic communities they have overlooked because, by virtue of numbers, Asian Americans are a voting bloc with clout.

Five Californian elected officials participated in a Civic Leadership Forum on October 30, co-sponsored by India Currents and Ding Ding TV in Santa Clara, and shared their perspectives with ethnic media outlets that included Ethnic Media Services, VietPress USA, Mail Business Newspaper (Wall Street Journal in South Korea), Lion Television Channel 16.10, North California, GlinkNews, Tan Phuong Media, Voice of Chinese America, and design2market.

The officials included:

Vandana Kumar (Publisher, India Currents) and Diana Ding (CEO, Ding Ding TV) moderated the forum. The key takeaways were:

 How does the narrative in DC affect trust in government?

Ash Kalra commented that plummeting trust in our highest office “undermines trust in government” and impacts all communities, especially immigrants. After serving in the State government, Kansen Chu has decided to run for local office in the next election because he believes he can have a stronger impact in his community.  

Johnny Khamis was a Republican who became an Independent after the Trump Family Separation policy; he pointed out that true conservatives did not have a voice in the federal government “nobody trusts them because they have an R next to their name”.  

Chu and Kalra have created a Hate Crime select committee in Sacramento to combat hate crimes against immigrant communities and people of color that have increased since the last election. But, despite a growing culture promoting minority phobia, said Rishi Kumar, Silicon Valley remains a testament to the idea of a melting pot.

Ensuring ethnic communities get counted in Census 2020

“Everyone counts. It’s important to get that message out,” said Anna Song. She believes the Korean American community is one of the most siloed ethnic groups in America, and their lack of civic participation forces candidates with limited resources to dissect their ethnic data and reach out only to “high propensity voters”. So she would be more likely to canvass Chinese, Vietnamese or Indian- Americans, rather than Korean, said Song, simply because they show up at the polls more regularly. 

Kansen Chu  said that voter registration is critical. He hoped that a Korean woman running for office would generate interest in civic engagement in the Korean community. Chu emphasized the danger of an undercount leading to lost congressional seats and reduced federal funding for critical services (transportation, education and health care) for California. He also confirmed that the state has allocated the resources and budget necessary to ensure an accurate census.  

Getting Minority Voters to Vote

Johnny Khamis reaffirmed the importance of voting because he won by a single vote in his very first race, while Vandana Kumar called on elected officials to spend their marketing dollars on not just the mainstream media but also the smaller ethnic media outlets to urge minority communities to vote. 

Focusing on Local issues 

With wildfires raging across the state, Ash Kalra drew attention to the climate change crisis and the irresponsibility of allowing PG&E to operate as an investor-owned utility. “PG&E sees no reason to change its model, if the state keeps bailing them out,” he added, calling the influence of money in politics “detrimental to society.” Kalra believes the state government must make PG&E accountable and compensate those affected by the power shut offs. As for the housing crisis, Kalra blamed housing costs for keeping California’s poverty level high and opposition from builders and developers to market price housing initiatives.  

Are regulations throwing off the balance between innovation and human values for gig-economy workers in the Silicon Valley? 

A spirited debate rose between Ash Kalra and Johnny Khamis about the impact of regulations on California’s economy, with Kalra contending that “complete depletion of wages” rather than taxes and regulation, was responsible for stifling the fifth largest economy in the world; he asserted it was “harder for people to survive… because productivity, wealth and profits have gone up ..but wages have not”. 

Khamis argued that excessive regulation and taxing was responsible for some of the housing crisis, while complex environmental regulations were making it burdensome for builders to construct more affordable housing.  

Anna Song worried that Silicon Valley innovation has created a society of haves and have nots, with wealthy homeowners from companies like Uber outpacing Uber drivers economically. She sees this inequality also play out in the County Board of Education, with parents asking for Interdistrict transfers because we have “created a community where we cannot live where we work”.

Both Kalra and Khamis agreed that tax reform was vital. Kalra noted that the wealthy have a voice in the system which is why there are no increases in payroll, wealth or estate taxes because these are easier for corporations to support.   “We only tax the middle-income earners because that is easy to do,” said Khamis, so “we need different voices in the state legislature.”

Kalra also explained that the California law CB5 which did not include gig economy workers like Lyft & Uber in its exemptions, was not about stifling innovation but about respecting existing laws that other industries have to comply with to make the economy fair to all citizens.

“Everyone wants a free flowing economy and the only reason to throttle it would be to protect citizens,” said Rishi Kumar.

Should Facebook be a technology gatekeeper for political speech or for free speech?

There is general consensus that Facebook should be regulated if it’s violating norms when deciding “what we see, who sees it and how much they see it” based on their analytics and revenue generation model.  All speech should be protected said Kalra, with only exceptions for public safety because there could be consequences “if people don’t like what you say.”  

 Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Contributing Editor Meera Kymal